Recent events showed the need for Toronto's police and fire departments to work together when handling civil unrest and disorder.
No incident highlighted this more than the 78-day anti-war protest against the NATO sorties in Bosnia, which took place at the US Consulate in Toronto from March to June 1999. The consulate was firebombed with a flammable liquid which contained an additive to make it tenacious and police on the scene had only fire extinguishers to combat the flames.
They eventually managed to extinguish the fire but not before an officer came into contact with the sticky, burning substance and received minor burns. A fire crew was called in to inspect the building and put out any remaining blazes, however, they did so without any prior knowledge of the nature of the incident and without any training for responding to emergencies involving large hostile crowds. They were untrained and unprepared to deal with the large, hostile crowd protesting American foreign policy which threw rocks and bottles at them.
Although police and fire crews worked well together, the agencies had a limited ability to communicate with each other and overall coordination of their response was lacking. Following this incident, it became obvious that the three emergency services needed to work more co-operatively to deal with such events.
Concept of Operations
Toronto Police already had a well established Public Order Unit (POU) to deal with large crowds and demonstrations. It was now apparent that Toronto Fire should consider assigning staff to the unit to deal with fire and hazardous materials (Hazmat) issues that might be encountered during a mass crowd event. Fire crews would work within the established command structure for these types of events, resulting in increasing their level of safety while performing their specialized function. This would parallel the involvement of Toronto EMS, who for the past fourteen years have assigned Paramedics dedicated to the unit during these types of incidents. These specially trained Paramedics deal with any medical emergency or response within the designated area, thereby eliminating the need to bring in untrained and unfamiliar staff into a potentially dangerous situation. The Paramedics have received full POU training and are issued appropriate safety and personal protective equipment for this environment.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) clearly recognizes the necessity for this approach, as reflected in the following fire service standards:
NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program
The fire department shall develop and maintain written standard operating procedures that establish a standardized approach to the safety of members at incidents that involve violence, unrest, or civil disturbance. Such situations shall include but not be limited to riots, fights, violent crimes, drug-related situations, family disturbances, deranged individuals, and people interfering with fire department operations. (NFPA 1500)
The fire department shall be responsible for developing an interagency agreement with its law enforcement agency counterpart to provide protection for fire department members at situations that involve violence. (NFPA 1500)
Such violent situations shall be considered essentially a law enforcement event, and the fire department shall coordinate with the law enforcement incident commander throughout the incident. (NFPA 1500)
After consultation with the Fire Chief and the Association, a fire-specific mandate was developed by recently retired Division Commander John Allard, which defined the role and structure of the Incident Commander and overall fire response. Captain Bill Casey of Special Operations addressed the role of the Liaison Officer.
Current Toronto Fire Services (TFS) Operating Model and Responsibilities