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While acquiring an “unauthorized prop vehicle” is more likely to happen at a salvage yard, there are two incidents that have recently happened at a local fire station; here in MA and the other indicated on your website in NY. I have been doing vehicle extrication since 1977, and have seen this happen twice.

The following are some suggestions for fire departments to avoid having costly replacement settlements and embarrassing exposure from the press:

  • Have a list of prop vehicles and their location;
  • Never take the word of a worker at a salvage yard, ask them to make the vehicles for you. This takes the liability away from you the instructor or officer in charge of the drill;
  • Have the lead instructor walk the salvage yard with the owner of the salvage yard and tie surveyor’s tape/ribbon to the antennas of the vehicles to be used. This is especially handy when the vehicles are scattered;
  • When ever possible, have the vehicles brought to a specific restricted location at the drill yard to avoid the possibility of damaging the wrong vehicles;
  • Have all vehicles clearly marked with contrasting colors such as fluorescent orange, green or white spray paint on the windshield of the vehicles and or the hood;
  • When at the local fire station; use of road cones, saw horses with signs, or barrier tape to keep out unauthorized people and cars out of the drill yard;
  • The instructor/officer in charge of the drill should have a good idea how many vehicles they have to work with prior to the training day. Most salvage yards want to get rid of their older vehicles in storage to make room for newer vehicles that will be of greater value for parts. It’s also a good tax write off to let the local department cut up older vehicles that have no value for parts. The vehicles can be still sold for scrap metal with no loss in value even when destroyed by the members at a drill. When an instructor or person in charge of the drill sees a fairly new vehicle in the inventory, it is wise to contact someone higher up or the salvage yard to see if the vehicle was left there for the department’s use as a prop vehicle.

Vehicle Extrication Logistics’ List: Prop Identifiers

  • Inexpensive bright contrasting spray paint
  • Surveyor’s ribbon
  • Road cones or similar warning devices
  • Warning signs; “Restricted Area, Authorized Personnel”
  • Barrier tape; “Fire Line Do Not Cross”
  • List of vehicles and location
While its fun to cut up a new vehicle, answering to the “Man” for using an unauthorized vehicle as a prop will surely outweigh the fun you had!

Ronald E. Shaw

The story on the car being cut up is from Massachusetts, not NYC.

Diane Feldman answers letters: It happened in both places. I got an e-mail that it happened in Massachusetts, but it happened in NYC as well. I saw it on our local news and heard it on our local radio station.


I read this article with great interest. My background is 28 years in the fire service.

Twenty-two of those years I have been the primary fire investigator for my department. I have worked many fire scenes and with many agencies at those scenes. I currently hold level 3 investigators certificates from both the British Columbia Fire Commissioners office and the Canadian Fire Investigation School. I also am First Vice President of the BC Fire Training Officers Association and we train most of the fire training officers in BC. Your comments regarding interagency cooperation are exactly to the point.

I find that other agencies do not or cannot afford the time and effort to spend on fire investigations. I do believe that insurance companies need to start supporting fire departments rather that looking at them as a way to mitigate some of the loss. By support I mean work with the local departments support them with training and cost recovery for investigations. There is a growing distrust among fire department investigators and those from the insurance companies. I would like to see additional training for police officers on fire investigation and dedicated police investigators who have a background in fire investigations.

Your comments on Juvenile Fire Setters are to the point. We do have a Juvenile Fire Setters program here in BC and I believe it is one of the best around. We have found that early intervention can be the key to helping someone stop fire setting.

Deputy Fire Chief B Dundas
Langley City Fire Rescue Service, Langley BC

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