Fire Fighting in Canada

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CO-awareness champion honoured

March 3, 2016 - John Gignac, the man behind Ontario's Hawkins-Gignac Act that requires carbon-monoxide alarms in all homes, has been named to the Order of Ontario.

Gignac, who is a retired captain with Brantford Fire Department, received the honour at a ceremony in Toronto in January. The recognition, he said, is shared by all volunteers of the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation.

"We have a lot of volunteers and family members that help out a ton," Gignac said in an interview. "Without those people I wouldn't be nearly as successful."

Gignac retired as a firefighter after 34 years in 2009, several months after his niece, Ontario Provincial Police constable Laurie Hawkins, her husband and their children died from carbon-monoxide poisoning. Gignac started the foundation that year with the mission to increase awareness of carbon monoxide and educate people about the importance of prevention and alarm systems.

"[The foundation] was born on the promise I made to my brother when my niece was in the [hospital] in Toronto," Gignac said. "I had my uniform on and he said, 'Why is this happening? Why aren't you doing something about it?'

"He was, of course, in a state of shock, but I said, 'From here on in, I'll do the best I can.'"

Creating awareness about carbon monoxide began as an uphill battle, Gignac said – he was surprised how few people understood the severity of the so-called silent killer. He turned to his years of training as a firefighter and experience dealing with trauma as a launch point to begin public-education efforts.

Ontario passed the Hawkins-Gignac Act in late 2013, making it the second province in Canada to require carbon-monoxide alarms in homes; Yukon passed similar legislation earlier that year. Gignac, on behalf of the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation, was heavily involved in campaigning in both the province and territory.

Learn more about the foundation at

March 3, 2016
By Maria Church
Retired firefighter John Gignac