Winnipeg, Canada Fire Department Faces Changes After Blaze LODDs

WINNIPEG -- Better accountability, enhanced training and the hiring of additional personnel are among the changes the Winnipeg Fire Department has made in wake of a blaze earlier this year that claimed two captains and left other firefighters hurt.

Captains Harold Lessard and Tom Nichols were killed in the February fire. Two of the four other firefighters - also caught in the inferno - have not returned to duty.

Although an extensive report - containing 22 recommendations - was released Thursday, the fire department has already started addressing a number of issues, said Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief Jim Brennan.

In addition to enhancing fire department operations, the authors of the report also suggested changes in building codes and public education programs about the importance of firewalls between garages and houses.

A portion of the document was not released because Brennan said it contained matter that may cause additional grief to the families and fellow firefighters. The provincial medical examiner will review the report and decide if an official inquest also is needed.

Brennan said the cause of death of the firefighters has not been made public.

In addition to fire service personnel, the panel that reviewed the blaze included people familiar with building codes, construction experts, fire behavior specialists and others.

"One group traveled to Calgary and Toronto to see how their fire services are operated," the chief said. "Some things we did OK, other things we need to change."

The task force suggested they look at enhancing training in incident command. "We're looking at what other departments are doing."

He said the review was expected especially since it involved the deaths of two firefighters. "It's important to know so we are more efficient."

The task force conducted interviews with firefighters and neighbors, reviewed photographs and videos. They also looked at the materials used to build the house in an effort to understand the fire behavior.

Brennan said the department is in the process of hiring 40 additional firefighters. This will not only increase the number of personnel on duty, but allow others to take training. "We'll be able to use some of those new firefighters to take the place of people when they go for more hands-on training."

Fiber optic upgrades in fire stations will allow firefighters to participate in training and video conferences, the chief explained.

Winnipeg firefighters also will have the opportunity to train on a recently-purchased flashover simulator.

Brennan explained that the deadly blaze started in a garage and spread up to an attic.

"Basically, they were walking into an oven. The fire was burning in the attic above them and in the floor below them."

Conditions detoriated rapidly. "They arrived to find a house with lights on, and no smoke. Then, light haze."

About 10 minutes into the incident, there was heavy, black smoke. As firefighters scrambled for a way out, the evacuation horns were sounding.

Brennan said there is still discussion on whether there was actually a flashover.

The firefighters encountered a "black fire," described as "high-volume, turbulent velocity, super-dense black smoke accompanied by extreme heat," the Canadian press reported, quoting officials.

A black fire suggests a flashover could happen, but one did not occur in this case, officials said -- contrary to reports at the time of the fire.

The department also has plans to purchase additional thermal imaging cameras. They are not carried on all apparatus right now.

They also plan to enhance personnel accountability. New tags will include a barcode that can keep an eye on the firefighter's air supply. Information will be relayed to a computer in a command vehicle.

Brennan said he believes the system will eventually include a feature similar to GPS so commanders can keep an eye on where firefighters are inside a building.

He added that they had no equipment failures at the fire.

The new equipment is costly, but Brennan said it's vital to enhance firefighter safety.

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