Firefighters union wants better security after truck stolen, driven through downtown

By | December 3, 2019

The head of Winnipeg’s firefighters union says security measures were in place when one of their trucks was stolen and driven wildly through downtown last week.

The truck was parked on Henderson Highway last Friday while crews attended a call when someone jumped in and drove away.

Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, said the person managed to override the security system — a system put in place a decade ago, the last time a fire truck was stolen.

“We aren’t sure how it was capable,” he said, and a full investigation is now underway.

There is newer security technology out there, but it’s expensive, Forrest said.

“So we’re looking at different technologies out, seeing what we can do, but it comes down to money,” he said.

“We have a lot of vehicles and if we’re going to retrofit [the fleet] with the latest scientific techniques, it’s going to be expensive. These are very sophisticated machines and it’s not just a matter of going down to your local Canadian Tire and buying a club for the steering wheel.”

Winnipeg police block the fire truck on Assiniboine Avenue under the Midtown Bridge. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

In an emergency, every second counts, and that’s why crews leave the trucks running, Forrest said.

“You’ve got to understand that it’s life and death and you have to be able to use these machines within a second’s notice.”

The current security systems are supposed to keep them from being operated by just anyone.

“Once the chief is done with his investigation, we’ll have to look at the results and act on them. There’s going to have to be changes and we’re going to have to look at a more secure system,” Forrest said.

Alex Forrest of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg says newer technologies allow firefighters to do their jobs better but they can be very expensive. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

A 36-year-old man has been charged in connection with the theft of the truck, which was driven along Henderson with emergency lights flashing and air horn blaring.

It hit a half-ton truck as it drove toward downtown, where it was pursued by several police vehicles. The truck was driven through the downtown for about 15 minutes, going the wrong way on several one-way streets and through numerous red lights.

It also sent people running for safety as it sped through Central Park before it eventually stopped on Assiniboine Avenue under the Midtown Bridge.

Forrest said it was “a great relief” when it all came to an end and no one was seriously injured.

Since the incident, there have been suggestions that one firefighter should stay with the truck to prevent thefts, Forrest said, but he cautioned against that idea.

“Our No. 1 goal is to serve the public, and if you remove one of our firefighters from an emergency scene, you’re basically taking away 25 per cent of our assets,” he said.

The investigation into what exactly happened and how to prevent further thefts will find both expensive and cheap solutions, “and knowing Winnipeg, they’re probably going to come out with the cheapest solution,” Forrest said.

“Newer technologies that allow us to do our job better are always challenged by the city bureaucrats, challenged by the politicians, but we’ll be looking into this and we’re going to see what the best practices are within the fire service now.

“That’s what we’ll be pushing the chief to put on all of our fire trucks.”