Volunteer firefighters practice driving skills

Volunteer firefighter Orin Caverly gets some advice from Ian Kosokowsky on how to better negotiate the perception test during a Saskatchewan Emergency Vehicle Operator course held at Meadow Lake Airport Oct. 22-23.

By Rhonda Cooper

Flying pylons, head shakes and grimaces accompanied the driving manoeuvres of nine of Meadow Lake’s Fire & Rescue firefighter team at the Meadow Lake airport last weekend.

Marked courses tested the participants’ steering, cornering and braking abilities as well as their perception and reaction over two days of low speed – high stress driving situations during the Saskatchewan Emergency Vehicle Operator course held Oct. 22 and 23.

Deputy Fire Chief Joe Grela and two members of the province’s Emergency Management and Fire Safety department spent three days prior to the weekend being re-certified as course instructors and examiners.

“I was certified the first time two years ago,” said Grela. “Back then it was a week long course in Saskatoon. It is the exact same course.”

The goal of the course is to teach participants to drive not only responsibly but also defensively.

“The same principles apply whether driving your own vehicle or an emergency vehicle,” he said.

The weekend session consisted of classroom sessions both Saturday and Sunday mornings followed by afternoons of practical road work. Participants were required to do a written test of which the passing mark was 80 per cent before hitting the road course Sunday afternoon.

“Everyone passed the written exam,” said Grela.

Saturday’s road course involved nine turns of which three were 180 degrees, three more were 45 degrees and the final trio were 90 degree.

“Before they drove by themselves, each participant rode with an instructor who explained the course to them,” Grela said. “The goal was to go through the course without knocking
down any pylons.”

Early in the afternoon, pylons were toppled but as the drivers became more practiced and proficient, pylons remained upright. Sunday, the participants were challenged with three tests, backing up with a spotter, backing into a loading dock and a perception/reaction drive through.

The perception test gave drivers five practice runs, two at 40 km/h and three at 50 km/h before being given the opportunity to qualify.

In this scenario, a sign board with three coloured circles were shown to the drivers at a set time and the driver had to make the best choice. The circles coincided with each of the three lanes, of which the middle one diminished but was wide enough for even the large half-ton truck and suburban to go through without touching the pylons.

Green circles indicated the best choice, yellow circles were the second choice and red circled lanes were to be avoided. The qualifying runs had to be done at 50 km/h.

Participant Ian Kosokowsky indicated the driving course is another part of firefighter’s training.

“It’s like learning how to use the jaws of life or the breathing apparatus or doing CPR. They are all skills that help us do our job. But driving is a skill we use on every call,” he said.

Kosokowsky indicated the weekend course was all about teaching good habits and even though most people know some of the correct things to do, they often fall into bad habits.

“It was a good reminder,” he said. “Simply spending the time with experts means you get the best possible return on your time.”

Kosokowsky, as well as Grela, believe everyone should take a defensive driving course.

All participants graduated from the weekend course. Gela noted should the city of Meadow Lake pass a bylaw allowing volunteers to have lights and alarms on their personal vehicles in order to reach the fire hall more quickly, all nine who successfully qualified, would be eligible.

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