Inquest into firefighter deaths begins

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TORONTO – Relatives of two Ontario men who lost their lives during firefighter training exercises five years apart wiped their eyes as a coroner’s inquest heard details of the fatal incidents.

An inquest into the deaths of Adam Brunt and Gary Kendall began today in Toronto and is expected to last two weeks.

Brunt, a firefighting student from Clarington, Ont., died in February 2015 after getting trapped under the ice during a rescue exercise.

In his opening statement, the coroner’s lawyer said it appeared a strap on Brunt’s suit got snagged on something under the water as he attempted to float through a narrow gap in the ice in the Saugeen River.

Michael Blain said Brunt was under water for some time before emergency crews managed to free him, and he was pronounced dead in hospital.

Brunt’s death came five years after a similar incident near Sarnia claimed the life of Gary Kendall, a volunteer firefighter.

Blain said Kendall signed up for the course at the last minute after having to cancel a cottage trip.

He said one of the exercises got changed on the spur of the moment after a large ice floe appeared in the water in Point Edward, near Sarnia.

Participants were instructed to swim out to the floe and climb onto it, but that proved difficult as the ice was brittle, he said.

The floe then began moving quickly and Kendall was trapped underneath for several minutes, he said.

Both training courses were run by the same company, which has been given standing at the inquest.

The men’s deaths brought scrutiny on private training courses for firefighters, which aren’t mandatory or regulated.

The Ontario government vowed two years ago to look into regulating the private safety training industry.

The inquest will examine the events surrounding Brunt and Kendall’s deaths and may make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths.

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