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Firefighter trainees to get more protection

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

In a move being applauded by safety advocates, the Ontario government has said it will implement an entire list of coroner’s inquest recommendations stemming from the deaths of two men during ice rescue training exercises.

The motion, brought forward by Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, called on the government to move forward with the 14 recommendations that came out of the inquest held earlier this year that examined the circumstances surrounding the deaths of firefighter trainee Adam Brunt and volunteer firefighter Gary Kendall, both of whom died during ice/swift water training exercises with Herschel Rescue Training Systems.

Brunt, a 30-year-old Durham College student, was swept under the ice of the Saugeen River near Hanover, Ont. during a training exercise in February 2015. Kendall, suffered a similar fate five years earlier during a similar exercise.

Now, following unanimous support at Queen’s Park, the government has said it will implement the recommendations that not only suggested a moratorium on such training exercises until regulations could be created, but also called for the creation of a committee of subject matter experts to create these regulations or criteria for the industry.

Also recommended if these exercises are to continue in the future in a regulated manner, is that the province 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.

Ahead of the debate on the issue on Sept. 21, French held a press conference that included members of both Brunt’s and Kendall’s families, along with a lawyer who was part of the coroner’s inquest.

“It was a really special day to have both families and safety advocates from the firefighter community and the family supporters,” French says. “I was really glad to give them that second opportunity to bring their stories and to share their stories and use their voices, that’s what it’s supposed to be about.”

The May inquest was the result of repeated calls from both families for an investigation into how these tragedies took place, and to search for methods to prevent them from happening again. Over the last two years, the government has struggled to place the responsibility for fixing the unregulated industry on one ministry.

French was pleased to see the strong support for moving toward implementing the changes.

“It was a relief to have all three parties support it. I was optimistic that they would, but it was a relief, because this is not a partisan issue, this is a safety issue,” she says.

However, the motion carries no binding weight, and French says the advocacy to see these recommendations from paper into reality still continues.

“This was a motion, and a motion should be about movement. It is fine, it is great to have those reassurances, but we’ve been receiving reassurances for two and a half years, so we need to see action,” she says. “It now moves into a different chapter of this story, which is one of continued advocacy to ensure that this doesn’t get lost in a pile.”