Sudbury

Multi-million dollar lawsuits against city cite slow response by Sudbury firefighters

The controversial fire department optimization plan continues to be judged in the court of public opinion, but some of the same questions about emergency response in Sudbury are also being heard by courts of law.

Latest lawsuit filed by family of CAS worker who died in Hanmer fire in 2014

Rob Hyndman is a Sudbury firefighter and president of the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association. (Erik White/CBC )

The controversial fire department optimization plan continues to be judged in the court of public opinion, but some of the same questions about emergency response in Greater Sudbury are also being heard by courts of law.

The most recent case relates to the death of 33-year-old children's aid worker Nicole Belair in a Hanmer apartment building in May 2014.

Her fiance filed suit last year seeking $1.25 million from several different defendants, including the City of Greater Sudbury, which court documents allege failed to respond in a "safe and timely" manner and used "incompetent" firefighters.

Rob Hyndman, a Sudbury firefighter who is also the president of the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association, says in that case the volunteer firefighters from the nearby Hanmer station arrived at the Rita Street fire just seconds before the truck of full-time firefighters that came from the main fire hall in downtown Sudbury.

Shortly after, the city cited this fire as a reason why full-time firefighters would begin responding to calls in the outlying areas, even though city taxpayers outside of Sudbury proper technically only pay for volunteer fire protection.

A slow and confusing 911 response was also mentioned in a $5.5 million lawsuit filed against the City of Greater Sudbury last year by the families of three young people who died in a boat crash on Lake Wanapitei in 2013.

Darrel McAloney is the deputy fire chief for Greater Sudbury. (Erik White/CBC )

"The lawsuits are arising from the failure of the city to modernize its fire system," says Hyndman.

Hyndman says he believes the two deadly fires and lawsuits played a "key role" in inspiring the city to look at reforming its fire department.

But deputy fire chief Darrel McAloney says the plan is based on a scientific analysis of all fire calls in recent years.

"Individual incidents are from a statistical standpoint meaningless," says McAloney.

Civil lawsuits often take years to settle, but the optimization plan is on a faster track with a series of public meetings over the next couple of weeks leading to a debate at Sudbury city council on March 22.

Hyndman says that citizens in the outlying areas who are concerned about how the plan will lead to an increase in property taxes should consider the millions the city could be paying out in civil lawsuits related to 911 response times.

"Agree or disagree in terms of stations, volunteers, whatever else they're putting forward, everyone needs to be in an eyes wide open scenario to realize that civil litigation is not going to stop," says Hyndman.

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