Firefighter placed under house arrest
JUSTICE: Volunteer gets 18 months for dangerous driving causing death
BY CHRIS MORRIS
A volunteer firefighter in New Brunswick was sentenced Thursday to house arrest in a case that raises tough questions about the lack of clear, national guidelines for firefighters racing to the scene of a fire or accident.
Christopher Boucher, 34, of the Bathurst area in northern New Brunswick, will be under house arrest for the next 18 months and won't be able to fight fires during that time as part of his sentence for a traffic accident that claimed the life of 17-year-old Travis Corrigan.
Mr. Boucher also won't be able to drive for three years, but he said after his sentencing it's the loss of firefighting privileges that hurts the most.
"It's like cutting my legs out from under me," he said.
Mr. Boucher was driving a fire truck for the Ste. Anne volunteer fire department on April 26, 2001, when he ran a red light at an intersection in Bathurst and crashed into Mr. Corrigan's sport utility vehicle, killing the teenager.
During the trial, Mr. Boucher said he had turned on the fire truck's siren and lights before heading out of the fire station. He also said he applied the brakes before he entered the intersection.
However, witnesses testified they did not hear the siren.
Mr. Boucher was convicted of dangerous driving causing death.
Fellow volunteer firefighters in the area were outraged by the charge and, at one point, threatened a work stoppage.
There were fears the charge and sentence would send a chill through volunteer fire services and make it more difficult to recruit people.
Chief Gordon Baird, president of the New Brunswick Fire Chiefs Association, said he was relieved Mr. Boucher did not get jail time, as requested by prosecutors.
"A harsh sentence would have had a very adverse effect on the volunteer service," Mr. Baird said. "You have to remember these guys are volunteers, they work for free."
Mr. Boucher's trial underscored the need for clear rules governing driver training for firefighters.
"Every municipality in this country sets its own standards for firefighting," said Ken Kelly of Yarmouth, N.S., president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.
"In Toronto, drivers might get 30 hours of training. But in Ecum Secum, N.S., the only training might be the volunteer's daily driving experience. There's no national policy."
Even guidelines for running red lights are fuzzy. New Brunswick's Motor Vehicle Act allows emergency vehicles to go through a red light under certain circumstances, if they slow down before proceeding. But it's not clear how much they should slow down.
The problems were highlighted not only by the Boucher case but also by another fatality in Edmundston, in 2001 when a 60-year-old man died after his vehicle collided with a fire truck, again at an intersection.
No charges were laid in that case.
"There have been fender benders as well," said John McLaughlin, New Brunswick's fire marshal, who oversees the content of firefighter training.
"These are fluid loads. It's not like driving a police car or an ambulance. Some of them carry in excess of 1,500 gallons of water. They don't stop on a dime."
Mr. McLaughlin said driver training standards across N.B. are being strengthened.
"The best we can do with this is that things are made safer because of it. If nothing happens it would all be for naught and that would be senseless."
Mr. Corrigan's parents, Brad and Debbie Corrigan, want a coroner's inquest into their son's death. So far, no decision has been made.
I know that this is being discussed in the FF's forum, but I would like to get more Canadian opinions as well. I know that all facts are not presented in this article, but what are your training standards & when does your department allow you to drive (volunteer or not).
That link doesn't work.
My driver training started with driving back from calls and going shopping and things like that. After probation if the truck captain thought you were alright and could pump and knew the area, than he put you in the rotation.
Pretty well the same here Scoop, except if you don't want to drive, you don't really have to
We have to take a code 3 driving course (might be required by provincial legislation)and go through a probationary period as a code 3 driver. As well, a good driving record is required