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Ontario Village Pays $75,000 Fine in Death of Volunteer Firefighter During Ice Water Training Exercise

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This is the week for blog posts on volunteer fire departments.  The situation involving the Village of Point Edward, near Sarnia, was tragic and led to a $75,000.00 fine against the village under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s press release, in January 2010, members of the village’s paid volunteer fire department were being trained on ice water rescue.  The firefighters were instructed to swim out to a moving sheet of ice, climb it, and ride it down the lake.  Some of the firefighters were unable to climb the ice floe and tried to swim back to shore.  One firefighter was pushed by the ice floe under its surface, where he was trapped for four minutes.  He was removed but, sadly, he died.

The village pleaded guilty as an employer to failing to take the reasonable precaution of ensuring that adequate rescue equipment was available for the ice water rescue training exercise.  The MOL states that a “related charge against an individual” is still before the courts and is scheduled for a trial in May 2012.

The case is a reminder that even volunteers on a training exercise can be considered “workers” under the OHSA, requiring the “employer” to comply with the OHSA.  Not only regular paid employees are covered by the OHSA.