Petawawa's Allard family continues to grieve after son and brother killed in workplace accident earlier this year
A part of Ethan Allard will always be with his brother Tyson.
In his wallet, Tyson carries a tiny piece of the orange-and-yellow safety vest Ethan was wearing on the day he died, Jan. 16, at a construction site in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood. Ethan, 24, from Petawawa, was a member of the vast hockey-playing Allard family in the Ottawa Valley. All seven of Ethan’s brothers have a piece of that torn vest.
Working as a pump operator on a wet-mix shotcrete (sprayed concrete) job, Ethan became tangled up in the agitator of a concrete hopper as he was trying to chip away some of the dried cement at the end of a work day. No one knows for certain how Ethan got in the agitator. He might have been pulled in while trying to fix a kink in the hose, or the chipper itself or a piece of clothing may have got caught.
An apparent string of bad luck contributed to Ethan’s death. His work partner, who could have saved him with the flick of a switch, happened to be away from the scene momentarily. It was 4 p.m., clean up time, and the partner was dropping their portable radios off at the truck parked a few hundred feet up the road. He wasn’t gone more than a minute or two, and by the time he returned, Ethan was caught in the hopper, face up, unresponsive. An autopsy revealed a broken spine and collapsed lungs as the cause of death.
While the thick, steel agitator blades are not sharp, they churn with a purpose, driven by a Reed C50 ss pump capable of pushing out 2,000 pounds per square inch of concrete spray through a two-inch hose. Ethan had been working in construction for about two years, and had been operating a concrete pump for a little more than six months.
Shortly after the incident, the Ontario Ministry of Labour launched an investigation, which is still ongoing.
What bothers Tyson, who has been working in the shotcrete business for seven years, is that the machinery should have shut down automatically as soon as the covering grate was opened. He demonstrated the operation on a video.
Ethan worked for Torrent, a shotcrete company with offices in Vancouver and Toronto. Michael Luers, the company’s president and CEO, told the Citizen that pump operators are “supposed to lock up the machine before you put the grate up. That’s the procedure we have in place.”
Beyond that, Luers didn’t want to comment on an ongoing investigation. Torrent had hard hat ‘Ethan’ stickers made up for his co-workers to honour his memory.
There is some debate in the shotcrete world about hopper maintenance and the risks of washing out concrete waste with the grate open and closed. While not as efficient, cleaning with the grate closed is markedly safer, and some operators refuse to clean an open hopper, even if the blades are stationary. Others think the practice is fine. Chipping dried cement, as Ethan was doing, requires an open grate.
Three days after the fatality, the Ontario Ministry of Labour issued a series of work orders and stop use orders to the company. One stop use order was to ensure the concrete pump was in working condition and another order was to reinstall a disabled safety feature on the concrete pump. A stop use order remains in effect until the company shows the safety feature is enabled.
A further order to make an operating manual available at the project was complied with.
The ministry investigation could take months.
Friday was the World Day for Safety and Health at Work, and while the Allards await the findings of the ministry’s investigation, they hope others can learn from Ethan’s death. Pump operators, unlike nozzle-men (Tyson’s job) don’t require a license to run the pump.
“The ministry doesn’t know much about this (shotcrete) trade,” Allard says. “It’s a niche market. Ontario is building on shotcrete right now, especially Toronto.
“Safety in construction has to wake up. It’s go-go-go all the time. Everyone deserves to go home at night.”
To the end, by all accounts, Ethan worked hard and played hard. Moving to Toronto for construction work was a big step.
“He was just in the process of spreading his wings a little bit,” brother Shawn says.
Shawn, the oldest of a baker’s-dozen 13 children born to Linda and Shane Allard, played and coached pro hockey in Europe and is a skating coach to 150 NHL players.
Shawn remembers Ethan as a fun kid, bursting with energy and big ideas. Ethan was also a holy terror on a sheet of ice. A grinding forward who punched above his weight at 5-9, 170 pounds. Ethan played for several local junior clubs, registering 133 penalty minutes in 2011-12 with the Jr. ‘B’ Shawville Pontiacs. Playing minor midget for Renfrew, he had 151 PIMs and 47 points in 42 games.
“We made fun of him, sometimes,” Shawn says. “He was a real chippy, mouthy, passionate hockey player. He reminded you of a Sean Avery-type guy.”
Pat Malloy, a skating coach, like Shawn, to amateurs and pros, coached Ethan with the Kemptville 73's in 2010-11.
“I just called him a hockey player,” Malloy says. “Really spirited, feisty, he had an edge to his game, but he had skills, too. He could play.
“A very funny kid. Upbeat. You know the Allards. They’re all upbeat and chipper. If they’re having a bad day you don’t necessarily know it.
“I smile when I think about him.”
Away from the arena, this same trash-talking rough-housing hockey player was as considerate and caring as a young man could be. He was great with kids, generous with his family and quick to pick up a restaurant tab.
When Tyson and Ethan were working on a shotcrete job together in Toronto, Tyson suffered a terrible case of heat stroke, which landed him in hospital for two days with a diagnosis of Atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat. Ethan didn’t leave his brother’s side for the two days, both men missing out on pay.
Ethan’s sister, Felicity, has called Ethan “the most giving person ever.”
Ethan’s parents are still not ready to speak publicly about the incident, although his father Shane sent a message that he and his wife are “clinging to our faith for understanding and guidance.”
In March, the seven surviving Allard brothers played together as a team for the first time, competing in – and winning – the Chapeau Family Hockey Tournament in Chapeau, Que. The family wore canary yellow jerseys with a giant ‘A’ for Allard on the front, and Ethan’s No. 9 on the sleeve. Brother Jamie flew in from Washington, D.C. for the game.
The Ethan Allard Memorial Hockey Fund (EAMHF) will henceforth channel money to minor hockey families in need around Petawawa. The fund has already been used to buy a new defibrillator for the arena in Chapeau.
At his funeral, the seven brothers wore Petawawa Patriots jerseys, Ethan’s boyhood team, and his No. 9 sweater was draped on the casket. He liked the number because he was the 9th born of 13 children.
Next February, Ethan will be the focus of the Ethan Allard Memorial Hockey Tournament in Petawawa, along with a trophy in his name. There is already a royal blue family bracelet for him, graced by Ethan’s favourite saying: “You will never get poor by giving.”
“We’re a strong Christian family and we know Ethan is in a good place,” Shawn says. “It was hard to go through that. Mom and dad are still struggling with it. Dad hasn’t been back to work.
“But we believe he’s in heaven and we all know we’re going to get there someday. In a way, he’s paving the way for us.”