Fire Fighting in Canada

StopBad: Firefighter safety is our No. 1 job

March 29, 2024 
By Gord Schreiner, Fire Chief, Comox, B.C.

Someone recently asked me what I thought the most important part of my job was. I had a few answers: Making good decisions; training our firefighters; firefighter safety. Then they asked me to zero in on one choice. I quickly responded that my No. 1 job is firefighter safety. Everything I do is related to this very important issue, whether it is attending a council budget meeting, developing an operational guideline, developing and scheduling training, mentoring, pre-planning, or responding, it is all related to the overall safety of our firefighters. Of course, we also need good equipment, solid facilities and great leaders. We need our firefighters to be well-trained and passionate about doing things right. My main job is to ensure this all happens and continues to happen.

I was asked to expand on how I keep our firefighters safe. First and foremost, our firefighters must be well-trained. Constant and effective training is the best way to achieve this. Train several times per week and use your daily incidents as opportunities to train. In our department, it is not unusual for us to do a short training drill after returning from a false alarm call. Our firefighters are already on the rig so we might as well have them put on SCBA, stretch a line, or raise a ladder. If your firefighters do not know what to do if their SCBA fails, then you need to teach them this. This is one of my questions when I meet new firefighters who say they are trained: Do you know how to self-rescue and rescue your partner? 

Dry wall breach, Denver drill, window bailouts, though the floor drill, drags, and carries are all part of our regular training. If they don’t know these simple life saving steps, then they are not trained properly in my book. The best firefighters know what to do, when to do it and what not to do. We stress that every member of our fire department is a safety officer. They must be constantly looking out for themselves and their teammates. 

Safety includes encouraging and supporting firefighter health and wellness, physically and mentally. Some of the ideas that work well in our department have been to offer our firefighters free access to our community owned fitness centre alongside our own fire station fitness centre. We offer fitness events for our firefighters to attend. We own two mountain bikes and two stand-up paddle boards that our firefighters can borrow. When we eat at the fire station, we try to maintain healthy choices. We have our own garden to grow some of the foods we use for meals. 


The fire service is evolving quickly with a lot more emphasis on safety. Personal protective equipment (PPE) has improved. We have issued two hoods and two pairs of gloves and have invested in spare gear so our firefighters do not have to wear dirty PPE. We have also installed saunas to help our firefighters detox after an incident or training. We added an SCBA decon unit. We added carbon monoxide (CO) detectors to every first aid bag carried on our rigs to monitor for CO on-scene as part of our cancer awareness and reduction program. We upgraded our helmets and issued all our firefighters leather boots to enhance safety. We continue to add thermal imaging cameras (TICs) to our rigs. Our goal is to have a TIC for every team involved in an incident.

We also added rehab equipment to our rigs. Every one of our fire department vehicles carries oxygen and AEDs. While we can use these for our citizens, they are mainly there for our firefighter safety. We take the blood pressure of our firefighters in rehab and before each training session. 

The safe operation of our vehicles is expected by everyone. Firefighters who do not follow the driving rules do not drive and are likely to be released from the department.  We have added many design features into our newer apparatus to enhance safety. Our newest rig has a built in misting system to help cool our firefighters when working near the rig or changing cylinders. Our rigs now have pre-connected hose lines that can be deployed from the rig without the firefighter stepping up onto the side steps. We added fold down steps to the rear of the apparatus to make the transition from ground to tailboard safer and hydraulic ladder racks that lower the ladders to a safe height for the firefighters to use. We are carrying additional respiratory protection (N95, full face respiratory, and SCBA) for our drivers. 

It is important to enhance your pre-plans so firefighters have important information regarding the incident they are responding to. Increase fire prevention activities to try to reduce the number of serious fires in your community. Any time we respond we are exposed to risk. Less responses, less risks. 

Challenge the leaders of your department to grow and stress that firefighter safety is their No. 1 job too. 

Gord Schreiner is the fire chief in Comox, B.C. and manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. He has spent 48 years in the fire service and delivered presentations all over Canada. For more info, contact:

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