Bowmanville family who lost son in firefighting training support move to protect firefighters and trainees

Bowmanville family who lost son in firefighting training support move to protect firefighters and trainees
By Jennifer O'Meara
Clarington This Week
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Bowmanville family who lost son in firefighting training support move to protect firefighters and trainees

Brunt Inquest
CLARINGTON -- Al and Christy Brunt with a photo of their son Adam who died in February 2015 during a firefighter training session in the Saugeen River eight days after his 30th birthday. The Brunt family has welcomed a decision by the coroner's office to call an inquest into the death of the Clarington firefighting student who died while participating in ice water training. July 11, 2016. - Peter Redman file photo
 
OSHAWA/CLARINGTON — The family of a Bowmanville firefighting student who drowned during a dangerous cold-water training exercise is cautiously optimistic about the unanimous support at Queen’s Park to better protect firefighters and firefighter trainees during private safety training.
“Since the accident occurred, my wife and family have said we’re going to make changes. For ourselves, it’s great news. It’s only the motion so far, the bill is the true tell of the tale,” said Al Brunt, father of Adam Brunt, 30, who died during firefighter training on Feb. 8, 2015. “You’ve got to make sure something good comes out of it. For students coming up, it will definitely be safer. I just don’t know how quick we can make it happen.”
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French has been championing the call for better oversight or certification of private firefighter training companies. On Thursday, Sept. 21, French introduced a private member’s motion calling on the Ontario government to immediately and fully adopt the recommendations of a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of firefighter Gary Kendall and firefighter trainee Adam Brunt.

“I was very glad to give the families a second opportunity to come and share their stories at Queen’s Park. Their advocacy out of tragedy has really been inspiring,” said French.
Adam Brunt died trapped under the ice during a private safety training exercise conducted by Herschel Rescue Training Systems. Gary Kendall of Point Edward was a volunteer firefighter who died while participating in the same type of training with the same private company in 2010. Representatives from Herschel Rescue Training Systems did not respond to a request for an interview.  
An inquest into both deaths was held in the spring and the jury released 15 recommendations on May 25.  
“Fifteen recommendations came out. That tells you there’s a problem, at least 15 areas of concern and that’s way too much,” said Brunt.
After the unanimous support to adopt the recommendations, French said she next wants to push the government to commit to how the changes will be implemented.
“So much went into the inquest. So much came out of the inquest and to imagine it had just been for PR would have been heartbreaking,” said French. “I’m going to continue to push. I’m committing to helping this government figure it out.”

French said she didn’t want to highlight any one recommendation to implement first, because all 15 are important.
However, she wants to be sure that dangerous ice rescue training is halted until there is better oversight into the courses being run. The course that Adam Brunt was taking combined swift water rescue with ice water rescue, which is usually two separate training exercises for fire departments, explained French. She said there needs to be a review of whether that combined training is necessary and if it is necessary how it can be safely taught.
“Winter is right around the corner. We need to ensure that no one else dies in similar circumstances. That has to happen now,” said French.
The inquest findings also recommended that a new expert committee be formed to look at training to create consistency and oversight in how Ontario firefighters are trained.  
“If you wanted to take first aid, there’s accredited coursed and certain standards,” said Clarington Fire Chief Gord Weir. “The problem with a lot of these specialty courses in fire services is there’s not anyone … I think they need to have better oversight and for an accreditation agency or process.”
The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs has not formed a position on French’s motion and the OAFC board is still discussing these issues, according to a media spokesperson.
The coroner’s inquest also brought to light that firefighter trainees fall between the gaps of government ministries — they’re not considered students, workers or firefighters or protected by any of the regulations that apply to those groups.
French said she is working on private member’s legislation that would better protect firefighter trainees and hopes to bring it forward this fall.
“Since they’re not under any one specific ministry, they should be protected by all of them,” said French. “Since it’s no one’s responsibility, it better be all of our responsibilities.”
Brunt said that while the support for the motion is great news, he and his family are waiting to see a bill introduced and passed at Queen’s Park.  
“I don’t want to get myself too wound up until I see that bill signed,” said Brunt. “In a few weeks when that bill comes out, I’ll be more ecstatic about it … As much as we’re very happy with what’s happened. It’s frustrating how long it’s taken to get here. There’s times I would have given up.”

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