The coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Gary Kendall and Durham College student Adam Brunt has come to an end, the final product being a list of 14 recommendations to the province and associated ministries, including a call to suspend all ice/swift water training exercises. However, according to MPP Jennifer French, things are far from over.
During a two-week process in May, the inquest analyzed the 2010 death of Kendall, a volunteer firefighter and Brunt, a student in the pre-service fire fighting program at Durham College in 2015, both of which occurred during training exercises for ice/swift water rescue with the same company.
The final recommendations passed on to the province were widely reported on as they called for a moratorium on any future training exercises of this nature until the province could come up with a set of regulations and guidelines to ensure “that the training can be conducted in a manner that minimizes risk to a level deemed safe for training,” the final inquest report reads.
The recommendations call for a committee of subject matter experts to create such regulations or criteria.
Further, the inquest recommends 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.
For French, these recommendations are a first step, and perhaps only the surface of what can be done to address these issues.
“What the government does with this I don’t know,” she says. “We need to find legislation that is going to be the best protection.”
The training exercises remain in a legislative limbo, with no particular ministry claiming responsibility for taking action. The recommendations themselves named a series of provincial ministries, including the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development and the Ministry of Labour.
From the beginning, French says she has worked well with the ministers involved in the process. However, with the 2018 election looming, some changes may be seen around Queen’s Park.
“I want this settled and moving forward with these ministers who have been invested and are interested in being a part of this solution,” she says.
For that reason, she’s currently working on a private members bill to bring forward and hopefully spur some action from the province.
“We’re working on that right now with legislative council to put forward a suggested fix to this and then that will be one more push or one more piece of the puzzle,” she says.
And while there’s relief that the inquest has concluded, there is plenty more work ahead.
“It’s a very raw process and I’m glad that I could sit with the families and go through it with them to not just support them, but to gain understanding,” French says. “It’s something that we have been connected to since the beginning. I feel a personal sense of commitment to the families and to the safety of future trainees. This is our community, this could be anyone’s community. It has never been partisan, it is about safety and finishing something that we started.”