No fire extinguisher could be found on board a Sheriff Services van transporting three inmates when a fire broke out and filled the rear compartment with smoke in January 2012.
As part of a continuing investigation into New Brunswick Sheriff Services, CBC News has obtained documents through Right to Information which show the van was not equipped to handle the emergency.
“One of the detainees was yelling, so I looked in back and I saw flames in the cage of [detainee name redacted] and [detainee name redacted],” states a sheriff's officer in her account of the incident.
“Quickly, we stopped and I got out to find the extinguisher but it couldn’t be found,” she writes. CBC News has translated the fire incident reports to English from French.
In December 2013, CBC News revealed there was no first aid kit on board an inmate transport van during a serious crash on April 23, 2012.
In that instance, the van carrying five passengers left an icy highway and flipped multiple times over an embankment. An inmate suffered serious lacerations and had to be cared for without sterilized bandages or latex gloves.
'I yelled, 'Does anybody have a first aid kit?'' - Natalie Doucet, sheriff's officer
Natalie Doucet, who was the sheriff's officer in that crash, said in a December 2013 interview with CBC News that she had to find other means to care for the inmate while waiting for the ambulance.
“I ran out of the van and went to the side doors, to the passenger's side, to look for a first aid kit. I practically searched and searched,” she said.
“I saw that there was a lot of witnesses there and a lot of transport drivers so I just let out a yell. I yelled, 'Does anybody have a first aid kit?' and one driver ran to his truck and got me a T-shirt.”
Department of Justice documents show the first aid kit had been taken out of the van that ended up in the accident and put into a newer van. No replacement first aid kit was put in the older van before the accident.
When the fire broke out on Jan. 16, 2012, during a trip between Woodstock and Madawaska, the driver of the van reports he jumped out and got the inmates out immediately. When no extinguisher could be found on board, he tried to put out the flames himself.
'I took some snow from the side of the highway to throw on the fire.' - sheriff's officer
In the incident report obtained by and translated by CBC News he states, “I tried to put out the fire with the white blankets I had in the van, nothing worked with that and that’s when I took some snow from the side of the highway to throw on the fire several times, to put out the fire.”
CBC News asked the Department of Justice, which oversees Sheriff Services, why the equipment needed wasn’t on board at the time of these incidents.
The Department responded in an email from spokesman Dave MacLean that a review of Sheriff Services is underway. “This review is being conducted with a view to eliminating similar incidents in the future,” the email states.
Liberal MLA Brian Kenny, who questioned the government about Sheriff Services following CBC’s investigation, says there should be no question as to whether equipment is in inmate transport vehicles, ready to go.
If you have any information about this, or any other story, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s important that the department will make a checklist that they review all the procedures that are in place to ensure that all of the vehicles that are out on public roads with people in them would have those proper pieces of equipment always there,” Kenny said.
The sheriff's officer who threw snow managed to extinguish the fire. He and the other sheriff’s officer then proceeded to question and frisk the detainees to determine whether one of them had set the fire, but came up empty.
The inmates were strip-searched upon arrival at the Madawaska Regional Correctional Centre and no contraband such as lighters or matches were found.