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Fire-retardant material and education needed: Coroner

BY TRACEY DUGUAY tracey@northernlife.

Although it was "unable to eliminate a candle as the cause of the fire," the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario refused to rule this was the source of the fire that claimed the life of well-known disabled activist Joanne Nother.

After a nine-month investigation joint investigation with the Ontario Fire Marshall's office, the coroner's office stated Nother's case will remain "undetermined in origin" since they can't 100 percent conclusively prove a candle started the fire.

The investigation did rule out any possibility a malfunction in the wheelchair caused the fire.

"The wheelchair was credibly eliminated as a potential cause of the fire."

Wiring or electrical problems in the house were also ruled out, which basically left the candle or a lighter found in the proximity of Nother's body as the source.

The lighter wasn't mentioned in the media release provided at the press conference, but was only addressed when asked if there were any other possible sources of fire examined in the house.

Northern Life reported on Sunday that Invacare, the company that manufactured the wheelchair Nother used, concluded a candle started the fire after conducting its own investigation.

"Considering the government investigator's verbal report regarding the candleholder and waxy substance that were found, it is highly likely and probable that the fire was caused by accidental ignition of the user's clothing on the exposed flame of the candle. There is no evidence that the Invacare device malfunctioned in any way," stated the report filed by Invacare.

Two recommendations came from the coroner's investigation that point to a need to ensure wheelchair materials are fire retardant.

"Wheelchairs purchased from a manufacturer are often extensively modified at a local site to precisely suit the needs of a giver user. Materials that are used in the manufacturer and/or local modification of wheelchairs, were care needs permit, should be fire-retardant," states the first recommendation outlined in the media release.

The second recommendation involves the need for more public awareness regarding fire prevention and detection for wheelchair users.

"Persons who are unable to rapidly summon help due to a physical or other disability and their caregivers, should be reminded of their heightened need with respect to fire prevention and detection."

These recommendations will be sent to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the Canadian Standards Association, the Ontario Hospital Association, manufacturers and modifiers of wheelchairs, and other appropriate persons, agencies and government ministries.