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In September’s column, I asked you to think about a rural area near you and determine whether the police or ambulance service in that place would be any different than if you were in a large town or city.

November 14, 2008  By Brad Patton

In September’s column, I asked you to think about a rural area near you and determine whether the police or ambulance service in that place would be any different than if you were in a large town or city.

I know in the province of Ontario, it doesn’t matter where you are – a cop is a cop and ambulance attendants (who, in most cases, are now paramedics) are all the same, providing the same high level of service, the same equipment and with the same level of training. You could literally switch big city police officers or paramedics with any small town police officer or paramedic and after a couple weeks of orientation they would be ready to serve.

Now, what about our fire service? Could we do the same and expect the same results? Once again in my opinion, no way!

Now let’s be big boys here and park the emotions. Once you step across some invisible municipal boundary, you get a completely different fire department. It’s run differently than the neighbouring towns’ fire service; they have different hose, different trucks, different training beliefs, different uniforms, different staffing levels. Just about everything is different – tools, operations – the list goes. It would be easier to list the things we have in common, which would be rank structure, and that’s about it.


About 10 years ago, I brought together eight fire chiefs or fire department purchasers and started a “purchasing consortium”. After two years of meetings, we could not decide on anything. Forget the big stuff like emergency apparatus –  we couldn’t decide on the type of hose to buy, extraction equipment, style of uniform or even on a type of nozzle to use!

What a waste of time and taxpayers’ dollars just because every fire department has to do its own thing. Somehow, all the police forces manage to buy and select from a few types of cars, guns and handcuffs. I notice that even the ambulances are all the same.

Now let’s be honest: You probably are thinking, No way would the fire truck down the road work in my town! I need 26-inch compartments and they have 24-inch compartments; we seat six, they only have seating for five. We have to spec out our own because the fires are different here, and our motor vehicle collisions on this part of the highway aren’t like the ones two kilometres up or down the road. It’s crazy and expensive and it just wrong and not the way we should be running our business of saving lives and providing the taxpayers the best service in the most cost-efficient way.

In my dream world of a truly modern fire service, there would three types of every apparatus and equipment. They would already be built and sitting on the lot, ready to be picked out and picked up. First the pumpers: large-city pumpers in three kinds – deluxe with all the bells and whistles, then mid-priced and then economical. All would be built to meet standards and specifications.

Same idea for city rescues, ladder trucks and so on. There would be the same style and selection for urban areas and rural areas.

We currently have very loose training delivery standards. It’s the on-scene operations you have to watch. Just watch two different departments at an extrication. It’s like we came from different planets.

I’m sure most of you have all heard that “size doesn’t matter,” and in this case, once again, it is true. I have witnessed a large city fire department do a terrible extrication or fight a structure fire using old, outdated methods.

To be fair, the same criticism can apply to medium-sized or small departments. Sorry, no favourites here. Everybody arrives in a different style vehicle with different personnel, different  equipment and tools and will do the job completely differently.

I have talked with firefighters who were working with their mutual-aid departments at a working fire. In the front, one department is setting up for positive pressure ventilation while in the back another department is taking out all the windows. No blame, it’s just the way each department works.

What we need is a brilliant “hero” to bring us all on to the same page. It’s time for us to run a better business. In short, if we don’t start a major overhaul of the Canadian fire service now to deal with how we organize and deliver services and how we conduct our business, someone who doesn’t know anything about who we are is going to come along and do it for us.

Once again, I would like to hear your comments. Are these thoughts way out there and not as you see and understand emergency services, or are they pretty close to reality? E-mail me at

Always do the right thing for the right reasons.

Brad Patton is fire chief for the Centre Wellington volunteer Fire Rescue Department in Ontario, on of the largest volunteer departments in the province, with stations in Fergus and Elora.

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