Firefighter’s hospitalization sparks standards issues: union

Cory Hurley
Published on August 12, 2014
Corner Brook firefighters battle a house fire on West Avenue on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014.
Diane Crocker

A scary couple of days for a Corner Brook firefighter highlights the importance of on-scene rehabilitation, says local union president Geoff Sparkes.

Twenty-six-year-old Jeff White was taken to hospital following Saturday’s house fire on West Avenue. He was treated for minor smoke inhalation, heat exhaustion and dehydration, according to Sparkes.

After fighting the blaze, which destroyed much of the home and returning to the department, White began experiencing signs of illness. Smoke inhalation and dehydration are common risks for a firefighter, according to Sparkes, but nonetheless not something taken lightly.

White responded well to treatment and recovery, said the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1222 president, but stayed in hospital until Monday undergoing further testing. White experienced an irregular heart beat, which can be linked to heat exhaustion and dehydration, said Sparkes. White passed a stress test Monday and is expected to be off work at least two weeks, pending his next checkup.

“We are all hoping and praying that everything will be OK,” Sparkes said.

A firefighter assumes a certain element of risk fighting every fire, he said. However, this situation highlights the importance of on-scene rehabilitation, where cool down and hydration are paramount to the safety of firefighters. He said it is important firefighters are relieved after so long and are able to replenish fluids and electrolytes.

The local union continues to fight to reach the level of standards set for the industry, Sparkes said, but is not there.

“I don’t make these standards; they are there to be followed,” he said.

Sparkes said often the onus is on the individual firefighter to ensure safety protocols are followed, as opposed to the incident command structure that should be in place.


Fire started accidentally

The Corner Brook Royal Newfoundland Constabulary are reporting the fire started accidentally.

The investigation has been concluded and, while the investigator was able to pinpoint the point of origin as being an upstairs bedroom, the ignition source could not be determined due to the extent of damage to the home, reports police.

The three residents of the home were outside by the time firefighters arrived. Paramedics from Western Health assisted two of the residents, who were checked at Western Memorial Regional Hospital for possible smoke inhalation.

The Canadian Red Cross was also called in to help, and a woman in her 80s and two men in their 50s were provided with emergency lodging, food, clothing, personal-care items and blankets.

Two pets, a dog and a cat, were also rescued from the home. The dog was temporarily looked after by a neighbour, while firefighters fought the fire and the cat has since been placed in a foster home by Scaredy Cat Rescue.

The fire investigation was carried out by an RNC fire investigator and an officer from the RNC’s forensic identification section.