During these unusual and unique times many fire departments are being approached to provide drive-bys for birthdays, graduations, front-line workers, and other community events.

Here are some of the numerous good reasons to fully consider such requests:

  1. One that comes up most often is answering the question “Does it make someone smile?”
  2. It allows firefighters to connect with the residents/community.
  3. The residents are keen to show their support for front-line workers and firefighters provide the perfect opportunity.
  4. The volunteer fire service may wish to use the opportunity to encourage recruitment.

Before engaging in such activity there are some considerations that should be evaluated to ensure the best interests of the fire protection district are being addressed:

  • Does your department already participate in community parades?
  • Has your Authority Having Jurisdiction, your Municipal Council, Regional District Board of Directors, etc. been asked to support this initiative?
  • Have you consulted your insurance broker to confirm you are compliant with the various policies that are in place?
  • Obtaining a policy from your local government is seen as a best practice. The policy would outline the authority given to the Fire Chief to manage requests and/or opportunities. Such a policy would also be seen as formal support from a risk management perspective for the fire chief and firefighters.
  • Has the courtesy of asking the local police force to agree to the use of lights and sirens in a non-emergency situation occurred?

The content of your Operational Guideline, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, should include, but not necessarily be limited to the following:

  • Number of firefighters on each piece of apparatus.
  • Number of events per week the fire department will commit to.
  • Appropriate PPE based on the health regulations your community is obliged to follow.
  • Department’s position with respect to having non-firefighters riding on the apparatus.
  • Department’s position with respect to stopping.
  • Department’s position with respect to distributing “gifts” along the route. (Fire prevention material, public safety promotional items, candy, etc.).
  • Procedure to follow if an emergency call is received.

Some of the other considerations that have been shared by fire departments providing this community service are:

  • Use the opportunity to provide driver training.
  • Be prepared to answer the question, if we do it for one, do we feel obligated to do it for everyone who asks?
  • Formalize the opportunity by asking for an application form to be submitted for a specific event.
  • Ensure your members have the appropriate training, and possess the good judgement required to represent the fire department.
  • Have a senior member coordinate the event that is accountable to ensure the objectives are met.
  • Know who is organizing the event. If it is not a fire department event, have the organizers been briefed as to what they can expect from the fire department? Make sure they have agreed to the ground rules laid out by the Fire Chief.
  • Has the Fire Chief completed an appropriate Risk Management Assessment of the event?
  • Be conscientious of facilities along the determined route that may be sensitive to the sound of sirens, particularly where there are animals.

Best practice has seen some of the following parameters adopted for drive-bys:

  • Plan to go once a week, at the same time on a pre-determined route. For example, leave the fire hall every Saturday at 7.00 p.m. Parade will last for a maximum of 20 minutes.
  • Offer to drive-by birthday parties on a Saturday afternoon and manage the events and locations accordingly.
  • Establish age limits and event types that will be attended.
  • If the decision is made not to offer the drive-bys, give some thought to stating your position on the fire hall and/or a community website.
  • Consider the demands on your volunteer firefighters’ time. Make sure the amount of time requested includes time to ensure COVID-19 requirements are completed.

Final thought:  If it makes someone smile, why wouldn’t you do it?

Dave Ferguson
May 2020