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April 18, 2021

Canadian Fire Department Embraces Safety Cloud® for Collision Prevention

Story originally posted by the Winnipeg Free Press.

Drivers in the Rural Municipality of Cartier can now receive notifications when they’re nearing emergency crews at an accident.

People who use Waze, an app for navigation and traffic, will get an alert on their mobile devices or, in some instances, on their car dashboard, when Cartier firefighters are nearby. Notifications come when vehicles are up to 30 seconds away from the first responders.

An example of the alert Waze users will get on their phones when they're near a Cartier firetruck that's responding to a call. (SUPPLIED)

An example of the alert Waze users will get on their phones when they're near a Cartier firetruck that's responding to a call.

Cartier’s fire department is using the HAAS Alert Safety Cloud. Every time a truck turns on its lights and sirens, the program is activated and virtual alerts start flowing to Waze. The fire department paid $400 for each of its four vehicles to join the program; the subscription comes to $1,600 annually.

"It’s very dangerous for firefighters — and all first responders — to be on scene," said Dan Bouchard, Cartier’s fire chief. "(The system is) just another tool to keep our firefighters safe."

The department’s 23 members respond to about 80 calls a year. Roughly half of those are traffic incidents, and most take place on Highway 1, where the speed limit is 110 kilometres per hour, Bouchard said.

Often, people are speeding, and they don’t adapt for poor weather conditions like snow, fog and icy roads, he said. 

"People continue driving 100 kilometres per hour when the visibility is only 100 yards or that," Bouchard said. "People need to adjust their driving for the conditions, and when they don’t, that’s when we run into problems."

Near misses between traffic and firefighters are common, Bouchard said. He remembers one foggy morning near Elie when a semi-truck slid on an icy highway.

"He was out of control and we… literally had firefighters diving into the ditch to avoid being struck," Bouchard said. "It’s really, really scary. Anything we can do to get notification out and have people slow down, it’s a no-brainer for me."

Cartier’s fire department is the first in Canada to adopt the alert system, he said. 

The Slow Down, Move Over law requires drivers to reduce their speeds and move over when they see emergency crews and tow trucks on the side of the road with their lights flashing. It was added to Manitoba’s Highway Traffic Act in 2011. When the speed limit is 80 km/h or higher, drivers must slow down to 60 km/h.

People who don’t comply could face a fine of $298 and two demerits on their license.

Generally, motorists follow the rule, Bouchard said.

"I think most people are responsible," he said. "I think there’s a small minority of people that are not making good choices."

He said there haven’t been any serious injuries or deaths among his crew due to vehicles hitting them while at a scene. 

Manitoba Public Insurance does not track how many emergency personnel are hit while attending a road accident, according to media relations co-ordinator Brian Smiley. Instead, the crew members would be grouped into the "injured roadside" category, Smiley said.

Manitoba’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police do not track the number of emergency personnel hit while on call either, an RCMP spokesperson said.

Lt. Luc Mallet has been a firefighter for the RM of Cartier for nine years. He said he’s had his close calls.

"I think we probably all have, except for the very new firefighters," Mallet said.

He said traffic, and bad weather and road conditions, are threats first responders must be cognizant of whenever they’re on scene.

"You approach every scene picking out those threats, and you try to address them as best you can," he said.

The new alert system is one more layer of protection, added to traffic cones and highly visible trucks and gear, Mallet said.

"We’re not there to try to slow (drivers) down or try to ruin their day or make them late for an appointment," he said. "We’re trying to help someone who’s having a very, very horrible time."

Cartier’s fire department conducted a pilot project on the HAAS Alert Safety Cloud last November and December. After the fire chief deemed it successful, the department decided to continue with the system.


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Tag(s): Fire , In The News

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