view entire issue | view Hansard type of business | new search


Ontario Hansard - 21-September2017

FIREFIGHTERS


Ms. Jennifer K. French: I move that, in the opinion of this House, the government of Ontario should immediately and fully adopt the recommendations of the jury in the coroner’s inquest into the deaths of Adam Brunt and Gary Kendall to help better ensure the safety of Ontario firefighters and firefighter trainees.

The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Soo Wong): Pursuant to standing order 98, the member has 12 minutes for her presentation.

Ms. Jennifer K. French: It is always my privilege to stand in this Legislature. Today, together with the families and friends of two men who tragically died, I’m calling on this government to immediately and fully adopt the recommendations of the jury in the coroner’s inquest into their deaths, to help better ensure the safety of Ontario firefighters and firefighter trainees.

I have been working with these families and firefighter safety advocates for two and a half years now, and it is my honour to introduce them. Adam’s parents, Al and Christy Brunt; sister Ashlee and family; family members Debbie and Larry Brunt; Carl Pearce; and Brent and Tracey Pearce are here today. The Kendall family: Gary’s wife, Brenda; brother Paul and daughter Myrissa; and family friends Wes Mazur and Tyler Mazur also join us.

From the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, we’re joined by OPFFA district vice-president Dan VanderLelie. Also joining us: T.J. Thompson, who was a student with him in the course, and Alex Van Kralingen, who was a lawyer involved in this for seven years, who spoke today at our press conference, joined by Nick Hanson.

Thank you all for coming today.

Two and a half years ago, I learned of the death of Adam Brunt, a young man who wanted to be a firefighter and who tragically died during a private rescue training course. I felt heartsick and was compelled to know what had gone wrong. We then found out that another family, the family of Gary Kendall, had lost a loved one the same way five years before. It has been a long and emotional journey for everyone involved, and it has been my privilege to know these families and to struggle through this exhausting and frustrating process with them. It has taken a long time to get here, but hopefully, today we can begin to move forward.

Before we do, I’d like to take us back a bit. The reason we are here is because two men died, and I want us to know who they were.

Gary’s daughter, Myrissa, wrote this for me to share: “Gary was 51 when he was involved in the ice water training exercise. He was a hard-working, loving father, husband and brother. Everything he did in life was for his family. He had a wife and three children, who were his whole world. He was the type of dad who worked hard during the day and spent his evenings taking his kids to sporting events, helping them with homework, or supporting them in their current interests. He was the type of man who would give the shirt off his back to help anyone in his community with never having an expectation of receiving anything in return. When he joined the Point Edward fire department he was beyond happy because it was something he could do to not only help protect his community, but it was something he could do to give back.

1430

“Gary is missed every single day by his family and they are sitting here today after seven long years in hopes that the government will support the prevention of another needless death.”

Adam Brunt’s father, Al, shared this on behalf of Adam’s family:

“Adam was our second child, born on January 31, 1985. He touched many lives in his 30 years; he is greatly missed. It is difficult to put into words who Adam was; he seemed larger than life. He was an animal lover with many pets, he was an avid fisherman and loved camping and his friends. He had a huge heart and you could rely on Adam to be readily available, no matter the time. He was unique, with his own style sense—best remembered as a young man with a mullet relaxing around the house in his boxer shorts or track pants. He was daring and fun-loving, always looking for new challenges. If you told him something was not possible, he would spend hours figuring out a solution.

“Though he was the middle child, he was the ‘protective older brother’.... It did not come as a surprise when Adam decided he wanted to be a firefighter” like his uncle, “a career in which he could dedicate his life to helping others. He had never been happier in school than when he was doing the firefighting program at Durham College. Adam had found his calling.

“Although Adam was taken from us too soon, he certainly lived his short life to the fullest. We can only imagine the things he would have done if he was still with us.”

Thank you.

Speaker, Gary Kendall was 51. He was a volunteer firefighter who died during an ice/water rescue training exercise on January 31, 2010. He was a 17-year veteran of the Point Edward fire department. He was taking a course run by a private training company when he died.

Adam Brunt was 30 and was a firefighting student from Bowmanville who died during a swift/cold water training exercise in Hanover on January 8, 2015. He was a Durham College student in the firefighting program at the time. He was taking a weekend course run by the very same private training company as Gary Kendall.

Speaker, both men died under similar tragic circumstances, five years apart. Gary Kendall’s family called for an inquest after his death in 2010, but there wasn’t one. Instead, there was another death five years later, and another family grieving.

Adam was a student in a program who, like many firefighter hopefuls, wanted to gain experience and pad his resumé to compete for a job with the fire service. There are many private safety and private rescue courses marketed to firefighter hopefuls. Adam found a Herschel rescue course on Facebook and assumed it was legit because others had taken it. It was a swift-water and cold-water rescue course. It was an overnight weekend course with 12 students. They learned about safety and techniques and spent the weekend learning and practising advanced level skills.

On the last run of the second day, all 12 students and the instructor jumped in the Saugeen River and floated down, one after another, through a narrow, swift-moving section of river between two banks of ice. One by one they emerged through the narrow rapids, bobbing out the other side downriver. But Adam didn’t. When he went through the narrows, he was forced under the water and his exposed strap got caught on underwater metal. The group was helpless to save him. The young students had neither the skills nor the equipment or tools to reach him or save him. They desperately tried, but it was many minutes before actual firefighters arrived and helped, with proper tools, to free him. By then, tragically, it was not a rescue but a recovery.

T.J. Thompson was one of the other students on that course and joins us today. She worked with the other students to try to reach him. She even ran up to the road to flag down passing cars, to beg for an ice scraper or an axe or rope—anything to reach him. They had no rescue equipment there.

Speaker, so many things went wrong that day, and nothing has been made right. Adam was a firefighter trainee. However, he was unprotected. He was unprotected, and others continue to be, and here’s why: These private companies are unregulated.

Sorry, Speaker; it’s been quite a journey.

These private companies are unregulated.

Interjection.


Ms. Jennifer K. French: Oh, no, I’m good; I can do this.

They do not have to adhere—


Mme France Gélinas: We’ll stay with you.

Ms. Jennifer K. French: Oh, no, it’s a long one. I’m good. Thank you.

They do not have to adhere to safety standards or industry best practices. Their certificates mean nothing. Their only value is what fire services give them. It is a “buyer beware” situation. Trainees unfortunately assume private courses must be legitimate since they are very technical, hands-on and industry-specific, and they are allowed to operate in this province.

Adam was a college student, but he took a private course that was not affiliated with his or any other college. So Adam was unprotected by any laws or regulations under the ministry of advanced education and training. Adam was not yet an actual firefighter, so he was not protected by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. If he had been employed by a fire service, their training would have had to have met safety requirements. Also, the Ministry of Labour does not have jurisdiction, because these training environments are not technically workplaces and these trainees are not employees.

While these firefighter trainees are learning to keep us safe, we still haven’t figured out how to keep them safe. None of these ministries is technically responsible for these trainees or their safety. This is an area that doesn’t fall under any ministry’s jurisdiction, which, in my way of thinking, makes it a shared responsibility.

Alex Van Kralingen spoke earlier, at our press conference. He was the lawyer for the Kendall family in 2010 and again during this inquest. He said, “I will tell you what I told the jury in my closing submissions: It is crazy, given everything that we regulate in our everyday lives, that this sort of high-risk and technical firefighting training is not regulated.

“The government has the power to fix this problem, and this matter needs to be dealt with now, especially given this government’s history of inaction on the issue.

“This is not a partisan issue. Keeping firefighters and pre-service students safe is not controversial.”

Since Adam’s traumatizing death, Miss Thompson has been a relentless advocate. She testified for hours at the inquest. I would like to share some of her thoughts:

“I was one of the 12 students training on the swift, icy Saugeen River on February 8 when Adam Brunt was killed. Adam’s death was preventable in many ways and completely unnecessary. Firefighters take risks when there is life and property to be saved and protected. This was training. There was no reason for unnecessary risks. Reasonable precautions for safety were not taken. It was not a sacrifice for another life. There was nothing gained from Adam’s death.

“But we can change that together....

“I call on this government to protect this vulnerable group of inexperienced trainees from unregulated training providers who choose to operate below the best industry practice. They need to be protected. You, the government, heard this for yourselves at the coroner’s inquest, and you agreed.

“The safety loophole remains open for trainees and workers. How much longer will it take to protect this province and give closure to the families who have lost their loved ones for nothing? We have waited too long. It’s time for this government to act....

“Thank you.”

Applause.


Ms. Jennifer K. French: Oh, no, I’m not—thank you to them. I’ve got more.

Speaker, I have written four letters to government ministers. I have given two member’s statements. I have asked a direct question for the Premier about regulating this industry. I held a press conference with the families and firefighters to call for an inquest. There has been a police investigation and a Ministry of Labour investigation. I have met with ministers and their policy folk. We had a two-week inquest this past May. This afternoon we held another press conference, and now I have put forward this motion.

There are 15 jury recommendations, all with merit. This isn’t a time to cherry-pick; it’s the time to adopt them all to keep people safe. Families, industry experts, lawyers and the crown all invested precious time and sincere effort to get the most out of the two-week inquest. Government, please do not let this inquest be a PR exercise.

Rob Hyndman, the president of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, has said, “The verdict of the jury in these inquests provides valuable recommendations put forward by concerned citizens.... Given the disappointing rate of coroner’s inquest jury recommendation adoption, I would urge all parties to provide an opportunity for these points to be implemented, hence providing the deceased a platform for change. Doing so will ensure we learn from their tragedies and not repeat mistakes. We must ensure their loss is not in vain.”

Speaker, we have gotten a lot of assurances from this government, but so far, little else. Gary and Adam are remembered as being men who wanted to keep others safe and protected. I challenge all of us in this House to endeavour to do the same. We must adopt the recommendations from the coroner’s inquest and keep firefighters and firefighter trainees safe. We must keep them safe because they would do it for us.

1440


The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Soo Wong): Further debate?

Mr. Granville Anderson: Firstly, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of Adam Brunt and Gary Kendall. Thank you for being here. It’s a brave, brave, brave step to be here this afternoon on this occasion.

I’m so honoured to be able to speak to this motion.

Adam was a constituent of mine who attended Durham College in pursuit of his dreams of becoming a firefighter, and his life was cut short far too soon.

I’d like to take this time to thank the member from Oshawa for her long advocacy on this important issue and for bringing forward this motion. I know how passionate she is about this, and she has been pursuing this for over two and a half years. That’s to be commended.

In this House, Madam Speaker, a lot of times we get partisan. This is not an issue to be partisan about; this is an issue that affects all of us. It’s an issue about life. It’s an issue about two young folks losing their lives in pursuit of something that they enjoyed doing.

Our government—your government—is carefully addressing the findings and recommendations of the coroner’s inquest into Adam’s death and Gary’s as well. Such findings from the coroners’ inquests help ministries across government ensure their policies and procedures are in line with best practices. Recommendations from inquests over the years have led to numerous steps in developing new policies and procedures. There are several examples of these, including increased mental-health training for police and correctional officers, expanding police use of non-lethal weapons like tasers, and your government—our government—implementing Canada’s first concussion legislation.

I know that the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management took action to suspend the water rescue program of the Ontario Fire College unit until further notice, immediately following the inquest.

Our government—your government—also recently launched the first Fire Safety Technical Table, where our fire-safety partners meet to examine current emergency fire-safety challenges and opportunities.

Firefighter training has been discussed at the table by leading fire-safety and protection experts and leaders. In addition, the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management is currently working towards a mid-November technical working group to discuss the more technical aspects of the recommendations related to ice and swift-water rescue.

The findings from this inquest are being addressed and considered as we all work to further enhance fire safety in Ontario.

Again, I want to thank the member from Oshawa for this motion, which brings forward a great opportunity to further discuss the conditions our firefighters work in.

It’s not just firefighters; all of our emergency responders need to be protected and need to work in a safe environment, and we need to make sure their safety is paramount, because we all count on them to protect us and to keep us safe. They do a tremendous job every day in the face of life-threatening conditions, and we are forever indebted to them.

Fire safety and protection and protecting our dedicated firefighters is an important issue for everyone across this province.

I, personally, will be supporting this motion along with members of our government, Madam Speaker. Thank you for the opportunity to address this matter today.


The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Soo Wong): Further debate?

Mr. Lorne Coe: I rise today to speak to the motion before us, from my colleague the member from Oshawa, on ensuring the safety of Ontario firefighters and firefighter trainees.

Firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve others in their respective communities. They’re valued members of our communities; they are our friends and also family members.

It’s particularly fitting, Speaker, that this motion is before us this afternoon, as the Ontario firefighters’ annual memorial service ceremony will be held at Queen’s Park on October 1.

On February 8, 2015, Adam Brunt passed away during a firefighter training exercise on the Saugeen River. Adam was a Clarington firefighting student participating in a training exercise for situations involving icy-water rescues.

In a 2016 National Post story, the past president of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association, Mr. Carmen Santoro, said:

“We’re the only first responders without a set of standards.... We need standards, standards in training, standards in fire prevention.... We accept risk as first responders, but in a training evolution?

“Training should be regulated, safe, and you should walk away alive.”

Unfortunately, the accident involving Adam Brunt was not an isolated situation. Gary Kendall of Point Edward passed away during a similar ice-training rescue exercise five years prior.

These two incidents rightly raise concerns over the need for scrutiny of the industry that offers private training courses for firefighters, as currently the industry is unregulated. That is why a coroner’s inquest was called in June 2016 to investigate and make recommendations to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again. In May 2017, the coroner’s jury made a total of 15 recommendations to several ministries—including the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development and the Ministry of Labour—the centremost of which was an immediate halt of all cold-water training on sites where the underwater current is too swift.

The jury also made other crucial recommendations, such as calling for the establishment of a committee of experts to investigate how to administer ice-rescue training in a low-risk manner; creating an approved training curriculum using examples from the National Fire Protection Association as the baseline standard; taking all necessary steps, including changes to legislation or regulations, as required, to ensure that all trainers, instructors and service providers abide by the approved curriculum and that the courses take place only in appropriate or approved locations; and creating a system where trainers, instructors or providers of icy- or cold-water courses are certified to offer those courses.

Speaker, the effected ministries were given up to three years by the coroner’s jury to respond to the recommendations. In a May 25, 2017, Toronto Sun article after the recommendations from the coroner’s inquest were made, Adam Brunt’s father, Al, spoke to the importance of the implementation of the recommendations. He said, “The people that are opting to get into first responders as a career deserve to be protected, deserve safety.... Just to take a training course they shouldn’t have to put their life on the line and that’s hopefully what these policies, once enacted, will protect going forward.”

This brings us back to the motion before us today, which calls upon the government of Ontario to “immediately and fully adopt the recommendations” from the inquest. The Ontario Progressive Conservative caucus is proud to stand up for the safety of firefighters and firefighter trainees, and I’m therefore pleased to support the motion brought forward this afternoon by the member from Oshawa.

We look forward to the government’s response to the coroner’s office’s recommendations, because, as I said at the beginning of my comments, firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve others in their respective communities. We owe them no less. It is time for us to stand up this afternoon and show our support for firefighters and firefighter trainees.

1450


The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Soo Wong): Further debate?

Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: It’s my pleasure to rise on behalf of my constituents of Windsor West to bring some comments to the motion before us.

I would like to start by commending my colleague from Oshawa for her tireless advocacy on this particular issue. As you could tell during her 12 minutes, this is an issue that is very close to her heart.

I don’t think that any of us could or should be able to look at a motion like what we have before us and not support it. All you have to do is look to the gallery to my left to see the faces of those loved ones, the families and friends and fellow firefighters and trainees of the two men, Adam Brunt and Gary Kendall, that we’re talking about today who lost their lives during training in order to keep all of us in this chamber and all of us in this province safe.

It was two and a half years ago that the member from Oshawa first raised this issue—two and a half years since these tragedies took place—and there has been no action. That is truly shameful, frankly, that nothing has been done in that time frame to prevent another tragedy like that, that happened to the two gentlemen who lost their lives during training. Action should have been taken faster. I’m pleased that what I’m hearing from all sides of the House is that they’re going to support the motion, that they’re going to support the recommendations from the inquest and actually start to make training for firefighters and firefighter trainees much safer than what it is today.

I had the pleasure of standing here when we were debating PTSD legislation, where I was able to share a story that was written by one of the firefighters in my area—he’s actually the president of the local in my area—and some of the experiences that firefighters have on a regular basis in their line of duty, and much like the member from Oshawa, I couldn’t make it through that without having to stop and take a moment and collect myself. At the time, I had mentioned that I was having a hard time reading back their lived experiences, sharing what they’ve actually lived. I could not imagine actually seeing some of the things that they see and experiencing some of the things that they experience.

I think that’s really at the heart of what we’re talking about today: that we have men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line for us on a daily basis. Whether they’re on duty that day or not, they are driven to protect all of us in this province, to make sure that we are safe and that our families and our friends are safe. Yet we have a situation where those who are going to train to be firefighters, or those who are firefighters and are taking additional training, are being put into situations where they are not safe, where they could possibly not return to their family and loved ones and not provide the service that they do to us.

So it’s incumbent upon us all to not just support the motion that is before us, because it’s easy to stand up and support a motion. The difficult part is to actually act on it. I’m hoping today that we don’t just have a government that’s going to stand up and say that they support the motion before us, but that there are going to be actionable items, that they are actually going to fix a broken system. They are actually going to go forward and make sure that these training procedures are regulated and that those who are entering into these training procedures are as safe as they possibly can be; to make sure that the private companies providing the training are qualified to do so, and that they have proper equipment, should there be an emergency that arises during the training; and that they are giving our firefighters and our firefighter trainees the best possible skill set going forward, so that when they are in our communities and providing services to us, they can do that not only to keep us safe, but to keep themselves safe.

Before I wrap up, I just encourage not only that everybody support this motion, but that we actually do something about it and that it happens quickly.


The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Soo Wong): Further debate? I recognize the Minister of Seniors Affairs.

Hon. Dipika Damerla: I rise today to speak to this motion. I want to begin by recognizing the member from Oshawa for her really heartfelt remarks. It’s very clear that this issue, and this motion that she has brought forward, is something that she is passionate about and that she has worked on for long. I know that all of us, as MPPs, strive to shine a light on and fix things that we are passionate about. So I just wanted to recognize that.

This motion does bring forward a good opportunity to further discuss the conditions that our firefighters work in. They do a tremendous job every day in the face of life-threatening conditions, and we are forever indebted to them.

Fire safety and protecting our dedicated firefighters is an important issue for all of us. I think we can all agree that Ontario is one of the leading jurisdictions in the world when it comes to fire safety and the delivery of fire services. Ontario’s firefighters are respected worldwide for the outstanding work they do in emergency response and fire safety education.

Enhanced fire codes and fire prevention awareness have changed the landscape for our province’s firefighters. Between 1995 and 2015, the annual number of fires in Ontario, excluding federal and First Nations properties, dropped by almost 45%. The numbers of fires and fire-related deaths are trending downward. We want to see that trend continue, and must start to address the gaps in the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, to improve fire safety.

The act is almost 20 years old, and has not been modernized to keep pace with advancements in technology and new challenges. These challenges include training, standardized fire code inspections, and issues surrounding dispatch—some of the things that we are working on.

This is why our government launched the Fire Safety Technical Table, in which the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services meets with fire chiefs, fire safety representatives and municipal representatives to examine current and emerging fire safety challenges and opportunities. The input and advice from this table will enhance and inform the ministry’s recommendations to enhance fire safety in Ontario and help to ensure that our firefighters return home safe to their families.

We know from prior experience that the round table approach works. In early 2012, the fire marshal set up the technical advisory committee to recommend new initiatives to better protect residents in licensed retirement homes and care facilities. This committee included expert representation from the firefighter community, community stakeholders, and owners and operators of retirement homes and care facilities. Aided by their excellent work, Ontario became the first province to make automatic sprinklers mandatory in these buildings. This is a testimony to the collaborative approach.

I know that the member is very passionate about this issue, and I just want to reassure her that the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management has worked with a number of ministries, before and after the inquest, to address the issues raised in these tragic incidents. Upon conclusion of the inquest, the OFMEM led an inter-ministerial working group to discuss the implementation of the recommendations. This is in addition to immediately adopting the recommendation to put this particular rescue program on hiatus, until further notice, at the Ontario Fire College.

I know that the OFMEM is currently working towards a mid-November technical working group to discuss the more technical aspects of the recommendations related to ice and swift-water rescue.

1500

All in all, I just want to commend the member for bringing this motion forward. We look forward to working with all parties concerned to figure out a way to make sure that our firefighters come home safely.


The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Soo Wong): Further debate?

Mr. Bill Walker: I’d like to commend my friend and the member from Oshawa, Ms. French, and proudly say that our caucus will be supporting this resolution for the government to fully implement the jury recommendations to help better ensure the safety of Ontario firefighters and firefighter trainees.

Adam Brunt, who was a Durham College student and only 30 years old, died on February 8, 2015, during cold-water rescue training. Gary Kendall was 51 years old when he died on January 31, 2010, during the same firefighter ice rescue training. I’d like to offer my condolences on behalf of our PC caucus to the families of both Mr. Brunt and Mr. Kendall.

The inquest examined the events surrounding their deaths. As the members heard, the deaths happened during a private safety training course which currently has no government oversight for certification. The inquest jury’s verdict ruled that the deaths were accidents, and the jury made 15 recommendations in May of this year aimed at preventing similar deaths in the future.

The key recommendation was to suspend all swift-water ice training until a committee of experts establishes standards to minimize risks. They also recommended that the province allow designated locations for training so long as the proper equipment, techniques and standards are in place to allow for safe training. Creation of a training curriculum was also recommended, to ensure all instructors and fire protection services are certified or qualified to an appropriate standard, including public and private services.

Sadly, this government has a pattern of fumbling on implementing jury recommendations. As the long-term-care and seniors’ critic for our PC caucus, for some time I have been raising the situation stemming from another inquest, the 2005 Casa Verde, into two long-term-care murders, where only 30% of the recommendations have been adopted by this Liberal government. There’s simply no excuse for them to not implement all of those recommendations; they have had 12 years. The government has to take responsibility and action.

Our caucus has certainly done that over the years. My colleague the MPP for Perth–Wellington, Randy Pettapiece, tabled the Ray and Walter Act, a bill that aims to save firefighters’ lives by requiring buildings to alert fire crews to any use of trusses in their construction.

We have also had long-time advocacy for two-hatter firefighters by my colleague the MPP for Wellington–Halton Hills, Ted Arnott, who since 2002 has been calling for professional firefighters to have the right to volunteer or serve part-time in their home communities on their days off.

More recently, our leader, Patrick Brown, has been relentless in his calls on the Premier to fast-track the passage of Bill 2 and offer up much-needed supports for firefighters and other first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.

I have the greatest respect for our firefighters, both volunteer and professional, and I extend a sincere thank you to all of them, those in the audience and those listening at home and every firefighter who has ever served in any of our communities, and their families, for their dedicated service.

We are fortunate and privileged to be able to go out in our communities. One of my greatest honours is going to the fire departments, chatting with them and showing our thanks and gratitude. I thank them for their time, their effort, their dedication, but also to their wives and families and their spouses. Every time the bell rings, every time that pager goes off, you never know if that person is coming back through the door. There’s nothing more solemn than when we say, “Thank you for your dedicated service.”

We agree that all firefighters are risking their lives every day to protect us and our communities’ well-being. It is my hope and my challenge to the government that they will support and fully adopt the recommendations and put them into action, to get our firefighters the protections they need and deserve.

We’ve recently just, sadly in some ways and regrettably in some ways, celebrated and remembered 9/11. It’s a scene that all of us will probably remember for all of our lives. You’ll know where you were. You’ll know the time of day when we saw that. One of those images for me will always be that as other people were running out of the buildings, firefighters were running into the buildings. They were taking their lives and putting them in danger, for the benefit of others.

I’ve had the privilege of knowing a lot of family members and friends, both female and male, who serve. Particularly in a rural area like ours, most of it is volunteer firefighters, who dedicate their lives, who take a passion and go out a couple of times every week to hone their craft.

My late cousin Carl Jones was a captain of the Sauble fire department. One of the things I know from Carl—he was a very talented guy, a very low-key guy, but one of his greatest passions and pride was when he put on his captain’s uniform and showed up at a fire. I know his family. He’s been gone for a number of years now, but just recently, I remember that my cousin Carl’s son, his daughter Peggy and I were chatting, reminiscing about how much he put into that. Of all the things—he wasn’t overly educated, but he was a guy who the other firefighters knew, when he showed up, had their back. That’s what firefighters do: They make sure they are there.

The firefighters in our area have to do a lot of fundraising for a lot of the equipment they have, just because of the reality of the situation. Again, I dedicate and I honour them, and I say thank you to them and their families, because not only do they volunteer to do the firefighting, but they’re out a couple of times a week or on the weekend, dedicating their lives to raising money for equipment, to ensure that they and their colleagues—their brothers in arms—have the proper equipment and life-saving opportunities, and the training, frankly, that they deserve.

I’ve attended a couple of times, whenever my schedule permits it here at Queen’s Park, the annual ceremony for fallen firefighters. It’s humbling to stand, and it touches you. It raises the hair on the back of your neck to look at the inscribed names. Almost every riding in our province has at least one name on there of someone you may not have known, but you know that they did that with dedication and pride, and because of their service to their community.

Madam Speaker, I think this is a good resolution. Again, I implore the government of the day to stand with us, along with the NDP, who have raised this issue, and to make this law, to make this happen. Put the actions into place so that we ensure, forever, that our firefighters and firefighter trainees have the proper training, equipment and safety that they so deserve.


The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Soo Wong): Further debate?

Ms. Cheri DiNovo: First, I want to thank the member from Oshawa for her relentlessness on this issue. She truly has been a champion over the years, and relentlessness is what it takes.

The member just mentioned Bill 2, on PTSD. That bill took five tablings and eight years to get passed in this House. That was the work of our party, the New Democratic Party of Ontario.

I have to say that consulting and inaction—even voting a motion in—is not real action. It does not save lives. A good metaphor is exactly what our firefighters do. Imagine if our firefighters, upon getting a call or a bell ringing, sat down and had a meeting about it, or voted together on whether they’d go out, or convened a panel around whether something should be done. We as politicians, as representatives of the people, unfortunately don’t take action when we should take action.

The appeal to the government to act is an appeal—the same as it is when those bells go off—to save lives, because I can tell you that over the years that we do not act, lives are lost. There were a number of suicides since that first tabling of the PTSD bill. One of them, a firefighter, phoned our office at Queen’s Park and said he wanted to kill himself. I said, “You know I’m going to have to phone 911,” and he said, “Please don’t. I don’t want to traumatize any of our other first responders.” That was after three tablings of that bill. That life, luckily, was saved, but that was one. Many were lost.

How many more Adams and Garys will it take to get this bill put into action—not debated, not to come back over and over again, not another consultation, not another coroner’s inquest, but to get those jury recommendations actually put into force? Every month that we don’t, we risk lives, as surely as if our first responders, our firefighters, didn’t go out on calls once the bells were ringing, didn’t act once they were called to. In the same way that they would risk lives, we risk lives.

We think this is a passive job, but it’s not a passive job. It truly is a calling upon all of us to do what is necessary and what is right. It’s time, Madam Speaker. How many more times will our member from Oshawa have to come back? I warrant that she shouldn’t have to come back one other time, that those 15 jury recommendations should be acted on now. The government has a majority. They can do it. Get it done.


The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Soo Wong): Further debate?

Mme France Gélinas: I, too, am pleased to offer my condolences to the families and friends that have come here today to show how important it is for this government to act. We are in a privileged position, as MPPs, to have influence on our entire province. I would say that the number one job of government is to protect the public, and we have an opportunity today to do just that.

How could it be that we have something as dangerous as swift-water and cold-water training with no oversight whatsoever of who offers this training? It blows my mind. How could it be that they were teaching cold-water rescue and they did not have the proper equipment to rescue their own students?

I must admit, my husband was a professional firefighter for many, many decades, and cold-water rescue is something that they trained in every year. I live in northern Ontario; we do lots of cold-water rescues. People go through the ice with snowmobiles. The time it takes to train them—the entire department is there. Half of the department is there, because while some of the firefighters train, everybody else is on duty making sure that if something goes wrong, they rescue one another. And it has happened. It’s not like it’s one chance in a thousand; it happens all the time.

Water, ice, cold water and swift water are extremely dangerous, yet we had a private company offering that kind of training with no oversight. We have had two families that are here today grieving, and now it is our chance to step up to the plate. Now it is our chance, when we vote, to not only speak but commit to changing things, commit to taking action. As to why we have a government action: so that this government will protect the public. And how do you protect the public? You make sure that dangerous training for firefighters has oversight, it has accountability and it has backup so that if something goes wrong, you are there to protect those people.

It seems pretty logical. We had an inquiry; we had a jury that put it into 15 recommendations, in ways that are way better than I could—but the spirit is the same. If you put into place those 15 recommendations, there will be oversight; there will be everything there to make sure that Gary and Adam have not gone in vain, that something positive will come out of this horrendous tragedy, and that we will have done our basic job as legislators to protect the people of Ontario.


The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Soo Wong): I return to the member from Oshawa to wrap up.

Ms. Jennifer K. French: I would like to thank my colleagues around this Legislature and to thank the members who spoke during this debate and discussion. I also appreciate the reassuring words of the government, but we will appreciate more their action.

Again, I’d like to thank the families and safety advocates who are here today in support of this motion to adopt the inquest recommendations. I think it’s important for this government and for this House to not only support this motion, but to make these recommendations have teeth, and to also reassure these families and the rest of Ontario that the inquest process isn’t just an exercise in shifting responsibility, or public relations.

These inquest recommendations are very thoughtful and strong. There was a lot of emotional and expert input that went into their creation, and they are the right fit. We want them to be adopted entirely. The government shouldn’t just, as they put it, “carefully” consider or try to cherry-pick and break these recommendations into pieces. We are calling on them to fully adopt and implement the recommendations, and to close this loophole to keep every firefighter trainee safe in this province.

This has been a very personal process, starting with two tragic losses. Adopting these recommendations and supporting this motion is about ensuring that no one else suffers this kind of loss.

This has been a long and emotional journey: for Adam’s family, two and a half years; and for Gary’s family, more than seven. Adam and Gary wanted to make their communities safer. There has been a real sense of purpose along this journey as we’ve been working together through this with the families and with firefighters across communities that support appropriate training and safety.

It is in a firefighter’s DNA to keep people safe. Today, it is in our power to keep people safe and to close a very real loophole that tragically took two lives. To Adam and Gary, thank you. You answered the call. I urge all members of this House today to respect the inquest process and to support my motion today, in memory of Adam Brunt and Gary Kendall, to fully adopt the recommendations of the coroner’s inquest into their unnecessary deaths. In the wake of such loss, it is the least we can do.


The Deputy Speaker (Ms. Soo Wong): We will vote on this item at the end of private members’ public business.
top | new search