The Ontario Medal for Firefighter Bravery
The Ontario Medal for Firefighter Bravery was created in 1976 and is awarded annually to honour firefighters who have gone above and beyond to protect and serve their community.
Ontario Medal for Firefighter Bravery Recipients presented alphabetically by service:
Acting Captain Terry McLeod, Firefighters Kenton Ammerman and Earl Bichon of the
City of Kenora Fire and Emergency Services
On the afternoon of Oct. 24, 2013, the City of Kenora Fire and Emergency Services received a call from a woman trapped inside a house fire. The description of the fire was serious enough to call off-duty staff and volunteer firefighters to the scene.
The initial crew arrived to an intense house fire and confusion among family members as to which room their mother was in. The family members were not home at the time of the fire, but all worked nearby. Unable to enter the house through a front door, family and friends had begun breaking windows and calling out to locate the trapped woman before firefighters arrived. This dramatically changed the pattern of the fire, which had started in the basement and had been drawn out by the open windows.
The family told Acting Captain Terry McLeod that the woman must be in the basement bedroom. He broke a small basement window and had to remove his breathing apparatus to crawl through. Fortunately, there was little to no smoke. As he was putting his breathing apparatus back on, he was told the woman had been spotted in one of the main floor bedrooms.
Realizing he couldn't wait for McLeod to crawl out of the basement, Firefighter Kenton Ammerman entered the hot, smoke-filled bedroom through a broken window. Fire had reached the bedroom from the hallway and Kenton was having difficulty dragging the woman to an open window.
When Firefighter Earl Bichon arrived, who was off duty but had responded to the alarm, McLeod had yet to emerge from the basement and Ammerman was struggling to get the woman out of the house. Aware of the risks but without time to "mask up," Bichon rushed into the house to assist Ammerman and pull the woman to safety.
McLeod made it out of the basement. The woman survived because of the selfless acts of these brave firefighters.
Captains Ken Barnes and John Thomas, and Firefighter Adam Vance of the
Elliot Lake Fire Service
The tragedy of the 2012 Algo Centre Mall roof collapse is permanently etched into the memories of Ontarians. On June 23, 2012, Captain Ken Barnes, Captain John Thomas and Firefighter Adam Vance were part of a team of nine firefighters who entered the Algo Centre Mall after part of its roof collapsed to identify hazards and search for survivors.
A 12-metre by 24-metre slab of concrete from the roof-top parking lot had crashed through the two-storey mall. The only access point for the firefighters and other first responders was under a partially collapsed set of escalators covered in debris. Above them, an SUV was perched precariously on broken slabs. The firefighters crouched underneath an escalator to get to the rubble pile, aware that large cracks on both sides of a support beam could bring both escalators tumbling down.
As they worked to clear the rubble and locate survivors, pieces of debris continued to drop from above and the concrete under their feet occasionally shifted. Small debris was lifted, but the larger slabs were too unstable for the equipment the firefighters had. Eventually, Barnes, Thomas, Vance and others resorted to poking their heads into cleared areas and scanning them with a thermal imaging camera. Arms were also stretched as far as they could into cracks and voids to feel for survivors.
The situation continued to deteriorate as the structure weakened. A sewer camera was brought in to continue the search. Despite a decision to evacuate all first responder personnel, Barnes, Thomas and Vance volunteered to stay behind to operate the camera. Under the threat of further slabs breaking loose, the firefighters ensured that no area was left unsearched.
The force of downward air from a helicopter flying above the scene disturbed the largest support beam, and small debris began to fall as two of the larger concrete slabs started to vibrate. At that point, there was concern the SUV could roll onto the firefighters searching below.
After four hours, Barnes, Thomas and Vance exited the mall until the search area could be secured and they could safely re-enter the collapse zone. These three firefighters stayed behind in precarious conditions to locate victims and try to save lives.
Captains Bruce Hicks and Derek Wilson, Acting Captains Brian Chapman and Marcus Middleton, Firefighters Matthew Attwell, Anthony Colabufalo, Larry Martin, Travis Robbins and Daryl Roy of the Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services
When entering an industrial building, firefighters have to confront the unknown. On April 23, 2014, Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services responded to an industrial fire.
Although the sprinkler system had been activated, smoke was visible and the alarm was upgraded. Opening a heavy, side door, firefighters found heavy smoke conditions inside. Believing the sprinklers had doused the flames, they began opening doors to ventilate the building with the help of another crew that had just arrived.
What nobody knew was the building was used for storing pesticides and other dangerous chemicals. In a split second, everything changed following an explosion powerful enough to collapse the building and blow firefighters out of the building. A mayday was sent to indicate a structural collapse.
The fire from the explosion leapt hundreds of feet into the sky and butane containers inside the building set off a series of mini-explosions. After recovering from the initial shock of the explosion, it was quickly determined that three firefighters from the third crew were still trapped inside.
Despite the dangers, Captains Bruce Hicks and Derek Wilson, Acting Captain Marcus Middleton and Firefighters Matthew Attwell, Brain Chapman, Anthony Colabufalo, Larry Martin, Travis Robbins and Daryl Roy re-entered the building to rescue their colleagues.
Many of the firefighters who were present that day described the scene as a war zone, with intense heat, thick green smoke obscuring visibility and flying debris. The missing firefighters were trapped under a cinder-block wall outside the original structure and against the wind.
One firefighter lay motionless while another was waving one arm through the debris. Instinctively, the firefighters split into three groups and began removing heavy cinder blocks from on top and around the trapped crew.
As they worked against the clock to free their colleagues, the fire grew faster, fragments of the roof rained down and further explosions sent debris flying through the air, sometimes hitting them. The situation was becoming untenable.
Once freed, it took teams of two-to-three firefighters to move the three injured men to safety. Shortly after escaping the inferno, the entire building was engulfed in flame. All survived because these nine brave firefighters entered a life-threatening situation to successfully save the lives of their colleagues.
Firefighter Ray Pilon of the Shebandowan Fire Department
Often, Ontario's brave first responders work together in the face of adversity. Close to midnight on Aug. 12, 2012, Ray Pilon, an off-duty volunteer firefighter, offered his personal pontoon boat to assist in a lake rescue. The local Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachment had received an emergency call from a woman onboard a sinking boat adrift with her partner on Shebandowan Lake. A tangled rope in the boat propeller had left the vessel without power. The weather was deteriorating fast as a storm moved in and water was washing over the back end of the stricken boat.
Pilon, OPP Sergeant Hubert Beauclair and Provincial Constable Doug Golding set out on rough waters to locate and rescue the victims. Shebandowan Lake is a large body of water. Although Pilon, Beauclair and Golding knew the approximate positioning of the boat, locating the couple was difficult because it was hard to see and the boats lighting and other methods for signalling had been knocked out. Since the rescue pontoon was a privately owned vessel, there was no communication between the rescuers and the Provincial Communication Centre. They were on their own.
Surrounded by high-pounding waves, the rescue vessel nearly capsized when it nosed into the lake and submerged in rough water. Pilon held on to the ship's wheel, struggling for control as the vessel nearly rolled over. Once Pilon had control of the pontoon, the three rescuers quickly assessed the situation. They knew that time was of the essence and the victims aboard the floundering boat could not survive long in these conditions. They continued to fight high winds and rough waters to complete the rescue.
They found the boat stuck on rocks roughly six metres from shore. Boat-to-boat transfers are tricky in the best conditions. The occupants were suffering from exposure, without life jackets, hysterical and had been consuming alcohol. The couple was rescued from the boat, which had to be abandoned. Had it not been for Pilon, Beauclair and Golding putting their safety in jeopardy, there may have been a different outcome.
OPP Sergeant Hubert Beauclair and Provincial Constable Doug Golding will be receiving the Ontario Medal for Police Bravery.