Wyoming’s fire chief is angry the OPP have charged one of his volunteers with careless driving after a 402 pileup last winter.
And he says it could affect how and if volunteers respond to accidents on the provincial highway.
On March 25, five firefighters who went to an accident on the 402 near Camlachie Road were injured. Two of the trucks were driving side-by-side to slow traffic. They hit a whiteout and became part of a chain reaction accident which included eight transports, and a dozen cars and trucks.
Now the OPP has charged Volunteer firefighter Neil Bain, who was driving the rescue truck, with careless driving.
“I don’t see that we were careless,” Mike Vasey told The Independent. “It’s not like we ran a stop sign or a red light…or hit a parked car. As far as we can figure, we’re doing about 40 k (kilometres per hour). It was so bad they couldn’t see anything.”
“Yes…they were there…just like they were with the 39 car pileup the month before,” says Vasey. Two people died in that accident and to date, Vasey says no charges have been laid. “The outcome of that was road conditions…I don’t know where you can claim the fault here. The fault lies with the guy who stopped at the beginning.”
After the accident, municipal leaders suggested the company contracted to clean the highway may not have taken special care with the concrete portion of the roadway. The Ministry of Transportation at the time said the crews were behind the fire trucks at the time of the accident.
Recently, Mayor Lonny Napper has met with Ministry of Transportation officials to raise the issue again. Vasey questions the timing of the charges.
“I find it very coincidental that there was a 39 car pile up with two people dead and not one charge laid.
“One month later, we get involved in an accident, the mayor sends a letter to the province complaining it’s their fault and all of the sudden we have a guy charged,” he says.
“The same night an OPP got hit on the other side of the overpass; I’d be curious to know if the driver got charged.”
Vasey is also concerned about the legal implications of the charge as well. “If Neil is found guilty, it goes against his personal insurance, his personal licence,” says Vasey adding truck drivers may not want to get behind the wheel of a fire truck if there is a chance it could jeopardize their career. “If I’m a truck driver at home I can’t afford to do it (get behind the wheel of a fire truck) because I won’t be able to make a living.”
He’s worried about the chilling effect it could have on people volunteering to be firefighters. “If you’re driving a fire truck you can’t refuse to go…it’s like joining the army and refusing to go to work because I’ll get killed.
“You’re expected to go when it’s bad.”
“If the snowball keeps rolling, the fire trucks are going to stop at the overpass and wait until the roads are closed to go on and help…and that’s going to hurt everyone.”
If the move hurts recruiting further, the only other option municipalities will have is to start paying for full-time firefighters. “Then a $200,000 or $300,000 fire department is going to start turning into $3 million pretty quick.
“It’s a slippery road to go down.”
Vasey is also concerned about the possibility of lawsuits should the courts find Bain guilty of careless driving. “They’ll see big trucks full of money coming down the road.”
The chief adds he wouldn’t be surprised if the charges sparked a conversation among volunteer departments up and down the 400 highways, if it is worth their while to respond to accidents on the highway.
Plympton-Wyoming had that discussion last winter before the accident but decided since the calls were not costing them money (they’re reimbursed by the province for the calls) they would continue to service the area.
“They have every right to say no; then who is going to do it?
“If Wyoming says it won’t do it and Warwick won’t that leaves Strathroy and Sarnia,” says Vasey.
While all the legal ramifications work themselves out, Bain waits for his Sept. 25 court date. He has yet to return to work. He was the most seriously hurt in the incident, breaking his wrist in the crash.