Public Order Policies

Jan. 26, 2004
Recent events showed the need for Toronto's police and fire departments to work together when handling civil unrest and disorder.

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

The role of the TFS is to support the Public Order Unit (POU). At any Public Order incident, the TFS will only be responsible for duties normally preformed by the fire service at any other emergency incident. Toronto Fire Services provides a number of functions as outlined in the MOU signed between the two Services in 2003. The core functions are as follows:

  • Provide a TFS-PSU/POU Liaison Officer;
  • Provide rescue and fire protection;
  • Provide Hazardous Material intervention including gross decontamination;
  • Provide CBRN response and support including gross decontamination;
  • Conduct Hazardous Materials surveys or evaluations;
  • Perform physical search and rescue operations in damaged/collapsed structures, and
  • Assist Toronto Emergency Medical Services with patient care when requested.

Firefighter safety is paramount in this operation. The intent of the TFS role is NOT to enter an area where police and demonstrators are interacting. The intended role is to work with the police site command to provide fire services and support without endangering TFS staff. The on-scene TFS response is directed by police through the TFS Liaison Officer.

Each of the four TFS Commands has one Rescue/Pumper with a crew on each platoon trained in public order unit structure and techniques, crowd management theory, and a basic understanding of crowd dynamics. This training, which is provided by the TPS, provides firefighters with a common and shared view of responsibilities at a POU incident. During deployment at these types of incidents TFS Personnel shall:

  • Be under the exclusive command and control of TFS Officers
  • Not enter into or participate in TPS-POU duties
  • Not participate in crowd control
  • Not utilize TFS equipment against crowds or in a hostile and aggressive manner
  • Not carry, utilize or be issued with offensive or defensive weapons
  • Wear TFS issued Personal Protective Equipment

TFS Liaison Officer Responsibilities

The role of the TFS-PSU/POU Liaison Officer is to provide liaison between TPS and TFS Joint Operations Apparatus, TFS Incident Commander and TFS resources. The Liaison Officer will be responsible for providing information to the TFS Command structure for planned, upcoming events. In addition to this he/she will prepare and have approved a Strategic Operational Plan for TFS response during each event. During the event, the liaison officer will provide TFS Communications and Command with information and intelligence, as it becomes available from the scene. Should a fire service response be required, the Liaison Officer will, under the direction of TPS POU Command, direct TFS Joint Operations Apparatus in and out of the scene.

The Liaison Officer will also provide support to Field Site Police Command. Any issue that involves TFS participation during an incident will be done through the Liaison Officer.

The TFS-POU Liaison Officer will in consultation with the TFS Incident Commander, terminate the incident by completing the following tasks:

  • Assist in the incident debriefing
  • Assist in the incident critique
  • Assist in the preparation of reports and documentation of the incident
  • Clearing all TFS apparatus and resources

Joint Operations Apparatus Deployment Options

The type of deployment of the Joint Operations Apparatus will largely depend on the nature and venue of the event. Decisions regarding deployment are usually made just prior to the event, to ensure the most recent intelligence has been considered. The four options for deployment are:

Staging Area

At large pre-planned events, a predetermined staging area will be designated. This staging area is typically selected to facilitate a police escort, should the need for one arise. All apparatus responding to a call inside the Police Area of Responsibility will go to that location, contact the Liaison Officer via radio, and wait for instructions. The staging area may also be used to stage Joint Operations Apparatus in a stand-by mode.


The training has been set up as an awareness program with an emphasis on firefighter safety. Learners will have an understanding of what the Public Safety/Public Order Unit is and how it functions when deployed. Participants also learn about crowd dynamics and how to recognize the characteristics of a changing crowd and potential hazards if a crowd uses violence. Finally, students learn how to respond to a large crowd event co-ordinated through the Public Safety/Public Order Unit.

Program Benefits

The development of the program has yielded significant benefits to all agencies, as well as the citizens of the city, among them:

  • Increased coordination and cooperation between participating agencies during incidents of real or potential disorder
  • Development of joint procedures and interoperability protocols
  • Enhanced safety to all parties - responders, protestors and bystanders
  • Reduced response times due to apparatus staging and crew preparedness
  • Comprehensive development and maturing of the Unified Command process

Future of the Program

In response to overwhelming acceptance of this initiative, the program is being expanded by providing the following training in 2004, to include:

  • A revision and expansion of the Operations Level Course
  • An additional 100 firefighters trained to Operations Level
  • An additional 4 District Chiefs trained to the Technicians Level
  • An increased number of Mass Training Days including full scale exercises
  • Joint Decontamination Training with Toronto Fire, Toronto Police and partnering Public Order Police Agencies

An annual review of the role of Toronto Fire Services in the Public Order Unit will be formalized, along with operational procedures, communications, interoperability, and safety.


Interest in the program from outside agencies has been growing and requests for informal information exchanges continue to take place, placing the Toronto Fire Services in a unique position to share its experiences with other police and fire services. Key personnel in the program have now participated and assisted in the development of preliminary universal "framework" models and training scenarios for integrating differing fire service delivery models into public order police responses on a national scale.

At the local level, joint training is now a regular, scheduled occurrence and more than 50 events, involving hundreds of days and personnel have been successfully concluded.

If you would like to obtain additional information on this topic, contact Captain BillCasey: [email protected]

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