Firefighters may respond to water or ice related emergencies, or train in similar conditions.


Firefighters are at risk of drowning and hypothermia.

Actions for employers

Employers must:

  • provide information, instruction and supervision to workers to protect their health and safety when working in or around water or on ice

Employers should:

  • develop and implement procedures for the emergency situations which may reasonably be expected to occur in the response area
  • select training locations that present the lowest risk while still providing value in training
  • provide separate training for ice rescue, cold water rescue and swift water rescue, to allow workers to develop skills in lower risk conditions where the hazards are not combined

Training courses

Employers should consider the following before training takes place in water or on ice:

  • set out clear course curricula, using NFPA 1006 – Standard for Technical Rescuer Professional Qualifications as a template
  • establish the roles and responsibilities of each person, including those of any instructor, incident commander, accountability officer, safety officer, rapid intervention team (RIT) or trainee
  • ensure each person is competent to perform their role
  • ensure that a competent person conducts a safety assessment and produces a written training plan setting out the training location, including moving water conditions, characteristics, and features and mechanisms of entrapment
  • provide the training plan to all participants
  • establish and communicate a written safety plan

Considerations for pre-planning

Employers should consider the following when pre-planning for water or ice related emergency situations: 

  • document the locations or situations that may occur
  • determine protocols for mutual aid, automatic aid or assistance from outside agencies, such as other fire services, police services, emergency medical services, or Canadian or US Coast Guard
  • establish communication protocols with mutual aid, automatic aid or outside agencies and review the need for a marine radio communications protocol
  • test firefighters on their ability to respond to those emergencies quickly, safely, competently and effectively
  • determine the self-survival techniques, self–survival equipment and procedures that should be included in training
  • select, acquire and have readily available the appropriate rescue equipment to safely perform the operations that may be expected. Any equipment that is provided by employers must be maintained in good condition.

Considerations for safety

When responding to water or ice related emergency situations or during training evolutions employers should ensure that:

  • an Incident Command System is established
  • an Accountability System is established
  • an incident safety officer is appointed
  • a Rapid Intervention Team(s) (RIT) wearing appropriate PPE is established and ready to deploy
  • rescuers work in teams
  • rescuers wear PPE or immersion suits as appropriate to the circumstances
  • rescue personnel who may be near water, or where there is an exposure to the hazard of falling into water, wear an appropriate personal flotation device (PFD)
  • a rehab sector is established taking into consideration the weather conditions, time of year, decontamination of rescuers and equipment, and any rescuer’s medical needs
  • a post operation review is completed after all water or ice related emergencies or training evolutions

Ice rescue

Rescue personnel who may be exposed to water immersion should wear appropriate personal flotation devices, immersion suits, and clothing to reduce the risk of hypothermia.

Water rescue

All rescuers who enter the water should maintain controlled contact with the shore or boat using a safety line, hand contact or similar method, when appropriate. 

In some rescue situations, such as swift water, rescuers may not be able to be safely connected to a rope. In these situations, appropriate safety measures should be taken to ensure the safety of rescue personnel.  Fire departments that may need to perform rescues in swift water must ensure that specific training is provided to address the unique hazards of swift water rescue. 

Applicable regulations and acts


  • Occupational Health and Safety Act
    • clause 25(2)(a) for providing information, instruction and supervision to a worker
    • clause 25(2)(d) for making workers aware of hazards
    • clause 25(2)(h) for taking every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers

Applicable standards

For guidance on minimum job performance requirements for fire service personnel who perform technical rescue operations, read NFPA 1006 – Standard for Technical Rescuer Professional Qualifications

For levels of functional capability for efficiently and effectively conducting operations at technical search and rescue incidents, read NFPA 1670 - Standard on Operations and Training for Technical Search and Rescue Incidents


Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services

Transport Canada

Firefighter guidance notes