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CLASS staff recognized for 'helping a neighbour' during fire

Blaze sparked in the garage of a house on Mills Court in Bradford Nov. 22; town's deputy fire chief says quick thinking by nearby group home employees 'most definitely contributed' to safe evacuation
Firefighters observe the damage after extinguishing the garage fire at a home on Mills Court in Bradford Nov. 22. | Paul Novosad for BradfordToday

Chris Ness was just throwing out the trash. Now, he’s among a group of people being credited with possibly saving lives.

The Community Living Association for South Simcoe (CLASS) direct support professional was working what he thought was a fairly routine shift Nov. 22, when he stepped outside to throw away some garbage at the organization’s Mills Court group home in Bradford. That’s when he noticed a seemingly small fire in the garage of a neighbouring house. He wasn’t concerned at first, thinking perhaps a barbecue had been lit.

“I could just see flames through the window a little bit,” he told BradfordToday in a Nov. 29 telephone interview. 

He went in search of colleague Joanne Rio. They stepped back outside and by then saw smoke pouring out of the garage.

“We knew we had to call somebody,” Ness said. 

Rio dialled 911. Another employee, Abiola Adebisi, ran into the house to alert the homeowner and pull two dogs and a cat outside. Other neighbours noticed the commotion and went in to help, too, allowing a second feline to escape.

“If it had started any sooner it would have spread to his house, 100 per cent,” Rio said. “We’re taught to just help others. It was basically just helping a neighbour.”

Bradford Fire and Emergency Services personnel, South Simcoe police and County of Simcoe paramedics responded to the incident around 7:25 p.m. Firefighters had to cut open the garage door to gain access to the blaze. 

“Crews arrived on scene and had a working fire in the garage,” deputy fire chief Steve Hall said a day after the incident. “They made entry into the garage and completed a quick knock down.” 

The home had working smoke detectors. But the quick response means the fire was contained and the damage is mostly smoke related.

Reflecting on the incident about a week later, Hall says the homeowner should consider nominating those who provided aid for a “civic award.”

“Being good neighbours and thinking quick on their feet … most definitely contributed to their safe evacuation,” Hall said. 

CLASS group homes support people living with developmental disabilities. This is a non-profit, charitable organization established in 1962 by a group of parents who wanted local services for their children.

Its executive director Andrew Walker, thanked the staffers and expressed appreciation for the “swift actions taken.”

“CLASS is proud to have such a dedicated team working with us,” he said. 

For more on the organization, visit

Chris Simon

About the Author: Chris Simon

Chris Simon is an award-winning journalist who has written for publications throughout Simcoe County and York Region. He is the current Editor of BradfordToday and InnisfilToday and has about two decades of experience in the sector
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