Rusk inquest wraps up

The coroner’s jury looking into the carbon monoxide poisoning of five people last year has classified the deaths as accidental. The deaths probably occurred sometime around Jan. 27, concluded the six-member jury.

The coroner’s jury looking into the carbon monoxide poisoning of five people last year has classified the deaths as accidental.

On Jan. 29, 2012, Bradley Rusk, 45; his wife Valerie, 37; their son Gabriel, 13; daughter Rebekah, 11; and their family friend, Donald McNamee, 47, were all found dead in their rented Centennial Street home.

The deaths probably occurred sometime around Jan. 27, concluded the six-member jury.

After deliberating for almost four hours the jury came back with nine recommendations aimed at preventing an accident like this from happening again.

The jury proposed that:

•the recommendations made by both oil-burning appliance expert Rod Corea and the oil-fired appliances working group be adopted;

•that an annual education campaign about the need for carbon monoxide and smoke detectors be developed;

•that an inspection report similar to the checklist developed by Corea be made available online;

•that a visual inspection record sticker be created for fuel tanks and appliances;

•that written documentation, photos and or videos of new installations or modifications of oil-fired appliances should be included in permit and inspection files;

•that property owners should be provided with written documentation of new installations, modifications and inspection results;

•that a permit be issued by a licensed authority before any new oil-fired appliance can be sold;

•and finally, that an ad campaign be developed on the need to get old masonry chimneys inspected.

“If the recommendations here move forward, then we can at least know that they didn’t just die in vain,” said Greg Rusk, one of Bradley’s brothers.

The family will closely follow the implementation of these recommendations, added Cam Rusk, who along with Valerie’s sister, Lynn Wattie, represented the family during the five-day inquest.

But Rod Corea, an Ontario-based industry expert, told the inquest earlier that he wasn’t very hopeful about the prospects for improving things in the Yukon.

“I’m not optimistic and I’m usually an optimistic guy,” he said.

Corea was called to testify by the family on the last day of the inquest.

Between 2007 and 2010, Corea produced a series of reports for the Yukon Housing Corporation on the state of the territory’s oil-fired appliances.

Of the 305 residential oil furnaces inspected by Corea, only four met the federal building code.

On average, each furnace had five code infractions, for a total of 1,688.

Some of the things he discovered were extremely dangerous.

Corea told the inquest about one downtown bank he inspected that had a boiler completely flooded with oil.

If someone had fired up that burner, it would have destroyed the bank and taken some of the downtown with it, said Corea.

Over the years he worked in the Yukon things weren’t getting better, he said.

Many times the improvements that were done to correct code infractions actually ended up making things worse, said Corea.

After three years of reporting on the industry for the Yukon government and seeing little progress being made, Corea decided to stop coming up.

“It was just too frustrating,” he said.

Corea said that you can’t simply draw a straight line from the lack of government action and the accident on Centennial Street, but that “it was predictable.”

“I think it could have been avoided,” he said.

After the tragic deaths of the Rusk family and McNamee the government created the oil-fired appliances working group.

In a report released last year the working group recommended that training, licensing and public awareness all be improved. 

There have already been some changes to the legislation, testified Marc Perreault, chair of the working group.

Today only certified oil-burner mechanics are permitted to install or perform major modifications to oil-fired appliances, although minor servicing can still be done by uncertified technicians.

The recommendations that came from the working group are sensible, said Corea, although they’re “basically the same recommendations I made in 2007.”

“It’s hard to hear that,” said Cam Rusk. “We always hear that governments don’t do things fast enough … and now we’ve lived it.”

The Rusk family remains optimistic that if Yukoners continue to demand improvements to the industry that things will get better.

“Bring attention to the media, go to your MLA, keep pushing and there will be some change,” said Greg Rusk. “Don’t stop.”

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com

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