Fire Fighting in Canada

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StopBad: November 2018

Far too often, we hear stories of vehicle accidents involving firefighters responding to emergencies in fire apparatus or in their own vehicles. This is an area where we, as an industry, can do much better.

October 23, 2018 
By Gord Schreiner

I am not talking about the cases where others hit us. I am talking about the times we are driving too aggressively and not driving defensively enough. We need to make sure that every time we drive we get there safely.

We need to drive like our family is with us, because they often are. If not your immediate family, you probably have your fire family with you. If you are driving alone, your family (both immediate and fire) are still with you, as they are certainly impacted if you have an accident.

We know that by providing quick service we can have a positive impact on the outcome of an emergency.

This quickness should not, in any way, compromise the safety of our firefighters, citizens or ourselves. Train your firefighters how to improve response times without increasing driving speed and compromising safety.


Typically, a response can be broken down as follows, with volunteer responders starting at step 1 and career firefighters starting at step 3:

  1. Preparation at home or work (volunteer firefighter).
  2. Responding to the fire station (volunteer firefighter).
  3. Getting your personal protective equipment on in the fire station.
  4. Responding in the fire apparatus.
  5. Doing all the things right once you arrive at the scene.

■ Preparation at home or work

Significant time can be saved at home or work by ensuring you are ready to respond to an incident. Items listed below can assist in saving time. When these things are not done, an individual and team response time can be greatly increased.

  • Have appropriate clothing ready.
  • Place your vehicle keys in the same spot all the time.
  • Keep your pager close at hand so you hear the call.
  • Back your vehicle into your driveway.
  • Prepare your vehicle in cold weather (heater, cover, windshield, garage).

A firefighter can easily save one to two minutes just by getting out of his or her house or workplace quicker.

1. Responding to the fire station in your vehicle:
Safe and defensive driving is the only way to drive. You are no good if you have an accident on the way to a call. In fact, you could greatly impact the ability of the department to deliver important services to customers, as you will not arrive at the station and the department might have to respond to assist you. Knowing the best driving route to the station at certain times of the day is one way to get there quicker.

2. Getting your personal protective equipment on at the station:
Significant time can be saved once in the fire station. You can save additional time by ensuring you have put your PPE away properly and that you have all of it ready to use. You can save time by ensuring you can quickly don your PPE. More time can be saved by getting on the appropriate response vehicle safely and securing your seatbelt and equipment.

3. Responding in the fire apparatus:
Again, safe and defensive driving is the only way to go. Know where you are going and plan your route to save time. Do not drive aggressively to save time. It has been proven many times that little time is saved by speeding or driving aggressively. A firefighter can easily save one to two minutes just by knowing where he or she is going and planning the best route to get there.

4. Doing all the things right once you arrive at the scene:
This is where significant time can be saved. If you are able to quickly, properly and effectively perform the many important tasks required you will be much more efficient. This is where training really kicks in. How quickly can you don your SCBA, pull a pre-connect or throw up a ladder to rescue a young child? All these skills need to be practised again and again. One stumble can cost a lot of time and maybe even a life. However, if all goes smoothly, lives can be saved. Firefighters can easily save one to two minutes by ensuring they are well trained.

When you add this all up, we can save between four to eight minutes of response time without speeding or driving aggressively and we can do so without increasing risk to ourselves or others.

So, it really is a no-brainer. Do not speed or drive aggressively.

Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. Contact Gord at and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire.

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