Union says in­mate de­lib­er­ately started the blaze to bait, at­tack cor­rec­tions of­fi­cers

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JON WELLS jwells@thes­ 905-526-3515 | @jon­jwells With files from Natalie Paddon

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.

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