FIRE AT BARTON JAIL:
Union says inmate deliberately started the blaze to bait, attack corrections officers
A fire Friday night at Barton Street jail was deliberately set by an inmate who has done the same thing at other correctional institutions, according to Stephen Smith, the president of OPSEU Local 248, the jail workers’ union.
“The inmate decided he wanted to set his cell on fire,” said Smith.
The union rep is not permitted to release specifics about the inmate, but added the inmate had recently been transferred from a facility in London where he also set a fire.
“He sets fires so the COs (corrections officers) will jump in to help and then attacks them; that’s what he did in London, and that’s what he did here.”
Smith said information he’s received from officers at the scene is that the inmate attempted to punch, kick, and bite the workers.
An official with the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal arrived at Barton Street jail Saturday morning to investigate, because the fire happened at a correctional facility.
Smith suggested regulations from the Ministry of Correctional Services make it difficult to detect when an inmate is hiding fire-setting materials. In this instance, he said the inmate had refused a body scan — or rather would not co-operate when the scanning was being done — and was possibly able to hide matches or a lighter up his rectum.
“They couldn’t give him a proper search, if he’s acting up the scanner won’t work. He’s done this at another institution as well.”
Smith said 12 corrections officers, two managers, and five inmates were sent to Hamilton General Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation and all were released. Among the inmates was the one he said set the fire.
“And he tried to do it again (set another fire) this (Saturday) morning.”
A spokesperson with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services was not available Saturday morning to react to Smith’s comments.
The fire started just before 6 p.m. Friday, according to the Hamilton Fire Department.
A fire department spokesperson called it a small fire that was knocked down quickly, but Smith said smoke in the facility was considerable and only the rapid response from officers and managers prevented loss of life.
He added that jail staffers used to have fire protection gear, but the ministry stopped providing equipment and training 15 years ago. (Again, a ministry spokesperson has not yet had an opportunity to respond.)
On Friday night, family members with loved ones in the jail were concerned when they couldn’t immediately reach them to find out if they were OK. Leslie Bailey said her 25year-old stepson has been in the Barton jail for a couple of months.
“I’m kind of shaken,” said the Dunnville resident. “I just want to know.”
Last July, a fire broke out in an inmate’s cell. The man had piled paper around his cell doors and lit them on fire with a smuggled lighter.