December 8, 2019

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Anti-theft device on Winnipeg fire engine engaged, 'just never worked'

A Winnipeg fire engine stolen last week, leading to a wild police chase through the city's downtown, was equipped with an anti-theft mechanism, but it didn’t work, officials say.

"We can’t go into details, but there is an anti-theft (device) and from discussions with the crew, (it) was engaged," United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest said Monday. "Unfortunately, for some reason, it just never worked this particular time."

Forrest said the fire department started outfitting its truck fleet with anti-theft devices about 10 years ago — the last time someone tried to illegally take one of its trucks.

While the department’s smaller squad vehicles and district chief vehicles are routinely locked, fire engines must remain open for quick access and kept running at a call scene, so as not to reduce response times or run the risk of an equipment malfunction, Forrest said.

Winnipeg Police Officers and Fire Crews survey the damage on a stolen fire truck that was stopped by a police vehicle under the Donald Street Bridge on Assiniboine Ave., Friday.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Police Officers and Fire Crews survey the damage on a stolen fire truck that was stopped by a police vehicle under the Donald Street Bridge on Assiniboine Ave., Friday.

"If you are at a call and it’s... 30 or 40 minutes, we’re taking a bit of a risk if we jump in and are hoping it starts — especially with our lack of equipment that we have," Forrest said. "We have many vehicles that are past their best-due date."

Forrest said the department is looking at what other anti-theft measures it can employ, without compromising firefighters’ ability to do their job.

"This isn’t going to be a simple fix," the union leader said. "It’s not like we can go to the nearest Canadian Tire and buy a club for our steering wheel."

UFFW president Alex Forrest.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

UFFW president Alex Forrest.

One suggested solution — having one crew member stay with the vehicle at all times — would reduce a crew’s capacity to respond to an emergency by up 25 per cent, Forrest said.

"Many times, when we go into fires or emergency calls, we need all hands on deck to be able to do the emergency call properly," he said. "It’s a balancing act.

"We can have greater security in the vehicles, but it could hinder our ability to do our job of fighting fires, attending rescues and emergency medical calls."

A City of Winnipeg spokesperson refused comment on the anti-theft system employed by the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, citing the ongoing investigation "into (the Nov. 29) incident."

"We can’t go into details, but there is an anti-theft (device) and from discussions with the crew, (it) was engaged. Unfortunately, for some reason, it just never worked this particular time." – United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg president Alex Forrest

Bai Farama Koroma has been charged with theft of a motor vehicle, two counts of failing to stop at the scene of an accident, operation of a conveyance while impaired by alcohol or drugs, dangerous driving, possession of a weapon, fleeing while being pursued by a police officer, and driving without a valid licence. He remains in custody.

Koroma, 36, is accused of driving away in a fire engine that was parked on the 1600 block of Henderson Highway while WFPS workers were responding to a call around 12:30 p.m. last Friday.

The dramatic police chase caused thousands of dollars in damage during a 15-minute pursuit through the downtown. It ended with a suspect being subdued with a Taser.

dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

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