Ottawa firefighters are complaining about the safety of 10 of their ladder trucks, some of which serve Centretown.
While the ladder trucks serve the city as a whole, several are stationed and used to fight fires in Centretown, which has hundreds of highrise buildings.
After recent talks involving firefighters, the City of Ottawa, and Carl Thibault Emergency Vehicles – the manufacturer of the ladder trucks – the union and city officials agreed the safety issues stem from the manufacturer’s inadequate training manual.
Jim Ullett, acting fire chief for Ottawa Fire Services, says there is a manual supplement which deals specifically with these concerns that will soon be distributed to trainers.
Union president Peter Kennedy says his primary concern is the instability of the ladder trucks when it comes to carrying people in the bucket over the cab of the truck.
The change in weight, he says, causes the truck to become unstable and teeter like a seesaw.
“It makes it very, very difficult for firefighters to use, because if you see somebody you have to rescue, you just want to rescue them and you don’t want to be thinking about all the limitations of the vehicle,” says Kennedy.
Ullett says the ladders are completely safe and the issue has to do primarily with improper firefighter training.
He says the type of situation where the truck would teeter only happens about two per cent of the time, but it has caused many firefighters to lose confidence in the truck.
He explains the problem occurs when the ladder, attached to the back of the truck, is extended directly above the cab of the truck.
Kennedy described one incident in Mechanicsville in 2007 where five firefighters had to jump from a third-storey window, leaving them with lasting injuries.
He says they tried to move the ladder, which caused it to shut down, unable to reach the people inside the building.
Ullett says the ladder was set up incorrectly when it stopped moving. “It wasn’t a failure; it was a safety feature kicking in.”
He also says it is possible the ladder might not have reached the firefighters in time, even if it was set up correctly, because “it all took place in 20 or 30 seconds.”
The Ottawa-based distributors of the trucks had no comment, and the Quebec-based manufacturers could not be reached. However, the company’s website describes the trucks as offering “all the performance and reliability you need.”
Dave Cranidge, the division chief of training for Ottawa Fire Services, says his predecessor asked the suppliers for a more complete manual at the time of purchase, but he did not receive one.
“It’s been a lot of frustration for the (trainers) and the operators because it seems, on a constant basis, the information is changing,” he says.
The firefighters must constantly retrain their instincts to match the updates to the training, he says.
Ullett says the company sold hundreds of these trucks to many other cities before Ottawa, and that the constant updates were given to the Ottawa Fire Services as a result of inquiries from the training officer.
Kennedy says the 10 trucks were purchased in 2006 at a cost of about $700,000 each.
While it would be impossible to replace these trucks since they're relatively new, Kennedy says he wants to bring the firefighters into the purchasing process – a request granted as a result of the meeting.
“There is no confidence in the ladder trucks as of now,” says Ullett.
“We certainly hope with the right information and the right training, confidence will come back to the vehicles.”