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Ice rescues rarely successful, says chief

May 11, 2017, Toronto - A southern Ontario fire chief whose department lost one of its members in an ice rescue training exercise seven years ago says the province should regulate the private companies offering those courses.

Doug MacKenzie, who heads the volunteer fire department in Point Edward, Ont., near Sarnia, Ont., told a coroner's inquest Thursday there should also be legislated safety standards for ice rescue operations.

Gary Kendall, a 17-year veteran of the department, lost his life in 2010 after getting trapped under ice in a river during a training exercise involving a private company.

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

MacKenzie says his department has not taken an ice rescue course since Kendall's death, nor have any firefighters gone into the river in their efforts to save someone.

He says 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.

"We have never had a save in that river" he said.

When asked whether firefighters should be trained to conduct rescue operations in icy, swift water given the high risk and low chance of success, MacKenzie said they want and need to be able to help the community.

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

The department hired Herschel Rescue Training Services, a private safety training company, to lead an ice rescue certification 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. The course in which Brunt died in 2015 also involved Herschel.

The inquest is expected to hear from the owner and operator of the company, Terry Harrison, later Thursday. Harrison, who was granted standing at the inquest, has denied that he ran the Point Edward course. 

But MacKenzie insisted at the inquest that Harrison was the one in charge and that the department trusted his expertise.

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.

May 11, 2017 
By The Canadian Press

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