POLITICS

Families of two men killed in firefighter training exercises demand inquests

03/11/2015 02:26 EDT | Updated 05/11/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Relatives of two Ontario men who died in firefighter training exercises run by a private company are calling for coroner's inquests into the deaths as well as government oversight of the industry.

Al Brunt said his son Adam, a firefighting student who died in an ice training exercise in Hanover last month, would have wanted to make sure what happened to him never occurs again.

"He would want to protect the next person," Brunt said. "We're going to take on that battle."

Adam Brunt's death on Feb. 8 came five years after a similar incident near Sarnia claimed the life of Gary Kendall, a volunteer firefighter.

No coroner's inquest was held in Kendall's death but the municipality of Point Edward was fined $75,000 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Brunt joined Jennifer French, a New Democrat member of the provincial legislature, on Thursday in calling for the inquests and pushing for the province to regulate private sector companies that provide highly technical and potentially dangerous safety courses to firefighters and other first responders.

Members of the Kendall family were also present but a friend spoke on their behalf.

The courses aren't mandatory and the companies aren't required to follow best practices established for firefighters.

Many firefighting students — including Adam Brunt, according to his father — sign up for the additional training because they believe it will make them more competitive in the job hunt.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities said Wednesday it would look into regulating the private safety training industry in the wake of the fatal incidents.

The ministry said it will review the Private Career Colleges Act, which regulates vocational training, and will come up with a list of recommendations by the fall.

It's important to find out exactly what went wrong in order to prevent future fatalities, Al Brunt said.

"If you're going to build regulations around it, you need to understand the details and the background," he said.

Coroner's inquests could help set out standards for instructor-to-student ratios, safety plans and other aspects of privately run training, he said.

French said she's encouraged by the government's announcement but wants to ensure the necessary changes are brought in quickly.

"The first of these deaths occurred more than five years ago," she said.

"We want to ensure that the Liberal government takes action with a coroner's inquest and regulations for the private safety training industry before another five years passes by and another tragedy occurs."

The Ministry of Labour is investigating Brunt's death.

The course he took was run by Herschel Rescue Training Systems, a Toronto-area company whose owner and master instructor was acquitted after being charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Kendall's death.

Court documents show a judge ruled Terry Harrison had not officially been designated as incident commander for the exercise, and thus could not be held responsible for the safety of firefighters.

Harrison has said he was invited to take part in the 2010 exercise but was not hired to lead it.

He has also called for coroner's inquests in both fatal incidents and said there should be a review of current rules to make sure rescue workers get the education they need.