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Nothing could prevent firefighter death, says trainer

May 11, 2017, Toronto - 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 (RIT) 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.

But Harrison testified that a RIT would not have been able to reach the location 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 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 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 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, he 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."

May 11, 2017
By The Canadian Press