In this BLOG, we will give an overview of the provincial government regulations for safe training in Ontario, as specified in the Office of the Fire Marshal Guidelines for Firefighter Health & Safety. We will also discuss some industry best practices for fireground accountability, equipment, and safety procedures during training.

So Why Do We Train?

A local government workplace safety website explains that utilizing a training program allows you to strengthen those skills that each employee needs to improve. A development program brings all employees to a higher level so they all have similar skills and knowledge. This helps reduce any weak links within workplaces that rely heavily on others in teams to complete basic work tasks.

As firefighters, the reason we train is to better prepare ourselves for the various tasks and challenges that we will encounter on the fireground, during a motor vehicle collision, medical emergency, or other situation we may respond to. Training will allow us to gain confidence in our skills, and develop a better understanding of what we should do as part of a team working to accomplish a greater task. As a firefighter, we are compensated to serve the community and our salaries are paid for by the taxpayers. We have a responsibility as public servants to provide the utmost in customer relations and service to these taxpayers and all those residing in the community in which we respond.

Is there risk in the job as a firefighter when serving this public? Yes, there is. Do we take a chance every time we respond to an emergency call and get off that apparatus to go and help someone from the community? Yes. So, given that this job is risky … how can we train to get better within our career and not put ourselves at risk each and every time we train? Can we reduce this risk during training and how is this possible?

Due to the current health crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are currently working in high-risk environments within the fire station, responding to calls, and dealing with our fellow firefighters every day. We are following health and safety guidelines that include coronavirus screening procedures, the wearing of masks in the workplace, limiting staff in certain areas of the fire station, and enforcing social distancing during our shifts and at shift changes. More recently, the increased use of virtual and online training platforms have been effective, and offer another opportunity for professional fire service training while reducing the risk of contracting the coronavirus. We have identified a risk and provided various solutions to minimize that risk to the best of our ability. But can we do this in our day-to-day training evolutions?

Can the fire department, a post-secondary firefighting school, or a private fire service training company work to minimize risk during training? Sure they can; they can start by identifying hazards, enforcing personal protective equipment and having a site safety plan, just to name a few. However, for many who are currently working within the fire service and are unaware of some of these safety guidelines, this is only the start. Whether it is running a live fireground exercise, a technical rescue evolution, a first-aid training program, or auto-extrication review, the Occupational Health & Safety Act requires organizers to take every precaution reasonable under these circumstances to protect workers. This is law based on guidelines which can be enforced by the Ministry of Labour, which oversees safe work practices in the in all Ontario workplaces. However, many senior fire service leaders and new firefighter recruits are unaware of these training requirements and recommendations. stated on the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs’ (OAFC) webpage, the objective of the Ontario Fire Service Advisory Committee on Health & Safety under Section 21 of the Occupational Health & Safety Act is to advise and make recommendations on matters relating to the occupational health and safety of all firefighters in Ontario. This includes safe training, and there is a specific section in the Act regarding this.

These guidelines state that firefighter training may include simulations of dangerous scenarios, and in order for firefighters to train effectively, training must resemble real conditions and may contain hazards. The guidelines state that employers, such as fire departments, must take every reasonable precaution for the protection of firefighters involved in training; this includes the development of a written lesson plan and training safety plan for ALL training evolutions.

Various precautions outlined in this provincial guideline include outlining learning objectives for students, conducting on-site hazard assessment awareness with the group, and having a response plan in anticipation of an emergency. Below you will find additional precautions that should be adhered to during any planned training evolutions:

• Development of a lesson plan outlining learning objectives or job performance requirements
• A safety response plan, including resources and equipment needed in an emergency
• An agreed-upon communication to stop training at any time using a code such as “No Duff,” which differentiates between a training scenario and a real emergency requiring immediate action
• A training site risk assessment to ensure hazards are mitigated and all participants are aware
• Pre-training briefing with the group is required to ensure all participants understand the safety plan in place, any potential hazards, and what do in if an emergency were to occur
• Confirm that all resources and equipment required for that specific training environment are identified in the safety plan,
are on-site, and are readily available
• Ensure trainer competency for delivering the training
• Post training debriefs to review lessons learned, discuss opportunities for further professional development, and participant feedback on the learning experience

There are various industry best practices that strong fire service leaders, fire departments, and educational institutions will make a priority before, during, and after fire service-related training. Some of these extra precautions may include: acquiring student emergency contact information, accountability to ensure this information is on-site at all times, ensuring adequate instructor-to-student ratios, an effective incident command system, a designated safety officer to oversee the well-being of every participant at all times, and a detailed rescue plan in preparation for rapid intervention.

Safer training can be achieved through group learning and practical fireground discussion, along with personal and professional accountability from trainers and fire service leaders. Following these fire service health and safety guidelines and industry best practices, we can ensure safety for all participants during these training evolutions. Make an effort to review your fire department training notes in everything from technical rope rescue, confined space, to pump operations. Always follow fire service Section 21 safety guidelines, fire department standard operating procedures and conduct a proper risk assessment prior to embarking on any training activities. Safe training everyone!

Adam McFadden is a career firefighter for one of the largest fire departments in Canada. He is the owner of Firehouse Training and is responsible for the program development of various professional fire service training courses. Adam has taught multiple fire service disciplines including confined space rescue, hazardous materials operations and high-rise firefighting tactics in both the public sector and private safety industries.

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