This is the news report on the final summation of the Sudbury inquest, I'll post the jury's findings when they come out. The City is refusing to specify how much it spent on outside consultants and lawyers for this inquest, money that might have been better spent on upgrading the department.
Fatal fire inquest jury faces tough task
After five weeks of testimony, it must find ways to prevent more tragedies
By Denis St. Pierre/THE SUDBURY STAR
A coroner’s inquest jury facing the daunting task of trying to prevent another tragedy in the community received a blunt message Friday: fire protection services in Valley East must be improved.
That conclusion must be drawn from the evidence and testimony presented over the previous five weeks, said Andrew Slater, an assistant Crown attorney in Sudbury who represented the coroner during the inquest.
“It was unanimous from all the witnesses that the status quo cannot be maintained,” Slater told the two-man, two-woman jury shortly before it retired to develop recommendations aimed at averting future tragedies.
The coroner’s inquest was called following the April 22, 2001, deaths of Asha-Jade McLean, 3, her brother Ellias, 4, and their great-grandmother Pearl Shaw, 75. The victims died in a Sunday afternoon fire at the McLean home on Roy Street in Hanmer.
Slater was the last of five lawyers who addressed the jury to offer advice and guidance prior to its deliberations. The McLean family also addressed the jury, making an emotional appeal for improved fire protection in Valley East.
The jury is expected to take up to two weeks to review mountains of testimony and evidence before presenting its recommendations.
A key issue the jury must address is the lingering controversy over the number of full-time firefighters in Valley East, Slater said.
Rejected by councils
Over a period of more than three decades, experts such as local fire chiefs and the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office made a number of recommendations and requests for hiring more full-time firefighters in the community, he noted. Each of those recommendations and requests was rejected by municipal councils, first in the former town of Valley East and most recently in the City of Greater Sudbury, he said.
“There seems to have been a consistent lack of response from the various municipalities,” Slater said. “This attitude seems to have persisted for over 30 years (and) … nothing has changed.”
With only six full-time firefighters assigned to the community, Valley East is served primarily by volunteer firefighters. At any given time, there is a single, full-time firefighter on duty in the community’s central fire station.
Slater’s position boosted the hopes of the McLean family, which urged the jury to recommend a significant increase in firefighters in Valley East.
“I can’t see the jury not coming back with recommendations” to hire more firefighters and make other improvements to the municipal fire service, said Bobbi McLean, mother of Asha-Jade and Ellias.
McLean and her father Robert made impassioned pleas to the jury to make recommendations for improvements they believe are long overdue and can no longer be ignored by city politicians.
“The City of Greater Sudbury failed to act on even the most crucial guidelines, which were the number of full-time firefighters, volunteer firefighters and response times needed to save precious lives and minimize property damage,” Bobbi McLean said.
“Is saving the average taxpayer a minuscule amount of money worth losing lives?
“Can anyone with a conscience honestly sit here and tell me that my children and grandmother weren’t worth the extra money it would have take to save them.”
The McLeans did not hide their discontent and resentment at city lawyers and witnesses who argued against hiring more firefighters.
“Some of the witnesses that we’ve heard from over the past six weeks will have you believe that there is no fault in our fire protection system,” Bobbi McLean said. “If there’s nothing wrong with this system, then why are we all here today? Why are my precious children and grandmother gone?” Bob McLean was more pointed in his presentation to the jury.
McLean outlined what he described as a series of “preventable” mistakes and flaws within the fire service that contributed to the tragic outcome of last year’s fire.
From blunders in the emergency communications process, to poor staffing and response times for firefighting, “there was a series of fatal mistakes, all of which led to the demise of my family,” he said.
The McLeans said they have no doubt their family would have been rescued if a fully-equipped team of firefighters was on duty and was dispatched to the fire promptly.
Instead, the only rescue attempts made within a reasonable time came from desperate neighbours, as well as an ill-equipped volunteer who was the first firefighter to arrive at the scene, they said.
In his address to the jury, Bob McLean read aloud the names of all the neighbours who did their best to try to rescue his grandchildren and mother-in-law.
McLean praised the neighbours “for so courageously risking their lives to try to save our family. Your courageousness and thoughtfulness will never be forgotten.” McLean also recognized the firefighters, who he said did their best working with a sub-standard system.
“My family and I would like to thank the firemen,” he said. “We know the firemen were very courageous and they performed their duties to the best of their abilities, with the resources they had.”
The McLeans urged the jury to recommend a significant increase in firefighting staffing in Valley East. Instead of having a single full-time firefighter on duty, there should be four firefighters in each of the community’s three fire halls at all times, they said.
The same recommendation was made by the lawyer representing Sudbury’s full-time firefighters’ union.
If Valley East had a full team of firefighters at each of its fire halls last year, “it would dramatically affect the odds of effecting a rescue of Ellias, Asha and Mrs. Pearl Shaw,” Sean McManus told the jury.
60 cents a day
The cost to the average Valley East homeowner — 60 cents a day, or about $200 a year — is warranted, McManus said.
“That’s less than the price of a chocolate bar and significantly less than the price of a cup of coffee,” he told the jury.
The jury must make strong recommendations “to remedy this 32-year period of inaction” with regard to identified needs for better fire protection in Valley East, McManus said.
“There were six firefighters in Valley East in 1969. There are six firefighters now,” he said.
“I’m sure you’ll agree with me; the status quo is no longer acceptable.”
McManus and the McLean family also urged the jury to recommend that the provincial government contribute to the financing of fire departments, which are funded entirely by municipal taxpayers.
Recommendations endorsed by all parties at the inquest, including the city and the Ontario Fire Marshal, included a greater emphasis on public education and safety programs, as well as better planning for fire services.
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09-25-2002, 06:11 AM #21
- Join Date
- Sep 2002
09-26-2002, 02:16 AM #22
- Join Date
- Jun 2002
- Glenn Dale Md, Heart of the P.G. County Fire Belt....
Valley East Info??
Can anyone give me an idea of how many call are handled by the Valley East stations each year? Also, do they do EMS, Rescue, Hazmat, Etc??? Thanks. Stay Safe....Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
In memory of
Chief Earle W. Woods, 1912 - 1997
Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006
IACOJ Budget Analyst
I Refuse to be a Spectator. If I come to the Game, I'm Playing.
09-26-2002, 11:39 AM #23
- Join Date
- Jul 2000
- Ontario, Canada
LadyCapn your post seem to show a dislike for the OFM or what they have done. Were you once employeed by the OFM? You appear to be close to situation. I may be wrong but that is what I'm reading.Just one man's view from the flames.
09-26-2002, 04:34 PM #24
- Join Date
- Aug 2001
We at Randolph are proud of response times considering our situation. We have a truck en route anywhere from 1 to 4 minutes. However in our district, we may have an arrival time of 20 minutes and thats a conservative estimate. With all the hills, winding bends and corners. It takes us that long when we have the trucks maxed. Just conditions have to be taken into account. We have learned if we get a fire over on the south western part of the district, we are going to call the department on that side of us immediatly because they sit on the other side of the hill. If we had the money we would build another station on top of the hill and stuff but cant spring it. So I think this guy has to think. Besides, I dont take criticism well from peolple who are not members. If this guy is worried, and he was a member of the copany look, he could have had a pump operator there and execute a outside mission but no. Rather just stand there. We tell people, if your house is on fire, and you can get to the garden hose do it, because plain and simple it can take us a bit to get there. And every little bit helps. And they respect us for that and they understand.Firefighter/EMT Mitch Cowen
Hose Co. 1 1st Lieutenant
Randolph Fire Co. Inc
09-26-2002, 05:30 PM #25
- Join Date
- Nov 2001
No Hosekey, I don't dislike the OFM, nor do I work for them. It just frustrates me that they have the power to change things, yet are so reluctant to do so.
Over the next few years every Fire Department in Ontario must
1. Complete a risk assessment of their community for submission and evaluation.
2. Undergo an audit of resources, Fire Prevention programs and show they meet manning requirements under the 10-10 guidelines.
A trememdous amount of work for those of us involved in the completion of these reports and assessments, but worth it if the end result means opening some eyes and gaining new resources.
HOWEVER........it has consistantly been shown that although they have the power to order a Community to increase staff or resources, I am not aware of one situation where this has been done. So, we will work hard at these reports which in most cases will show that our staffing is inadequate, our funding is inadequate and should a significant fire occur, we would likely not have the resources to contain or control it. So we look forward to "failing" our assessment as maybe then we will have someone else telling Council we need more without being considered "alarmist". But all Council need say is NO and the issue is left at that. Until someone dies..........
The OFM has made great changes over the last 10 years or so, however they are still reactionary as opposed to being proactive. This is evident in our Fire Codes and in our education at the OFC. It would just be nice to see them take a stand and follow through on their right under the FPPA.
09-27-2002, 04:35 PM #26
- Join Date
- Jul 2000
- Ontario, Canada
LadyCapn thank you for the clarification. I think I understand your frustration now and agree that I wish they would act instead of just reacting.
My Chief was telling me last week about the 10-10 thing and I can see where it will lead to more number skewing on the reports.
Currently our voluteer station is dispatched from a full-time station. When the OFM report is filled out time of Call Received is when? The time they received the call or the time our pagers were set off? Some say that it is when our pager are set off because this reflect our stations response. I say it is when the full-time station receives the call because this is a reflection of our department and what our citizens pay for. I don't know which is correct or which way the OFM wants it.
If the OFM does not really use this info, does it really matter one way or another?Just one man's view from the flames.
10-06-2002, 11:06 PM #27
- Join Date
- Sep 2002
The Inquest Recommendations
The inquest jury in the Sudbury fire deaths has submitted its recommendations, to try and prevent further deaths. They are only recommendations, they are not binding on the local or provincial government. Hopefully some action will be taken before another tragedy occurs. The newspaper story is below.
Inquest calls for full-time firefighters
Jury returns 24 recommendations in McLean fire
By Harold Carmichael/The Sudbury Star
Sunday, October 06, 2002 - 11:00
News - A recommendation by a coroner’s jury that the City of Greater Sudbury hire more full-time firefighters for Valley East is “a step in the right direction,” the president of the Sudbury Professional Firefighters Association said Friday.
Chris Stokes also welcomed another key recommendation of the jury: that the city conduct a fire risk assessment for Valley East, Rayside-Balfour, Walden, Capreol, Nickel Centre and Onaping Falls.
Stokes was commenting on the 24 recommendations made by the coroner’s jury that examined the deaths of Pearl Shaw, 75, and her great-grandchildren Ellias McLean, 4, and Asha-Jade McLean, 3.
The three died of smoke inhalation in a house fire April 22, 2001, at 4141 Roy St. in Hanmer. Their bodies were recovered in the basement when the fire was extinguished.
The inquest was called after the community raised concerns about how Valley East firefighters handled the fire.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Stokes of the jury’s findings. “The number of firefighters and on-site communication — those two are probably the key recommendations in a fire sense.
“We hope they are implemented. It (on-site communication) played a big role in the fire.”
The jury’s key recommendation is that the city ensure two full-time firefighters are stationed at Hanmer, Val Caron and Val Therese around the clock, seven days a week. Currently, the Hanmer and Val Caron stations are not manned, while Val Therese has one full-time firefighter on duty.
Stokes said in an interview that, based on the jury’s recommendation, Valley East should have 24 full-time firefighters.
As it stands, there are six full-time firefighters in the former City of Valley East, although one of the six is a full-time trainer. That leaves four full-time firefighters, one full-time firefighter/fire prevention officer and more than 40 volunteers to provide firefighting services in a community of more than 20,000.
On the day of the fatal fire, the inquest heard that a lone, full-time firefighter responded to the scene along with several volunteers. Frantic neighbours lent firefighters a hand, helping set up fire hose at the home to try and get Shaw and her great-grandchildren out of the burning building.
Reaction from the City of Greater Sudbury to the jury’s findings was cautious. The city’s acting chief administrative officer, Mark Mieto, said in a statement: “We will carefully review and reflect on the recommendations made by the jury.”
Acting fire chief Wayne Ropp, meanwhile, declined to comment, saying, “we have to review the recommendations.”
Hiring more full-time firefighters won’t be cheap. Adding 18 firefighters would cost close to $1 million.
Stokes said the city would have to consider the recommendations carefully. “It’s going to be interesting to see,” he said.
“I think the city is taking the inquest a lot more seriously than other things. I think they are going to look at the recommendations and take it seriously.
“We are looking forward to working with them to see some of the recommendations get implemented.”
Stokes said he also liked the fact several recommendations stressed the need for increased fire safety education.
“Everybody has the attitude a fire is something that happens to the guy down the street, the guy in the next house, but not me,” he said.
Valley East volunteer firefighter Dave Barrett, who arrived at the fire scene after the fire was out, said he was relieved the inquest was over.
“I think you look at it as something where, if anything could go wrong, it did,” said the 25-year volunteer in an interview.
“It was reported late. The experts ... even said the fire was going a good half-hour to 45 minutes without being detected.
“There was a lot that was said and a lot that wasn’t said.”
Barrett said the fatal fire has helped bring Valley East volunteer firefighters closer together. “This has made the volunteers stronger rather than weaken them.”
Meanwhile, one of the issues raised during the inquest has reached the provincial level. On Friday, the Ontario government released a list of 15 municipalities under scrutiny by the fire marshal amid fears of inadequate fire protection.
The list, which includes Sudbury, Nairn-Hyman, Ottawa and Kingston, was made public just hours after the president of North America’s largest firefighter union accused the province of trying to keep it a secret.
The existence of the list was divulged by a representative of the fire marshal’s office during testimony at the McLean inquest.
However, Tony Pacheco, executive assistant to Ontario Fire Marshal Bernie Moyle, said none of the communities on the list are or ever have been facing any increased threat to public safety.
“If, during the course of our monitoring process, we felt there was a potentially serious threat to public safety, the fire marshal would act immediately to notify the municipality,” Pacheco said. “None of the communities on this list are at the level of having a potentially serious threat to the community.”
The list consists primarily of municipalities embroiled in a debate about firefighting resources and who have asked the fire marshal to mediate, said James Wallace, a spokesman for Public Safety and Security Minister Bob Runciman.
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