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Former Saint John fire chief appointed to task force investigating AIM fire

A former Saint John fire chief will join the task force investigating last week’s fire at American Iron and Metal.

Rob Simonds has been appointed to “conduct a comprehensive fire investigation” of the Sept. 14 scrapyard fire, which blanketed the area in thick smoke.

Simonds served as a firefighter in Saint John for more than 30 years before stepping down in early 2011 to become the fire chief in Hamilton, Ont.

Simonds is currently the chief administrative officer for the Municipality of the County of Colchester in Nova Scotia.

An announcement late Friday afternoon from the provincial government also said the task force would be chaired by executive council clerk Cheryl Hansen, and vice-chaired by Port Saint John chief operating officer Andrew Dixon.

Also appointed to the task force are two Saint John-area cabinet ministers: Attorney General Hugh J. Flemming, and Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Arlene Dunn.

Port Saint John representatives appointed to the task force include Bruce Connell, director of risk and compliance, and Alex Calvin, senior director of infrastructure and asset management.

The provincial government didn’t immediately respond to questions about the task force’s first meeting.

“I would ask for the public’s patience as we work to complete the investigation, and I look forward to receiving the recommendations at the conclusion of the review,” said Premier Blaine Higgs in a written statement Friday.

When asked by reporters on Tuesday, Premier Higgs said the task force would examine the enforcement of government regulations and oversight at AIM on the Saint John waterfront.

AIM did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, but earlier in the week said it welcomed an investigation and would co-operate.

Since announced on Monday, there have been calls for the appointed task force to thoroughly investigate the province’s own role in preventing the incident.

Raven Blue, a representative with the volunteer community group Liveable Saint John, said concerns about regulatory oversight at the scrapyard existed long before last week’s fire.

“Over the years, AIM have benefited from the lack of regulation and oversight in the province of New Brunswick,’ said Blue. “That’s why they’re here, that’s why they’re profitable, and the public are bearing the cost of that.”

Fundy Baykeeper Matt Abbott said it would be important for the task force to review safety measures at the scrapyard, alongside evidence of whether the measures were appropriately enforced.

“What were the regulatory checkpoints? Where could the province have perhaps done better so that this was prevented ahead (of time)?” asked Abbott.

“We need to stop future incidents.”

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