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Ontario government called on to clarify rescue workers training requirements

Firefighter graduates march in unison after receiving their badge and certificates during a graduation ceremony at the Toronto Fire/EMS Training Centre in Toronto on Thursday, July 31, 2014. The Canadian Press/Darren Calabrese

TORONTO – A man whose safety training company is under investigation in the recent death of an Ontario firefighting student says the province must act to ensure best practices are established for the industry.

In a post on his company’s Facebook page, Terry Harrison says there should be “a review or inquest” to clarify training requirements and make sure rescue workers receive the education they need.

Harrison, who describes himself as a career firefighter with decades of training experience, says he keeps his skills up to date and “holds to the highest standard of practice.”

But he says that since the safety training industry is unregulated, it’s unclear who decides “what is the current curriculum, what the best teaching techniques are, what is out of date, or dangerous.”

Some, including one Ontario fire chief and an New Democrat MPP, have called for government oversight of private companies that provide specialized optional training for firefighters and firefighting students in the wake of a fatal incident in Hanover, Ont. earlier this month.

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Adam Brunt died on Feb. 8 during an ice rescue exercise that the Ontario Ministry of Labour said was run by Harrison’s Toronto-area company, Herschel Rescue Training Systems. The ministry and police are investigating.

The course is not mandatory to become a firefighter, but Brunt’s father has said the 30-year-old signed up in the hopes it would help him get a job.

Harrison said in his post that he is “not sure” government regulation is the answer, “but there should be a review or inquest to make sure the proper and accurate information is getting to the proper people, so that there can be a better understanding, better education to meet the needs of all firefighters and rescue personnel in all aspects of ice and cold water rescue.

“And if being regulated is going to assist in that goal, I’m in favour.”

He did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Harrison, Herschel’s owner and master instructor, was acquitted after being charged in 2010 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the death of a volunteer firefighter near Sarnia, Ont., according to court documents.

A judge ruled Harrison had not officially been designated as incident commander for the exercise, and thus could not be held responsible for the firefighters’ safety, the documents show.

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The municipality of Point Edward was fined $75,000, while charges against its fire chief were dropped.

No coroner’s inquest was held, though media reports at the time say both prosecutors and defence lawyers were in favour.

Harrison previously said he was invited to take part in the 2010 exercise but was not hired to lead it. He would not comment on this month’s incident, citing the ongoing investigation.

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