By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French’s Bill 10, which aims to regulate firefighter safety training, is heading to committee for its third reading.
According to French, Bill 10 is the culmination of three-and-a-half years of work. She brought the proposed legislation forward with help of families of Adam Brunt and Gary Kendall, two firefighters who died during safety training exercises.
“We have been bringing this story and bringing this situation to the attention of the former [Liberal] government and former premier,” says French.
After calling for a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Brunt and Kendall, 14 recommendations to various government industries were made. These recommendations called for a halt to all ice and swift water training exercises until a set of regulations and guidelines could be developed and put in place.
French says that she wrote Bill 10 herself because the previous government would not give anything but assurances.
“Normally a private member’s bill is one or two lines that are a specific fix. This is essentially seven pages of full government legislation on behalf of the government to create an entire framework,” says French.
Brunt was a Durham College student who was training to be a firefighter.
He died on Feb. 8, 2015, while participating in a safety course run by Newmarket’s Hershel Rescue Training System on the Saugeen River near Hanover, Ont., about an hour south of Owen Sound.
He was swept under the ice when he gear caught on a piece of rebar under the water.
Kendall, a volunteer firefighter from Point Edward, Ont., died in a similar incident in January 2010 while taking a course run by the same company.
The company’s owner, Terry Harrison, would be charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, but later had the charges thrown out when a judge determined he wasn’t the one technically in charge of the exercise that day.
According to French, Brunt found out about the safety training course on Facebook.
She also says that many people who want to become firefighters take these courses to learn special skills and get a leg up during interviews.
“The thing is, none of these courses have basic standards. You and I could decide ‘Hey, you know what? I know a lot about knots. I was a girl guide. Let’s you and I teach a course to would-be firefighters about ropes and knots and high angle rescue,” French says. “Let’s charge a whole bunch, we’ll post it on Facebook, people will take our course, we can decide what we teach them, we cross our fingers that nothing goes wrong. And when they’re done, you print off certificates on your computer saying course completed and they get to show it at an interview.’”
French says that there are no standards in place for training firefighters, but driving instructors are regulated. She notes that while the two have their own unique dangers, she wonders why the one has standards and regulations and the other does not.
French says that her bill sets out a framework.
“The office of the fire marshal should be responsible for overseeing this industry. Licensing instructors, regulating what is taught, ensuring that the province even needs these courses.”
Bill 10, or the Brunt and Kendall Bill, has been passed through its second reading, which means it will now be going to committee before going to the House.
French only hopes that it will be reviewed at the committee level sooner or later.
Brunt’s father, Al, says this is only a start as the bill still needs to go through a third reading.
Al says that French stepped up in 2015 and has been working with on the family’s behalf ever since.
“Jennifer’s been a mainstay for us. She knows it she gets it,” he says. “There’s others as well, I don’t want to just single out Jennifer, but she’s been a big part of it as our connection to the government.”
He is confident that the bill will go through.
“It has to happen,” he says.
If the Bill ends up languishing in legislative purgatory, French says that she will continue to fight to improve firefighter safety.
“[Putting it on the order paper] is a huge step,” says Al. “We will continue to lobby until we get that third reading that says its law.”
Al says that, as someone who works for the government, he can see why people will give up while trying to push a bill forward like Bill 10.
He says that he has called provincial ministers and while they say he’ll hear back from them in a week or two, that’s not always the case.
“If you don’t have the persistence and the right persona to continue to push and push and push, people just give up,” he says. “People that don’t have that luxury, and don’t get fortunate enough to get somebody like Jennifer to step up and help you, you’re banging your head against the wall.”
He believes that having French “has been a Godsend.”
French says that she has been a consistent advocate on health and safety issues, but this one is very close to her heart.
“This specific issue, if it gets stuck and the government doesn’t pull it to committee … we will be chasing this government to make sure that they. We’re not just going to sit quietly and wait,” says French.