Negligence charge filed against firefighter trainer who oversaw deadly rescue exercise

A charge of criminal negligence causing death has been filed against a trainer involved in a water and ice rescue course that took the life of a student firefighter in 2015.

Adam Brunt died in 2015 after participating in an ice and water training exercise in Hanover

Terry Harrison, who was teaching the course Brunt took, told CBC Toronto there was nothing anyone could have done to save the man. (CBC)

Almost three years after firefighting student Adam Brunt died during an ice and water rescue training course in Hanover, a criminal charge has been laid against the trainer Terry Harrison.

"I saw with my own eyes the criminal negligence that he did" alleged Terri Jo Thompson, one of Harrison's students that day. 

Harrison has been charged with criminal negligence causing death and Thompson is the reason this is now happening after all these years. 

Thompson and Brunt were among twelve students participating in a two day water and ice rescue training course carried out by Terry Harrison and his company Herschel Rescue Training Services in 2015. 

Firefighting student Adam Brunt was 30 at the time of his death. (Provided by Brunt's family)

On Feb. 8, 2015 the students were travelling down the Saugeen River near a dam when Brunt's survival suit got caught on a piece of metal. 

He was under water for fifteen minutes and Thompson said Harrison did not have any life-saving equipment or a cell phone.

She said students had to flag down cars to get help. 

Following Brunt's death, the Hanover Police Service carried out an investigation that the Brunt family believed would lead to charges. 

"So it sort of snuck up on us in the end that all of a sudden it was just wham we're not charging. We just don't think we have enough," said Adam's father Al Brunt.

"We live in Ontario. You think our province has all these laws and rules in place already. You do something wrong. You get charged for it and that's that but not him, not Terry," said Christy Brunt, Adam's mother.

'She's family' said Christy Brunt of Terri Jo Thompson after Thompson successfully pursued a private prosecution to have trainer Terry Harrison criminally charged for the death of Adam Brunt. (Makda Ghebreslassie )

But Thompson promised the family she would pursue a private prosecution.

In Ontario, citizens who believe a crime has been committed are given the opportunity to argue that in front of a judge or justice of the peace. 

"I just felt that if there was one person to pursue this course of a private prosecution it was the person that was there with him in his last moments," said Thompson.

Several hearings took place in Walkerton, Ont. between July and Dec. this year. 

On Dec. 5, justice of the peace A. Magoulas agreed there was enough evidence to lay the charge.

"I have never seen Al and Christy so ecstatic on Tuesday when I walked out of the courtroom and I said we got a felt good," said Thompson. 

Two deaths

After Brunt's death his family discovered that Terry Harrison had been involved in another deadly training exercise. 

Volunteer firefighter Gary Kendall died in Jan. 2010 after getting trapped under a fast-moving ice floe in waters near Sarnia, Ont.  

The Point Edward Fire Department said Harrison was hired to carry out the ice and water rescue course.

He denied this during an inquest into both deaths this past spring.

Harrison testified that he was at the Point Edward course as a friend of the fire departments.

As for Adam Brunt's death, at the inquest he told CBC Toronto nothing could have saved him.

"No equipment would have done anything, in reality, at that time," he said. "I don't believe there's an instructor anywhere else in the province that could have done anything different that day."

The inquest resulted in 15 recommendations for several provincial ministries to regulate the training industry.

As for the criminal case against Harrison, a summons has been issued. 

Harrison is expected to make his first appearance in court on Jan. 24, 2018 in Walkerton, Ont.

About the Author

Makda Ghebreslassie

CBC Toronto reporter

Makda is a CBC Video-Journalist, who from time to time fills in as TV news anchor and a newsreader on Here and Now and Fresh Air. She worked in newsrooms in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor before moving back home to Toronto.