Ice rescue training lacked safety measures, according to Ministry of Labour report on firefighter's death
Gary Kendall, 51, died during an ice and water rescue training exercise in Point Edward, Ont.
By Makda Ghebreslassie, CBC News Posted: May 09, 2017 6:00 AM ET Last Updated: May 09, 2017 9:05 AM ET
Statements from trainees and expert witnesses included in the 2010 Ministry of Labour investigation into Gary Kendall's death are expected to be re-evaluated at a coroner's inquest that begins Tuesday.
Kendall, 51, died after participating in an ice and water rescue training exercise in Point Edward, Ont., in January 2010.
Volunteer Ont. firefighter dies in mock rescue
In the ministry's final report, it concluded "every precaution reasonable in the protection of a worker" was not done.
Moving ice 'pushed him under the surface'
The report, filed by inspector Dennis Wilson, describes how the volunteer firefighter drowned during an ice and water rescue training course that took place where the St. Clair River meets Lake Huron.
The details spell out how trainees were tasked with "swimming out and climbing up onto an ice sheet."
But Kendall ran into trouble when "the moving ice pushed him under the surface of the water," according to Wilson's report.
Kendall would surface four minutes later. CPR was performed, but he died the next day.
Volunteer firefighters from the Point Edward Fire Department are among those carrying the body of fellow firefighter Gary Kendall, 51. (CBC/Heather Wright)
One of the disputed aspects of what happened is who was supervising the training.
The ministry investigator's findings point to Terry Harrison, the owner and instructor of Herschel Rescue Training Systems, and the Village of Point Edward Fire Chief Doug MacKenzie.
Harrison has always denied that he was running the course.
But in a written statement submitted for the ministry's investigation, Daniel Nelles, a Sarnia firefighter and Lambton paramedic who participated in the training exercise, said the man whose nickname was Herschel was in charge.
Nelles recalled Harrison gave the advice "not to think but to just attack the ice."
In a radio interview with CBC Toronto, Harrison said he was there as a friend of the department and to improve his own skills. He also claimed it was "a fire department training exercise. I decided to go to it as Terry Harrison, not as Herschel Rescue. Herschel Rescue was never hired."
But the ministry's report concluded both Harrison and MacKenzie met the definition of a supervisor as "a person who has charge of a workplace or authority over a worker."
Charges were laid under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. MacKenzie's were later dropped and when Harrison's case went to the Ontario Court of Justice, the judge rejected the ministry's conclusion that Harrison was a supervisor and he was acquitted.
In his decision, the judge explained that although Harrison had provided course training to the department in previous years, the evidence didn't support the claim he'd been hired to lead this course. The village of Point Edward was fined $75,000 for failing to protect its worker.
'I want there to be standards' says Myrissa Kendall, who fought to have an coroner's inquest into her father's death. (Christopher Langenzarde/CBC News)
Gary Kendall's family says after seven years fighting for an inquest, they want industry changes laid.
Daughter of firefighter killed in training exercise hopes inquest saves lives
"I hope that the recommendations are made and that they're followed through with," says Kendall's daughter Myrissa Kendall.
In particular, Kendall wants to see the province regulate private companies that offer water and ice training courses.
"I don't want just another document that's clearly filed away," she said.
Regulations may be lacking, but experts in the field say there are industry guidelines for this type of training.
In the ministry's report, William Edward Hammond, with the Office of the Fire Marshal and Ontario Fire College stated trainees are supposed to be briefed before getting in the water and that "the precourse takes six to seven hours."
He also said participants' skills should first be tested in a pool.
Charles Gordon Murray Roesch, an instructor at the Ontario Fire College, made similar statements to the ministry investigator.
When asked how many instructors would be assigned to a course for 17 participants, Roesch responded "we would have at least four and a safety officer."
Roesch and Hammond both said that a buddy system should be in place.
As for the ideal training location, Hammond said anything with a current of more than one knot is unacceptable.
The ministry's report indicates Kendall's group was in the water about two hours after the course began and there was no pool session. There was also no buddy system and a "strong current" that day of 14 miles per hour (12 knots).
The coroner's inquest is expected to last two weeks. Between 15 and 18 witnesses will testify.
Volunteer Ont. firefighter dies in mock rescue
CBC News Posted: Feb 01, 2010 8:59 AM ET Last Updated: Feb 01, 2010 8:56 AM ET
An Ontario volunteer firefighter is dead after a training exercise took a deadly turn near Sarnia on Saturday.
Gary Kendall, 51, of Point Edward was taking part in a water rescue drill when he got trapped under a sheet of ice.
The man's fellow firefighters managed to pull Kendall to safety, and he was taken to Bluewater Health hospital where he died Sunday morning from his injuries.
'It's a wake up call that it's your neighbour, it's your brother right next door and you know, I think it wakes everybody up.' —Pat Cayen, Sarnia Fire Chief
The death has shaken many in Point Edward, a village of about 2,000 people at the mouth of the St.Clair River.
Its fire department is almost entirely volunteer, made up of 30 residents, and a paid fire prevention officer and fire chief.
Pat Cayen, chief of the nearby Sarnia Fire Department, said he spoke with Point Edward Fire Chief Doug MacKenzie on Sunday to express his condolences on behalf his force, and others across the country that rely on volunteers to save lives.
"It's a slap in the face, " Cayen told CBC News. "It's a wake up call that it's your neighbour, it's your brother right next door and you know I think it wakes everybody up."
Cayen said Kendall's death in the line of duty will remind all firefighters of the dangers they face each day.
Kendall leaves behind a wife and three children.
Cayen said the family has not yet made funeral arrangements but that he expects firefighters to come from across North America to pay their respects.
"[There's] a lot of sorrow in the whole fire community, not just in Point Edward, but the whole fire services is feeling the same way to lose one of our own," said Cayen. The Ontario Provincial Police Lambton crime unit and forensic identification unit are investigating. The Ministry of Labour has also been contacted