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French calls for action to protect firefighter trainees

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa MPP Jennifer French is calling on the government to shape up and implement the full series of recommendations that came out of the coroner’s inquest into the deaths of firefighter trainee and Durham College student Adam Brunt and volunteer firefighter Gary Kendall.

The inquest, which wrapped up in May, resulted in a series of 14 recommendations to various government ministries, and called for a halt to all ice/swift water training exercises until a set of regulations and guidelines could be developed by the province to ensure trainees are safe.

Set to be debated tomorrow (Sept. 21) is a private members’ bill brought forward by French in an attempt to have the government implement all of the recommendations.

“I want the government to not only make these recommendations have teeth, but I also want them to reassure these families and the rest of Ontario that this inquest process isn’t just an exercise in shifting responsibility,” she says.

In the lead-up to the eventual inquest, the debate swirled between provincial ministries as to which would eventually hold the responsibility for carrying out the much needed changes to prevent further deaths. Currently, the training industry for these types of firefighting and rescue exercises operate without provincial regulations.

The May inquest looked closer at the deaths of two men, both with the same training outfit, Herschel Rescue Training Systems out of Newmarket. Brunt, a 30-year-old man from Bowmanville was swept under the ice of the Saugeen River during an exercise for cold-water rescue training in February of 2015. Previously, in 2010, volunteer firefighter, Kendall, was swept under shore ice during the same type of exercise and would later die in hospital.

Among the recommendations there is a call for the creation of a committee of subject matter experts to create such regulations or criteria for the industry, as well as the recommendation that if in future these exercises continue in a regulated manner, 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.

French says she believes all of the recommendations need to be implemented as many of them are interconnected, and pulling them apart would be ineffective.

“If they do make the mistake of picking them apart, they’re doing a disservice to the process,” she says. “If the government defeats this because they want to cherry pick, shame on them. If they adopt all of them and then take a look at them and prioritize them, that’s a different conversation.”

However, with that said, French notes that each recommendation was made for a particular reason, and eventually all of them should be put into effect.

“This was a complicated series of events that led to these deaths, the government isn’t in the position to decide which of those are more important than others,” she says.

Currently, French, along with a lawyer involved in the inquest and members of both Brunt’s and Kendall’s families will be holding a press conference ahead of the debate on Sept. 21.