Nothing could have been done to prevent firefighter's death, inquest hears

Many question training in icy, swift water given safety risks, low chance of success
By Paola Loriggio
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 05/16/2017
Health and safety
Firefighters and and rescue divers save a dummy out of a frozen swimming pool during a rescue drill in Bern in 2009. REUTERS/Pascal Lauene

TORONTO (CP) — A firefighter trainer involved in an ice rescue exercise that claimed the life of a southern Ontario man seven years ago says there's nothing he would have done differently during the course.

Terry Harrison told a coroner's inquest Thursday that even if a rapid intervention team — a group of first responders dedicated to helping firefighters in distress — had been on hand for the January 2010 course, it would not have prevented the event's tragic outcome.

``That whole situation happened in seconds,'' he said.

Rapid intervention teams are often present during training exercises because they are well rested and thus better able to help in case of crisis, the inquest heard.

But Harrison testified such a team would not have been able to reach the river location in Point Edward, Ont., where Gary Kendall went under in time.

The inquest is looking into the circumstances surrounding Kendall's death and another similar incident in Hanover, Ont., five years later that claimed the life of Adam Brunt, a 30-year-old firefighting student.

Harrison, a firefighter who owns and operates a private safety training company, was present both times, though his role in the Point Edward incident is under dispute.

The jury has heard that Kendall was trapped under a fast-moving ice floe after the training group was told to swim out and climb it. He died in hospital the next day.

Many at the inquest have asked whether firefighters should be trained to conduct rescue operations in icy, swift water given the safety risks and the low chance of success.

Both Harrison and the Point Edward fire chief have said they believe the training is necessary, though the chief, Doug MacKenzie, stressed the need for more oversight.

While on the stand earlier Thursday, MacKenzie said the province should regulate private safety training companies and legislate safety standards for ice rescue operations.

The Point Edward department, which is comprised of volunteer firefighters, wants and needs to be able to help the community it serves, he said.

``If we just sat there, we would be crucified as a department,'' he said.

Fire crews in the Point Edward department have not taken an ice rescue course since Kendall's death, nor have any of them gone into the river in their efforts to save someone, MacKenzie said.

While there have been several calls involving someone in the river since Kendall's death, none of them have led to a rescue, only the recovery of a body, he said.

``We have never had a save in that river,'' he said.

The department hired Herschel Rescue Training Services to lead an ice rescue course in 2009, then contacted the company again for a one-day refresher course the following year, the fire chief said.

It was during the second session that Kendall died.

Harrison, who was granted standing at the inquest, denied that he ran the Point Edward course.

``I wasn't hired, I was coming to help out in a situation that I believed was with some friends,'' he testified.

Harrison, who retired from the Brampton fire service earlier this week, teared up on the stand as he recalled seeing Kendall hauled on shore and given CPR.

``We had become friends,'' he said. ``I liked Gary. I think of him often.''

Harrison was acquitted of charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in connection with the incident involving Kendall. The municipality of Point Edward was fined $75,000 in that case.

The inquest has heard that private safety training courses are unregulated and no similar ice rescue training program is currently available at the Ontario Fire College, a provincial body that offers ongoing training to firefighters.

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