Insufficient funding blamed for firefighters' injuries 0
A Ministry of Labour prosecutor suggested in court Wednesday that insufficient municipal funding of the Meaford Fire Department was ultimately responsible for circumstances which nearly cost a firefighter his life inside a burning restaurant about 2 1/2 years ago.
Meaford Fire Department faces a charge under the Occupational Health and Safety Act that the department failed to take the reasonable precaution of enacting a firefighter accountability system to keep track of firefighters.
Defence lawyer Norm Keith has said there are no legal standards for firefighters' equipment, work practices or safety procedures but the ministry is trying to treat guidelines as legally enforceable regulations.
He has also said a "chilling effect" on volunteer firefighters across Ontario would result if the court allows the ministry to treat existing guidelines as regulations.
Prosecutor Dan Kleiman asked Justice of the Peace Thomas Stinson to focus not on whether a search and rescue for a victim inside Reeds Restaurant was necessary but rather whether having an accountability system to track firefighters before entering the building was possible.
He suggested there was "no meaningful attempt" to activate a system to track whereabouts of firefighters to ensure their safety, as the department's operating procedures and provincial guidance required.
But he also said a lack of manpower to establish that system -- when it was known generally how many firefighters respond to fire calls--was foreseeable.
And it was also foreseeable that firefighters would enter a burning building when there was the possibility of victims inside without first establishing a tracking system due to a lack of staff, Kleiman said in closing submissions.
"It was obvious to anyone who thought about it," that an accountability system would be dispensed with, he said.
Kleiman went on to say the municipality benefits by using volunteer firefighters and noted their wage cost "is very minor."
"It is not necessary that volunteers be placed in a situation where through shortage of manpower and resources they're not able to enact an accountability system to effect a search and rescue."
Kleiman noted Meaford municipal council was made aware of its obligations to ensure its fire department operating procedures were followed by the facilitator of the provincial labour ministry's fire services advisory committee, who visited council in person in 2004.
Kleiman also pointed out then-Capt. Mike Molloy, now Meaford's fire chief, admitted to a labour ministry investigator and in testimony at trial no firefighters should have been allowed into Reeds Restaurant to search for victims without a rapid intervention team in place.
On Wednesday, Stinson said he would have his written decision prepared before Sept. 7, the next return court date, should it be needed.