Town turns to veteran firefighter after chief, deputy go on leave

KINGSVILLE — Kingsville’s fire chief and his deputy went on indefinite leaves of absence about a week after a rescue of three stranded boaters went awry, but Mayor Nelson Santos declined to say if there is any connection.

“It’s a personnel matter and we’re supporting the two individuals involved,” Santos said. “I can’t speak to what the public is thinking.”

Santos said the town is not investigating how the rescue was handled.

“There is nothing happening from our perspective.”

The town has hired a new deputy fire chief, John Quennell, to run the department while Chief Chuck Parsons and Deputy Chief Jeff Dean are on indefinite leaves of absence. Quennell, a veteran firefighter, is a former deputy chief in Lakeshore and a former assistant chief in Windsor.

Parsons and Dean went on paid leave in mid-September — roughly one week after the department embarked on a rescue of three American boaters whose disabled craft had capsized in Lake Erie.

Parsons described the rescue on his Facebook page: “Our personnel rescued 3 individuals from a capsized vessel early Monday morning September 7th, 2020. Our Water/Ice Rescue team (was) deployed from … Kingsville. Two firefighters attempted a rescue from our marine unit, while one member swam to pull one victim to shore. Our marine unit was capsized by the wind and a rogue wave. Thrown from the boat, banged up from waves and rocks, both safely navigated back to shore on our overturned vessel. We are extremely proud to serve with this team and the brave individuals who entered the water.”

According to a report in the Windsor Star, which quoted Parsons, waves pushed the two remaining Americans to the rocky shoreline where they were pulled from the water.

“It’s probably one of the worst days in the chief’s life to hear that call out,’’ Parsons told the CBC.

“We knew that they were equipped…. They had the proper training.”

They had the most adverse conditions and they really stepped forward. They did exactly what we asked them to do; they did an amazing job.

The firefighters and three American boaters were sent to hospital, treated for mild hypothermia and released.

“It’s absolutely horrible,” Parsons said. “I’m happy that everyone was able to walk away, but again, it’s gut-wrenching for my firefighters to have to do this, it’s a high stress situation and I really feel for them to have to go through that.”

“They had the most adverse conditions and they really stepped forward. They did exactly what we asked them to do; they did an amazing job,” he said.

Kingsville firefighters also responded to a house fire that morning.

The Observer called a C. Parsons in Leamington and left a message but received no reply. Jeff Dunn could not be reached for comment.

There were other groups involved in the rescue. Also assisting were the Canadian Coast Guard, a helicopter from the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Detroit, the OPP, Essex-Windsor EMS, Lasalle Police dispatch and the Leamington Fire Department. C-Tow, which provides towing services for disabled boats, was also part of the rescue.

Quennell served in the Windsor fire department from 1978 to 2010 and retired as an assistant chief. He served as deputy fire chief in Lakeshore before joining the Kingsville department.

“We’re pleased to have Chief Quennell join our municipality and provide leadership during this time,” Santos said in a news release. “The residents and businesses can rest assured that the fire department continues to provide high quality fire and rescue services and will continue to do so as they are called upon in time of need.”

Parsons has a lengthy career in firefighting. Prior to joining the Kingsville department he was the Leamington fire chief. He was hired in 2017 after former fire chief Robert Kissner retired. Kissner was arrested in December 2016 on 17 charges involving sexual assault, sexual interference or sexual exploitation against eight alleged victims.

He was found guilty in April 2019 of nine charges involving four victims — a firefighter and three students who worked at the fire hall. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

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