The fire that changed us

News Jul 09, 2007 Hamilton Spectator

(Jul 9, 2007)

We build monuments to commemorate, to remember, to invoke tragic events coloured by heroism. But you could walk through the park and have no idea what happened there 10 years ago. There is no sculpture or plaque or sign.

The omission has never been by accident, though. Most of the 264 firefighters who worked the fire never wanted their mission recognized. There had been a push to name the park Firefighters' Park, but the firefighters didn't want that. In contrast to the soldier's plea "lest we forget," for most of the firefighters who were punched in the face by acrid smoke, legs and crotches burned by the flood of poisonous water runoff, it has been more like: let us never remember.

The roots of those feelings are complicated. Firefighters pride themselves on responding to the alarm, racing to the fire, knocking it down, back to the station to talk about it over coffee. Plastimet? They did, in fact, slay the beast, but it was a brutal, drawn-out affair, pumper trucks set on the periphery to "surround and drown" the fire -- at one point they were pouring 10,000 gallons of water on it every minute. It was not what firefighting is supposed to be about.

Most of all, the story of Captain Bob Shaw, who died courageously, but rapidly, from esophageal cancer that may have first developed within him at the toxic fire, heightened the fear, turned Plastimet into a ghost. Had it doomed them all to life sentences? They dreaded Plastimet "anniversaries," or Plastimet-related news, when Hamilton media would inevitably show the old photos of the plume.

No one could have ever imagined that one day, Plastimet would be seen in a somewhat different light, even by the firefighters themselves.

* * *

It took about six years, but ultimately the story of how the fire started in the rundown warehouse that was home to a plastics recycling company became clear, and it only added to the tragedy of it all, seemingly guaranteeing there would never be any justice as far as that fire went.

The cause was, as suspected, arson. But there would never be punishment. The one who lit the fire confessed, but could never be charged by Hamilton police, and his name never made public. The arsonist had been just 8 years old, and so was a young offender at the time. He was a boy with troubled family roots and a history of fire-setting.

A few years ago, as a 17-year old, in an interview with The Spectator he reflected that he hadn't meant to set such a huge fire, didn't mean to hurt anybody, that he regretted it -- while at the same time taking "a bit of pride" in having been the one to set "Hamilton's biggest fire ever."

Today, on a hot and humid afternoon, angry storm clouds build over the North End, a 12-year old boy named Andy rides his bike through the park. It is a fist-pumping day, he's catching a matinee showing of the new Transformers movie with his buddies. Andy's family still lives in the house where they were when the fire hit, just a few blocks away. He doesn't remember much about it -- "I was only two" -- but he does recall leaving to stay at his grandma's on the other side of town when the neighbourhood was evacuated.

He doesn't hang at Jackie Washington Park. It has a basketball court, but he's not much into hoops. Mostly he regrets that the city levelled off the land to build the park.

"It used to be a perfect sledding hill. Used to take five minutes to get up. But they just had to build a park."

* * *

If the park named for the grandson of a Virginia slave symbolizes anything, it is the cliche that time heals, not entirely, but a little bit. And also, that from the bad, good things can grow.

The Plastimet fire forced municipalities to be more vigilant with their industrial buildings housing hazardous materials. No one wanted to face "another Plastimet." Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal identified hundreds of recycling sites across the province that required closer monitoring by fire departments -- mostly in small towns that lack resources to inspect them. And the OFM now offers a course that teaches fire inspection officials how to police and enforce fire safety at potentially dangerous sites.

The disaster also influenced fire departments to take greater safety precautions to protect their firefighters at a toxic blaze.

Perhaps the most significant legacy of all, is what happened at Queen's Park in May. The horror of Plastimet, and tragedy of Bob Shaw's death, were so great that it led to new provincial legislation -- passed in a single day, unheard of at the legislature -- that recognizes claims for additional cancers contracted by firefighters on the job, such as esophageal cancer. The changes may have come eventually, but Plastimet altered the timetable.

"Plastimet was a dark day for Hamilton firefighters," said firefighters association president Henry Watson. "But at the same time Plastimet, and Bobby Shaw, were the impetus for the changes we've seen recently. It was the catalyst. We have to look at the positive that came from it."

As for the health of the firefighters who were at Plastimet, for the last eight years they have been monitored as a distinct group within a health testing study done by the fire department.

In the big picture, it is still early in the program, but the good news is that, while there had been a long list of short-term symptoms suffered by firefighters at Plastimet -- such as respiratory issues, sleep disorders -- the study to date gives no indication that they are experiencing long-term health effects distinct from other firefighters.

Time does not really heal a wound like Plastimet. But this week, for the first time, firefighters will accept an official gesture of gratitude. The ceremony will take place on Thursday at Jackie Washington Park at 6:30 p.m., to mark not the date the fire started, but the approximate date 10 years ago the fire was extinguished.

It's been put together by the North End Neighbourhood association. Resident Ann Buckle is one of the organizers. She first saw the plume while driving down Highway 6, bringing her daughter Sarah home from the University of Guelph. "I saw the black mushroom cloud and thought, 'good Lord, what's going on?'"

It remains to be seen how many firefighters show up for the event, but Henry Watson will be there. He appreciates the gesture. Then again, even now, 10 years later, Watson's words reflect the guarded sentiment of the firefighters.

"The North End neighbours wanted to do something -- it's not an anniversary, but they want to recognize what the firefighters did," he said. "We said it's something we would be a part of. It's not something the firefighters want to talk about a lot, but it is something that occurred. And we thank the community for their support."

A tree will be planted at the ceremony, and a plaque put in place, although it's not quite ready yet. It will simply read: "On behalf of the residents of the North End of Hamilton -- thank you, on this day, 10 years after the Plastimet fire."

jwells@thespec.com

905-526-3515

CHRONOLOGY

July 9, 1997, 7:42 p.m.: Fire reported at Plastimet Inc. recycling plant, 363 and 371 Wellington St. N. When firefighters arrive two minutes later, the building is engulfed in flames. Plastimet owner Jack Lieberman soon confirms building contains 400 tonnes of PVC and other recyclable plastics. Concerned about heavy, acrid smoke, officials prepare to evacuate nearby Hamilton General Hospital and Barton Street jail. No evacuation takes place. July 11: With the fire still raging after nearly 48 hours, officials start voluntary evacuation of neighbourhood -- about 650 people. They are allowed to return the next day. July 12: After battling the fire for 70 hours and pumping 22 million gallons of water onto the site, firefighters extinguish the blaze. There is concern about contamination of air, soil and runoff water. Neighbours are told not to eat produce from their gardens. July 16: A class-action lawsuit is launched on behalf of Plastimet neighbours. It seeks $200 million from Hamilton-Wentworth region, the city, the province, Lieberman, property owner Frank Levy and other corporations. July 18: The warning against eating garden produce if there is any evidence of soot is expanded to the entire city. It is withdrawn a week later. July 22: Premier Mike Harris suggests a public inquiry into the fire may be needed. He retracts the comment a few days later and the province has rejected a probe ever since, arguing there is no evidence of wrongdoing on government's part. Aug. 20: A report from the Ontario Fire Marshal warns of potential long-term health problems among neighbours and firefighters. Regional health department says one-third of Plastimet's neighbours complained of health problems immediately after the fire. September: Unhappy with the pace of cleanup, as ordered by the environment ministry, the province takes over the Plastimet site. It later issues an order requiring Lieberman, Levy and Plastimet to pay for the accelerated cleanup, then pegged at $1.2 million. Lieberman and Levy appeal the order. September: A series of independent tests shows dioxin levels around the site, which had spiked at the time of the fire, are now below normal. But coal tar and heavy metals are found to be well above acceptable levels. Feb. 3, 1998: The province extends its cleanup and pay-up order to include soil at the site and ground- water. June 9: Plastimet, Lieberman and Levy are found guilty of violating the provincial Environmental Protection Act. They receive suspended sentences, probation, must perform community service and must pay the province $270,000 towards the cleanup bill. They also issue an apology to residents affected by the fire. The final cost of the fire to taxpayers, through all levels of government, is pegged at more than $5 million. March 2001: Neighbours of Plastimet win their class-action suit -- the first mass tort claim settled in Hamilton. In total, 3,046 individuals and eight businesses are awarded payments of $175 per person. Summer 2003: The city becomes the owner of the site by default after it is offered for sale to recover $5 million in outstanding property taxes and cleanup costs. No one put in an offer. September 2003: The Jackie Washington Rotary Park, named after the local musician, rises on the former Plastimet land. March 2004: Bob Shaw, a firefighter who spent two days in Plastimet's toxic fumes, dies from cancer of the esophagus. He was 55 years old. May 2007: New legislation is passed making it easier for Ontario's firefighters like Bob Shaw and their families to realize claims for occupational illnesses. The new regulations are retroactive to Jan. 1, 1960.

The fire that changed us

News Jul 09, 2007 Hamilton Spectator

(Jul 9, 2007)

We build monuments to commemorate, to remember, to invoke tragic events coloured by heroism. But you could walk through the park and have no idea what happened there 10 years ago. There is no sculpture or plaque or sign.

The omission has never been by accident, though. Most of the 264 firefighters who worked the fire never wanted their mission recognized. There had been a push to name the park Firefighters' Park, but the firefighters didn't want that. In contrast to the soldier's plea "lest we forget," for most of the firefighters who were punched in the face by acrid smoke, legs and crotches burned by the flood of poisonous water runoff, it has been more like: let us never remember.

The roots of those feelings are complicated. Firefighters pride themselves on responding to the alarm, racing to the fire, knocking it down, back to the station to talk about it over coffee. Plastimet? They did, in fact, slay the beast, but it was a brutal, drawn-out affair, pumper trucks set on the periphery to "surround and drown" the fire -- at one point they were pouring 10,000 gallons of water on it every minute. It was not what firefighting is supposed to be about.

Most of all, the story of Captain Bob Shaw, who died courageously, but rapidly, from esophageal cancer that may have first developed within him at the toxic fire, heightened the fear, turned Plastimet into a ghost. Had it doomed them all to life sentences? They dreaded Plastimet "anniversaries," or Plastimet-related news, when Hamilton media would inevitably show the old photos of the plume.

No one could have ever imagined that one day, Plastimet would be seen in a somewhat different light, even by the firefighters themselves.

* * *

It took about six years, but ultimately the story of how the fire started in the rundown warehouse that was home to a plastics recycling company became clear, and it only added to the tragedy of it all, seemingly guaranteeing there would never be any justice as far as that fire went.

The cause was, as suspected, arson. But there would never be punishment. The one who lit the fire confessed, but could never be charged by Hamilton police, and his name never made public. The arsonist had been just 8 years old, and so was a young offender at the time. He was a boy with troubled family roots and a history of fire-setting.

A few years ago, as a 17-year old, in an interview with The Spectator he reflected that he hadn't meant to set such a huge fire, didn't mean to hurt anybody, that he regretted it -- while at the same time taking "a bit of pride" in having been the one to set "Hamilton's biggest fire ever."

Today, on a hot and humid afternoon, angry storm clouds build over the North End, a 12-year old boy named Andy rides his bike through the park. It is a fist-pumping day, he's catching a matinee showing of the new Transformers movie with his buddies. Andy's family still lives in the house where they were when the fire hit, just a few blocks away. He doesn't remember much about it -- "I was only two" -- but he does recall leaving to stay at his grandma's on the other side of town when the neighbourhood was evacuated.

He doesn't hang at Jackie Washington Park. It has a basketball court, but he's not much into hoops. Mostly he regrets that the city levelled off the land to build the park.

"It used to be a perfect sledding hill. Used to take five minutes to get up. But they just had to build a park."

* * *

If the park named for the grandson of a Virginia slave symbolizes anything, it is the cliche that time heals, not entirely, but a little bit. And also, that from the bad, good things can grow.

The Plastimet fire forced municipalities to be more vigilant with their industrial buildings housing hazardous materials. No one wanted to face "another Plastimet." Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal identified hundreds of recycling sites across the province that required closer monitoring by fire departments -- mostly in small towns that lack resources to inspect them. And the OFM now offers a course that teaches fire inspection officials how to police and enforce fire safety at potentially dangerous sites.

The disaster also influenced fire departments to take greater safety precautions to protect their firefighters at a toxic blaze.

Perhaps the most significant legacy of all, is what happened at Queen's Park in May. The horror of Plastimet, and tragedy of Bob Shaw's death, were so great that it led to new provincial legislation -- passed in a single day, unheard of at the legislature -- that recognizes claims for additional cancers contracted by firefighters on the job, such as esophageal cancer. The changes may have come eventually, but Plastimet altered the timetable.

"Plastimet was a dark day for Hamilton firefighters," said firefighters association president Henry Watson. "But at the same time Plastimet, and Bobby Shaw, were the impetus for the changes we've seen recently. It was the catalyst. We have to look at the positive that came from it."

As for the health of the firefighters who were at Plastimet, for the last eight years they have been monitored as a distinct group within a health testing study done by the fire department.

In the big picture, it is still early in the program, but the good news is that, while there had been a long list of short-term symptoms suffered by firefighters at Plastimet -- such as respiratory issues, sleep disorders -- the study to date gives no indication that they are experiencing long-term health effects distinct from other firefighters.

Time does not really heal a wound like Plastimet. But this week, for the first time, firefighters will accept an official gesture of gratitude. The ceremony will take place on Thursday at Jackie Washington Park at 6:30 p.m., to mark not the date the fire started, but the approximate date 10 years ago the fire was extinguished.

It's been put together by the North End Neighbourhood association. Resident Ann Buckle is one of the organizers. She first saw the plume while driving down Highway 6, bringing her daughter Sarah home from the University of Guelph. "I saw the black mushroom cloud and thought, 'good Lord, what's going on?'"

It remains to be seen how many firefighters show up for the event, but Henry Watson will be there. He appreciates the gesture. Then again, even now, 10 years later, Watson's words reflect the guarded sentiment of the firefighters.

"The North End neighbours wanted to do something -- it's not an anniversary, but they want to recognize what the firefighters did," he said. "We said it's something we would be a part of. It's not something the firefighters want to talk about a lot, but it is something that occurred. And we thank the community for their support."

A tree will be planted at the ceremony, and a plaque put in place, although it's not quite ready yet. It will simply read: "On behalf of the residents of the North End of Hamilton -- thank you, on this day, 10 years after the Plastimet fire."

jwells@thespec.com

905-526-3515

CHRONOLOGY

July 9, 1997, 7:42 p.m.: Fire reported at Plastimet Inc. recycling plant, 363 and 371 Wellington St. N. When firefighters arrive two minutes later, the building is engulfed in flames. Plastimet owner Jack Lieberman soon confirms building contains 400 tonnes of PVC and other recyclable plastics. Concerned about heavy, acrid smoke, officials prepare to evacuate nearby Hamilton General Hospital and Barton Street jail. No evacuation takes place. July 11: With the fire still raging after nearly 48 hours, officials start voluntary evacuation of neighbourhood -- about 650 people. They are allowed to return the next day. July 12: After battling the fire for 70 hours and pumping 22 million gallons of water onto the site, firefighters extinguish the blaze. There is concern about contamination of air, soil and runoff water. Neighbours are told not to eat produce from their gardens. July 16: A class-action lawsuit is launched on behalf of Plastimet neighbours. It seeks $200 million from Hamilton-Wentworth region, the city, the province, Lieberman, property owner Frank Levy and other corporations. July 18: The warning against eating garden produce if there is any evidence of soot is expanded to the entire city. It is withdrawn a week later. July 22: Premier Mike Harris suggests a public inquiry into the fire may be needed. He retracts the comment a few days later and the province has rejected a probe ever since, arguing there is no evidence of wrongdoing on government's part. Aug. 20: A report from the Ontario Fire Marshal warns of potential long-term health problems among neighbours and firefighters. Regional health department says one-third of Plastimet's neighbours complained of health problems immediately after the fire. September: Unhappy with the pace of cleanup, as ordered by the environment ministry, the province takes over the Plastimet site. It later issues an order requiring Lieberman, Levy and Plastimet to pay for the accelerated cleanup, then pegged at $1.2 million. Lieberman and Levy appeal the order. September: A series of independent tests shows dioxin levels around the site, which had spiked at the time of the fire, are now below normal. But coal tar and heavy metals are found to be well above acceptable levels. Feb. 3, 1998: The province extends its cleanup and pay-up order to include soil at the site and ground- water. June 9: Plastimet, Lieberman and Levy are found guilty of violating the provincial Environmental Protection Act. They receive suspended sentences, probation, must perform community service and must pay the province $270,000 towards the cleanup bill. They also issue an apology to residents affected by the fire. The final cost of the fire to taxpayers, through all levels of government, is pegged at more than $5 million. March 2001: Neighbours of Plastimet win their class-action suit -- the first mass tort claim settled in Hamilton. In total, 3,046 individuals and eight businesses are awarded payments of $175 per person. Summer 2003: The city becomes the owner of the site by default after it is offered for sale to recover $5 million in outstanding property taxes and cleanup costs. No one put in an offer. September 2003: The Jackie Washington Rotary Park, named after the local musician, rises on the former Plastimet land. March 2004: Bob Shaw, a firefighter who spent two days in Plastimet's toxic fumes, dies from cancer of the esophagus. He was 55 years old. May 2007: New legislation is passed making it easier for Ontario's firefighters like Bob Shaw and their families to realize claims for occupational illnesses. The new regulations are retroactive to Jan. 1, 1960.

The fire that changed us

News Jul 09, 2007 Hamilton Spectator

(Jul 9, 2007)

We build monuments to commemorate, to remember, to invoke tragic events coloured by heroism. But you could walk through the park and have no idea what happened there 10 years ago. There is no sculpture or plaque or sign.

The omission has never been by accident, though. Most of the 264 firefighters who worked the fire never wanted their mission recognized. There had been a push to name the park Firefighters' Park, but the firefighters didn't want that. In contrast to the soldier's plea "lest we forget," for most of the firefighters who were punched in the face by acrid smoke, legs and crotches burned by the flood of poisonous water runoff, it has been more like: let us never remember.

The roots of those feelings are complicated. Firefighters pride themselves on responding to the alarm, racing to the fire, knocking it down, back to the station to talk about it over coffee. Plastimet? They did, in fact, slay the beast, but it was a brutal, drawn-out affair, pumper trucks set on the periphery to "surround and drown" the fire -- at one point they were pouring 10,000 gallons of water on it every minute. It was not what firefighting is supposed to be about.

Most of all, the story of Captain Bob Shaw, who died courageously, but rapidly, from esophageal cancer that may have first developed within him at the toxic fire, heightened the fear, turned Plastimet into a ghost. Had it doomed them all to life sentences? They dreaded Plastimet "anniversaries," or Plastimet-related news, when Hamilton media would inevitably show the old photos of the plume.

No one could have ever imagined that one day, Plastimet would be seen in a somewhat different light, even by the firefighters themselves.

* * *

It took about six years, but ultimately the story of how the fire started in the rundown warehouse that was home to a plastics recycling company became clear, and it only added to the tragedy of it all, seemingly guaranteeing there would never be any justice as far as that fire went.

The cause was, as suspected, arson. But there would never be punishment. The one who lit the fire confessed, but could never be charged by Hamilton police, and his name never made public. The arsonist had been just 8 years old, and so was a young offender at the time. He was a boy with troubled family roots and a history of fire-setting.

A few years ago, as a 17-year old, in an interview with The Spectator he reflected that he hadn't meant to set such a huge fire, didn't mean to hurt anybody, that he regretted it -- while at the same time taking "a bit of pride" in having been the one to set "Hamilton's biggest fire ever."

Today, on a hot and humid afternoon, angry storm clouds build over the North End, a 12-year old boy named Andy rides his bike through the park. It is a fist-pumping day, he's catching a matinee showing of the new Transformers movie with his buddies. Andy's family still lives in the house where they were when the fire hit, just a few blocks away. He doesn't remember much about it -- "I was only two" -- but he does recall leaving to stay at his grandma's on the other side of town when the neighbourhood was evacuated.

He doesn't hang at Jackie Washington Park. It has a basketball court, but he's not much into hoops. Mostly he regrets that the city levelled off the land to build the park.

"It used to be a perfect sledding hill. Used to take five minutes to get up. But they just had to build a park."

* * *

If the park named for the grandson of a Virginia slave symbolizes anything, it is the cliche that time heals, not entirely, but a little bit. And also, that from the bad, good things can grow.

The Plastimet fire forced municipalities to be more vigilant with their industrial buildings housing hazardous materials. No one wanted to face "another Plastimet." Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal identified hundreds of recycling sites across the province that required closer monitoring by fire departments -- mostly in small towns that lack resources to inspect them. And the OFM now offers a course that teaches fire inspection officials how to police and enforce fire safety at potentially dangerous sites.

The disaster also influenced fire departments to take greater safety precautions to protect their firefighters at a toxic blaze.

Perhaps the most significant legacy of all, is what happened at Queen's Park in May. The horror of Plastimet, and tragedy of Bob Shaw's death, were so great that it led to new provincial legislation -- passed in a single day, unheard of at the legislature -- that recognizes claims for additional cancers contracted by firefighters on the job, such as esophageal cancer. The changes may have come eventually, but Plastimet altered the timetable.

"Plastimet was a dark day for Hamilton firefighters," said firefighters association president Henry Watson. "But at the same time Plastimet, and Bobby Shaw, were the impetus for the changes we've seen recently. It was the catalyst. We have to look at the positive that came from it."

As for the health of the firefighters who were at Plastimet, for the last eight years they have been monitored as a distinct group within a health testing study done by the fire department.

In the big picture, it is still early in the program, but the good news is that, while there had been a long list of short-term symptoms suffered by firefighters at Plastimet -- such as respiratory issues, sleep disorders -- the study to date gives no indication that they are experiencing long-term health effects distinct from other firefighters.

Time does not really heal a wound like Plastimet. But this week, for the first time, firefighters will accept an official gesture of gratitude. The ceremony will take place on Thursday at Jackie Washington Park at 6:30 p.m., to mark not the date the fire started, but the approximate date 10 years ago the fire was extinguished.

It's been put together by the North End Neighbourhood association. Resident Ann Buckle is one of the organizers. She first saw the plume while driving down Highway 6, bringing her daughter Sarah home from the University of Guelph. "I saw the black mushroom cloud and thought, 'good Lord, what's going on?'"

It remains to be seen how many firefighters show up for the event, but Henry Watson will be there. He appreciates the gesture. Then again, even now, 10 years later, Watson's words reflect the guarded sentiment of the firefighters.

"The North End neighbours wanted to do something -- it's not an anniversary, but they want to recognize what the firefighters did," he said. "We said it's something we would be a part of. It's not something the firefighters want to talk about a lot, but it is something that occurred. And we thank the community for their support."

A tree will be planted at the ceremony, and a plaque put in place, although it's not quite ready yet. It will simply read: "On behalf of the residents of the North End of Hamilton -- thank you, on this day, 10 years after the Plastimet fire."

jwells@thespec.com

905-526-3515

CHRONOLOGY

July 9, 1997, 7:42 p.m.: Fire reported at Plastimet Inc. recycling plant, 363 and 371 Wellington St. N. When firefighters arrive two minutes later, the building is engulfed in flames. Plastimet owner Jack Lieberman soon confirms building contains 400 tonnes of PVC and other recyclable plastics. Concerned about heavy, acrid smoke, officials prepare to evacuate nearby Hamilton General Hospital and Barton Street jail. No evacuation takes place. July 11: With the fire still raging after nearly 48 hours, officials start voluntary evacuation of neighbourhood -- about 650 people. They are allowed to return the next day. July 12: After battling the fire for 70 hours and pumping 22 million gallons of water onto the site, firefighters extinguish the blaze. There is concern about contamination of air, soil and runoff water. Neighbours are told not to eat produce from their gardens. July 16: A class-action lawsuit is launched on behalf of Plastimet neighbours. It seeks $200 million from Hamilton-Wentworth region, the city, the province, Lieberman, property owner Frank Levy and other corporations. July 18: The warning against eating garden produce if there is any evidence of soot is expanded to the entire city. It is withdrawn a week later. July 22: Premier Mike Harris suggests a public inquiry into the fire may be needed. He retracts the comment a few days later and the province has rejected a probe ever since, arguing there is no evidence of wrongdoing on government's part. Aug. 20: A report from the Ontario Fire Marshal warns of potential long-term health problems among neighbours and firefighters. Regional health department says one-third of Plastimet's neighbours complained of health problems immediately after the fire. September: Unhappy with the pace of cleanup, as ordered by the environment ministry, the province takes over the Plastimet site. It later issues an order requiring Lieberman, Levy and Plastimet to pay for the accelerated cleanup, then pegged at $1.2 million. Lieberman and Levy appeal the order. September: A series of independent tests shows dioxin levels around the site, which had spiked at the time of the fire, are now below normal. But coal tar and heavy metals are found to be well above acceptable levels. Feb. 3, 1998: The province extends its cleanup and pay-up order to include soil at the site and ground- water. June 9: Plastimet, Lieberman and Levy are found guilty of violating the provincial Environmental Protection Act. They receive suspended sentences, probation, must perform community service and must pay the province $270,000 towards the cleanup bill. They also issue an apology to residents affected by the fire. The final cost of the fire to taxpayers, through all levels of government, is pegged at more than $5 million. March 2001: Neighbours of Plastimet win their class-action suit -- the first mass tort claim settled in Hamilton. In total, 3,046 individuals and eight businesses are awarded payments of $175 per person. Summer 2003: The city becomes the owner of the site by default after it is offered for sale to recover $5 million in outstanding property taxes and cleanup costs. No one put in an offer. September 2003: The Jackie Washington Rotary Park, named after the local musician, rises on the former Plastimet land. March 2004: Bob Shaw, a firefighter who spent two days in Plastimet's toxic fumes, dies from cancer of the esophagus. He was 55 years old. May 2007: New legislation is passed making it easier for Ontario's firefighters like Bob Shaw and their families to realize claims for occupational illnesses. The new regulations are retroactive to Jan. 1, 1960.