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Inadequate planning blamed for Quebec firefighter’s death


December 14, 2007
By Fire Fighting in Canada

August 2006 -  MONTREAL (CP) – Inadequate planning for a water rescue training manoeuvre was one of the causes behind the boating accident that killed a 20-year-old Hudson, Que., volunteer firefighter last June.

August 2006 –  MONTREAL (CP) – Inadequate planning for a water rescue training manoeuvre was one of the causes behind the boating accident that killed a 20-year-old Hudson, Que., volunteer firefighter last June.

That is among the findings of a workplace safety board investigation into the accident on Lake of Two Mountains on June 6, 2005, the Montreal Gazette has reported.

James Ratcliffe and two other volunteer firefighters from Hudson were taking an introductory training session on driving a water rescue boat.

Near the end of the session, Ratcliffe was ejected from the inflatable boat, driven by an instructor, during a demonstration of a tight turn – an emergency manoeuvre used in various situations. He died after his head struck the boat's propeller.

The report released in late May by the workers' health and safety commission said the firefighters didn't adequately identify the risks in advance and the safety measures to put in place before making the turn.

“We’re not saying it’s forbidden to do those manoeuvres,” said Louis Genest, head of prevention-inspection at the commission's regional office in nearby Valleyfield. “But when you have to do manoeuvres like that, you have to analyze the risks and foresee adequate prevention measures.”

Among the other causes of the accident, the report noted Ratcliffe was seated in an unstable position on the inflatable edge of the boat. Participants had been seated that way because there were no seats for passengers in the boat, the report said.

Genest said it is recommended people be inside the boat and have two solid fixtures on which to hold to ensure stability.

Peter Ratcliffe praised the report into his son's death. He did not point fingers at individuals, zeroing in instead on training. “The issue is lack of ongoing training,” he said. “And it's something across Canada – volunteer fire departments are starved for funds.”

Hudson Fire Chief Peter Milot said he told the commission there were no guidelines prior to the accident. For marine rescue, the standard operational procedures weren’t structured, “so every department worked to the best of its ability,” he said.


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