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Thousands of dollars in fines still unpaid


MIDHURST - Being the first person to be charged under the Ontario Fire Code is "just another big headache," Gail Wilson said at the inquest into the 2009 fatal fire at Muskoka Heights Retirement Residence.

"In terms of charging an individual, I don't know why (I was charged)," said Wilson, who was on the witness stand Wednesday at the Simcoe County Administration Centre.

She received a $18,750 fine in October 2010, following the fire at the home she managed on Jan. 19, 2009. She has not paid the fine.

Muskoka Heights owner Dean Rushlow was also convicted and fined $62,500, which has also not been paid.

Asked by student lawyer Heather Conklin, representing the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, whether she had paid the fine, Wilson responded, "The lawyer will deal with that."

Asked about the deterrent effects of the fine, Wilson replied, "I'm not speaking about it."

Wilson did say that the fine is "definitely not" the reason she has moved back into home care, where she now works.

The inquest is expected to make recommendations to the province with the goal of preventing future deaths in seniors' homes.

Rushlow asked Wilson what would have assisted her better at the time of the fire.

"I think if we had an extra staff on each shift, (it) would have assisted better as well as specific training for the staff and myself," she replied.

The retirement home had one personal support worker (PSW) on duty for each of the three shifts, plus Wilson as manager during the day and one cook for the 21 residents.

Wilson was hired at the home in 2005 and became manager in 2006. She was trained in the position by the previous manager. Her education was as a health-care aid. She has since become a PSW, but she has no education in seniors' home management.

One of the three male jurors asked Wilson if she was made aware of all the responsibilities that came with the job, "knowing that it was being offloaded from Mr. Rushlow?

"Some of it, but not all of it," Wilson replied.

The juror also wanted to know if there was enough time to perform all the manager's duties along with her often having to be a worker on the floor?

"No," she replied.

Wilson added, though, that the problems at Muskoka Heights are the same problems that exist at a lot of others seniors' facilities in that there is often only one person working at night and that staff training is minimal.

Another recommendation Wilson had was that firefighters should visit the seniors' homes and learn where the exits are located.

Lawyer John Saunders, representing the Orillia Fire Department, said that might work in a small city like Orillia with nine seniors' homes, but wouldn't be feasible in a large city with numerous seniors' homes and firefighters who often change stations.

Wilson also recommended that a second set of documents - such as the floor plan, fire-safety plan and resident records - be kept off site, so they are not destroyed in a fire.

"I don't see how this prevents deaths," coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer said.

Wilson responded that it wouldn't prevent deaths, but would be helpful for the staff and family members of the residents.

Also at the inquest Wednesday, Dr. Toby Rose of the provincial forensic pathology unit testified about the autopsies on the fire's four victims.

Both Hugh Fleming, 86, and Robert McLean, 90, died the day of the fire of smoke inhalation.

"Most people who die in a fire, don't die of being burned. They die of smoke inhalation," Rose said.

A large contributing factor to such deaths is carbon monoxide poisoning. Blood saturation levels of 35% or higher can be deadly, she said.

Through lab testing done as part of the autopsy, both Fleming and McLean had a carbon monoxide blood saturation level greater than 50%, although the actual percentage was not given.

Genneth Dyment, 93, died at Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital five weeks after the fire of complications of smoke inhalation. Initial blood analysis showed her carbon monoxide levels at 37.6%.

She never reached a stage of healing to be breathing on her own and mucous caused "an almost total obstruction of the airways," Rose said.

"(Her symptoms) could be tied back to the effects of the fire," Rose said.

Vera Blain, 90, survived the fire for six weeks. She originally had 44.9% carbon monoxide saturation, but was resuscitated at the scene of the fire. She died in hospital of pneumonia complicating Alzheimer's disease.

Huyer asked if there could be a link between the fire and her death.

Rose answered, "There could."

The inquest resumes Friday and is expected to last four more weeks.

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