Iconic brass firefighter poles disappearing in Sask.

When the fire alarm rings, most firefighters in Saskatchewan aren't sliding down a pole anymore - they run, slide, or take the stairs.

Safety concerns, new designs bring changes

Yorkton's Deputy Fire Chief Greg Litvanyi showing off the slide at his fire hall. 1:01

When the fire alarm rings, most firefighters in Saskatchewan aren't sliding down a pole anymore  they run, slide, or take the stairs.

The iconic brass pole is becoming a thing of the past due to safety concerns and new single-storey fire hall designs.

When the Yorkton Fire Department designed its new state-of-the-art fire hall in 2010, a committee of firefighters decided to install a slide as its primary route from the upstairs sleeping quarters to the fire engine below.

The Yorkton fire department installed a pole near its training room so it would be available for school tours. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

Now, four years later, deputy fire chief Greg Litvanyi is convinced it's the safest, fastest way.

"Initially, everybody kind of thought, 'Really? A slide? Like, we're not children. It isn't a playground,'" Litvanyi said. "But it took a little while. We've been in the station for four years and we've got buy-in. It's a quicker way to get down when you come to a call."

Safety risk to firefighters

The National Fire Protection Association — a safety standard body in the United States — hasn't issued any recommendations on removing fire poles, but it does say that fire poles pose a safety risk to firefighters.

Sliding down a fire pole can lead to ankle and knee injuries.

Over the past decade, many American fire departments have phased out fire poles because of high insurance costs and lawsuits filed by injured firefighters.

In Prince Albert, Sask., the department banned its firefighters from using the fire pole back in the mid-90s. Nearly two decades later, firefighters still take the stairs.

Prince Albert's new fire chief Jason Everitt maintains the policy.

"The reason it was phased out was because of occupational injury that some of our firefighters were sustaining coming down the pole," Everitt said. "Ankle injuries, knee injuries, things along those lines caused some grief. And I don't think P.A. is in isolation with that. I think most of the departments phased out the poles for similar reasons."

Swift Current station holds on to tradition

Everitt believes that taking the stairs as a group is just as fast as having firefighters line up to take turns sliding down the pole.

There are no recognized studies that measure the difference in speed between slides, poles, and stairs.

Meanwhile, the fire halls in Regina and Moose Jaw are now all single-storey buildings so fire poles aren't necessary. 

In Saskatoon, only two of the nine fire halls have poles. 

Swift Current's firefighters still use the pole in its century-old fire hall.

Not extinct yet

Shane Drosky, who has been with the Yorkton Fire Department for 11 years, believe the slide in its fire hall is safer and easier on their bodies.

"You can control your speed coming down," Drosky said. "It all depends if you put your hands and feet on the side. You can be fairly quick coming down."

Litvanyi is in charge of monitoring how fast the firefighters get out the door to answer a call.
"Pole, slide or stairs, day or night, we meet that standard of 90 seconds," he said.

Hanging on to history

From schoolchildren to seniors, Litvanyi says visitors always want to see a firefighter drop down the hole.

"The first thing they ask when they come in the building is, 'Where's the pole?'" Litvanyi said. 
Beyond its slide, the Yorkton department also installed a pole near its training room so it would be available for school tours. It has a double-lock system, including a dead-bolt at the top of the door; and there's a cushion at the bottom.

"We really wanted to have one in for tradition," Litvanyi said. "Generally that's how we start all of our tours. A firefighter drops in the hole to start the tour."

Drosky says he prefers the slide because there is less chances of injuries, but he also recognizes the tradition of a pole in fire halls.

"It's in every children's book, the firemen come down the pole," Drosky said. "It's nice to have incorporated into the fire hall, absolutely."