By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French continues to push for further protections for firefighter trainees and has once again filed her framework for standardizing an industry that has seen the deaths of two men during unregulated training courses.
Earlier this month, French refiled the Brunt Kendall Act, now known as Bill 10. The move marks the second time French has brought the bill forward after filing it at Queen’s Park in May ahead of the June provincial election.
The bill looks to regulate the training courses offered to firefighter trainees by third-party companies, courses that can be dangerous, and sometimes deadly.
In 2010, 51-year-old Gary Kendall, a Point Edward volunteer firefighter, was taking part in an ice water rescue training exercise being offered by Herschel Rescue Training Systems on the St. Clair River near Sarnia. Kendall was swept under the ice and later died in hospital. Five years later, 30-year-old Adam Brunt, a Durham College student looking to become a firefighter, was taking a training course in swift water rescue on the Saugeen River, southwest of Owen Sound, being offered by the same company. However, when his rescue harness became snagged on a piece of rebar on the bottom of the quick flowing river, he drowned.
At the time, there was still no regulations surrounding these training courses. There was no certification or licensing process for those who offered them, and they had become surprisingly popular with those looking to gain an edge in the competitive firefighter job market.
It was two years after Brunt’s death that the Ontario government called for a coroner’s inquest to investigate the circumstances that led to both men’s tragic deaths.
The results of that inquest in May 2017 saw a list of 14 recommendations to the province and associated ministries, including a call to suspend all ice/swift water training exercises, that the province should set the locations for such training, create some type of monitoring process to ensure compliance, create a certification program for all trainers and exercises, create a public database of approved trainers and share statistical information related to any incidents, among others.
Now, the legislation reintroduced by French covers all aspects of the coroner’s recommendations.
It also puts the onus onto the Office of the Fire Marshal to create minimum safety standards for these training courses, a certification and licensing process, along with creating a registry of these certified courses and the reporting of deaths and injuries related to any of these exercises.
The bill also includes enforcement aspects and penalties for non-compliances prescribed under the Fire Prevention Act.
Aside from a few minor changes to reflect the updated ministries under Doug Ford’s PC government, French says the bill is exactly as it was when it was filed the first time.
“It is the right solution, even with the new government, I think that it’s putting the onus of responsibility on the Fire Marshal, which is where that regulation and the oversight (and) those responsibilities should be placed,” French says.
To this point, it has been no easy task creating the bill, as finding the correct ministries responsible has been a legislative tangle. The trainees do not fall under the protection of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Training as the courses are not affiliated with any educational or post-secondary institution.
They are not protected under the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, as in Brunt’s case, he was not yet a firefighter, and the issue does not technically fall to the Ministry of Labour as the training environments are not workplaces and the attendees are not employees.
At this time, French will need to wait until October in order to decide whether she wants to bring the bill forward for debate. If she does, the bill could hit the floor of Queen’s Park for debate in November, however that timeline remains uncertain. Aside from that, French says there’s nothing stopping the current government from taking her bill and adopting it.
“This is the perfect time,” French says, noting that the government is still working to formulate its ministries, roles and responsibilities. “Here is a part that can easily be introduced in their mandate because the work has been done, the framework has been delineated in this bill.”
“It is the right idea,” French adds. “It is the right framework, there is absolutely the potential for this government ultimately to implement it and to fix this.”