(Canadian OH&S News) — The Sudbury, Ontario community is mourning the loss of Children’s Aid worker Nicole Belair, who died on May 13 after succumbing to burn injuries from a building fire that happened the previous day.
Sudbury members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), of which Belair was a member, and workers at the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) of the Districts of Sudbury and Manitoulin, where Belair worked, wore black on May 20 to commemorate her death. The funeral service for Belair, also held that day, was well-attended, with many CAS workers present, reported OPSEU Local 668 president Jane Kaija.
Sudbury Regional Police performed an honour guard and procession, according to a statement from the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS). The worker’s family asked Colette Prevost, executive director of the Sudbury CAS, to deliver a eulogy during the service.
Belair was on her way to a home visit of a young client in Hanmer, 25 kilometres north of Sudbury, when the fire erupted inside another apartment on the second floor of the housing complex. Belair brought her client to safety, but, for unknown reasons, returned to the building where the fire continued to blaze. Those who knew the 33-year-old worker, who joined the Sudbury-Manitoulin CAS in 2006, suspected that she was attempting to rescue the occupant in the unit where the fire had originated.
“As the person fled from the unit of origin, the fire extended from the unit of origin into the hallway. When it moves into the hallway, the energy from the unit of origin is now in the hallway and that’s where it trapped the CAS worker,” said Chris Williams, assistant deputy fire marshal of investigations. Firefighters retrieved Belair, who was unconscious, on the top floor of the building.
“She received injuries that later contributed to her death,” said Williams.
He added that the investigation would require additional forensic engineering. “We have some more work to do there regarding some tanks and some appliances that were in the unit of origin,” he said.
Belair’s injuries were not a function of the direct responsibilities of her job, and no fire code violations had contributed to the fire, reported Williams. “It’s simply a tragic set of circumstances where one of the individuals who is not a resident of the building was trapped in a hallway on the second floor.”
Lisa McCaskell, senior health and safety officer with OPSEU, said that in her 15 years of working at the union, she had not seen anything like this incident.
McCaskell said that the union was trying to figure out why Belair went back into the site of the fire. “We’re looking and waiting to see from the fire marshal’s investigation: is there anything that could have been done prior to, that would have somehow prevented this from happening?”
McCaskell added that it was still unclear if the incident could have been avoided, but she suggested that generally speaking, it is important that formal and informal safety checks take place prior to home visits.
There were no other fatalities in the incident; the person occupying the unit where the fire originated received critical injuries.
The Office of the Fire Marshal, the Sudbury Fire Service and Ontario’s Ministry of Labour (MOL) are continuing their investigations. MOL inspectors are trying to determine whether there were any violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.