MR. CHAIRMAN: Good evening ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this meeting of the Select Committee on Fire Safety. My name is Jon Carey, and I am chairman of the committee. I would just ask our members if they would introduce themselves. I know some are well-known to you and others aren't but it is an all-Party committee and certainly all are striving to the end of getting good legislation for fire safety. Brian, would you like to start.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Graham Steele of the NDP caucus is also on this committee. He was unable to be with us this evening. I will just have a short introduction that will explain, perhaps, some of the reasons why we are here. I would like to remind you that this is a public meeting and anyone is welcome to present. We have one person who is registered to present, but certainly any citizen is more than welcome to present. We are looking for input, we are looking for information from you people.
The select committee is an all-Party committee. We have been charged with the responsibility of making recommendations to the House of Assembly on a new law for fire safety. We are reviewing proposed changes to the Fire Prevention Act, which are contained in Bill No. 58. Bill No. 58 was introduced in the House of Assembly in June 2000. Now the government wants to widen its base of comments from the public and complete the legislation. We are also meeting with Nova Scotians. We would like to hear from the public as well as the people who will be directly affected by the new law, such as insurance companies and other businesses, municipalities and the fire services.
We are meeting in nine communities across the province, and this is the first meeting of this committee. The input we gather will give us the best possible fire protection legislation for Nova Scotia. The new law will take into account changes in municipalities in the last couple of years. A law can last for years, so it is important to get it right from the beginning. Once we have collected and reviewed all the submissions, we will make recommendations and report to the House of Assembly.
Bill No. 58 sets up a framework for fire safety, it assigns responsibilities to individuals and organizations that work to prevent fires, people who fight fires, companies and individuals who own land, insurers, municipalities, and provincial government officials like the fire marshal. The bill also sets up an advisory council to advise the Minister of Environment and Labour on matters related to fire safety.
Bulleted details on Bill No. 58:
- it is written with the intention that it would completely replace the Fire Prevention Act that is now in effect in Nova Scotia
- it directs what individuals and organizations in the province must do to prevent fires and how they must act once a fire has occurred
- provides direction for making sure the Fire Marshal's Office has representation in each municipality
- important for educating people on how to prevent fire
- helps the fire marshal determine what caused fires, this is important for insurance and crime prevention reasons
- assigns roles to people who are responsible for preventing fires, for putting them out, for reporting fires and for investigating them - the Fire Marshal's Office and the municipalities
- assigns responsibilities to people or organizations that own land or businesses, these people have certain responsibilities for preventing fires and for reporting fires that do take place; insurance companies also have responsibilities assigned by the law
- forbids certain activities; for example, if this bill becomes law, it would be against the law to give false information to a fire official investigating a fire or to tamper with a device that would help people escape a burning building
- discusses what regulations the government can write to further protect Nova Scotians from fire and to reduce the harm of fires
- establishes a fire safety advisory council to advise the Minister of Environment and Labour on matters of fire safety.
On the table at the right of us here there are some information forms. You can get them at any time during the meeting or after, if you wish. The copy of the Act is there and other pieces of information. If you would like to present, we have a lady, Kim, at the back, and if you would just go to her so that she can make sure she has your name, the spelling correct and so on, then we would be very happy to have you present. When you present, if you would come up to the microphone so that everyone can hear you and we can get it recorded, it would be appreciated.
Our first presenter this evening is Mr. Joseph Legge, Cape Breton Firefighters Burn Care Society.
MR. JOSEPH LEGGE: Before I begin I would like to say thank you to the committee and the Legislature for enacting this group to hear the concerns of people within the communities. It offers us a forum to express what we feel are necessary changes within the Act. A little bit of background, the Cape Breton Firefighters Burn Care Society is a volunteer organization that has been in existence for approximately six years. It was started because of a need within the community to help burn survivors to recover and get on with their lives after experiencing a serious injury. We expanded our format to cover education, to try to educate the general public and help them with certain aspects of fire safety.
We have several programs. As I said, the first one is to deal with burn survivors and their families, and try to help them cope with the aftermath of a serious fire. We also have what's known as the Baby Bath Bear Program, where we have baby thermometers, bear thermometers and every new mother leaving a hospital in Cape Breton for the past two years has been given one. It is a very simple device that has three readings on it. The bath water is either too hot, too cold or it is just right. Statistics tell us that more people are seriously burned from hot water than from both fire and electricity put together. I know that doesn't come within the confines of the Act, but it is something that we do and it is one of the mandates of our society.
The other is in education, and we have been getting involved with what was formerly known as the Learn Not to Burn Program. The program, run by fire services up until a few years ago, was cancelled because of budgetary restraints. The program saw career firefighters, volunteer firefighters, with the funding of their respective units, going to the schools and bringing a sense of reality of fire to children and explaining what it is all about, what can happen, taking it out of the closet if you will. The educational aspect of it, just about every kid that I know wants to be a firefighter, so when they see the firefighters come to the school
they have their attention almost immediately. They tend to listen, they hear, they hang on almost every word.
What happens in this particular context is the kids are taught what are tools and what are toys. Matches, lighters, those are tools, they are not things for kids to play with. Other items are toys, and those are things for kids to play with. This type of a message, delivered by a firefighter, if you will, sets up the message that this is not something that they are supposed to be playing with. They also teach the children, in the Learn Not to Burn Program, about the stop, drop and roll; what to do if a person catches fire; how to put the fire out on your clothes; just basic things that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
The program also teaches the children to go home and involve their families in drawing a schematic escape route of their home. I can imagine just about every one of you, if not children you have had grandchildren and whatnot sleeping over. How many of them would know what to do in the event of a fire in the home? Would they know an escape route? Would they know to go to the front door as opposed to the back door? If the fire is blocking the front door, then they would also have to have a route to the back door, and conversely if it was the other way. They have to know how to get out of the house in the event of a fire.
They also have to know - and this is documented - they have to have a meeting place outside. There have been more cases - and I am sure we have all heard of them - where a fire is in the structure, everybody runs in every different direction, the mother and father are meeting somewhere and they are counting heads and come up one short. Either one or both of them goes back into the burning structure looking for the other child, who might be across the street at his friend's house or down the street because he went the other way.
What this program does is it teaches the children to go home to their parents, to their grandparents, any place they have a sleepover and get a schematic - this is an exercise they do in school that they bring back - of an escape route of the home where they stay most of the time or at their grandparent's home, give a description of what they have to do in a fire, stay low below the smoke - all of this is explained in the program by the people who are administering it - and also to have a central meeting place so there is no unnecessary going back into a burning structure looking for a child who is not in there.
It is a really educational program that gets the message across to people who are probably at their most adept at learning at that age; five, six, seven years old is when they are learning most of the information they are going to process and have with them for the rest of their lives. By getting involved at this stage and by teaching fire safety to children at this stage, they are going to carry that. The life expectancy, I believe, in this province is 75 years old, so if you teach them that at age five, you have them for 70 years, where they have a good, solid background on fire safety, what to do. They will teach that to their own children. God forbid, should they be involved in an incident, we have equipped them with the tools necessary so that they can get themselves and their family members out safely.
As I said, this program had been taught in all the local schools, to my knowledge, for several years. Because of budgetary restraints, it has been dropped by most of the fire services in the last while. I would imagine they don't have the services of firefighters they can put on this on a regular basis. Organizations such as our own have attempted to get in. I know several of the volunteer fire departments in the area are doing the same thing, they are trying to get back into the schools to administer this. The problem being expert training is something that is difficult to get.
That is the basic reason that I sit here before you tonight, I believe this program is something that has to be put back in the schools, whether it is done by career or volunteer firefighters or volunteer organizations such as our own, it has to be re-instituted. In the case of volunteer organizations, if you will, the volunteer fire departments or volunteer organizations such as the one I belong to, the materials and the expert training to do this aren't readily available. I sit here hoping that in some way this committee would be able to source that information and at least give us some guidelines whereby we could source the necessary training, if in fact that is the way it is to be done, help with the cost of training materials. As I said, when they go into the schools, there is a training book that goes to each child. It has information and it is done in such a way that it appeals to the intelligence level of a five and six year old child.
As I said, by going through this they are also, at that time, learning what it is like and what happens in a fire. They learn what to do in the event of a fire. It is just something that I believe in, in education. We can be proactive or we can be reactive; in most cases, unfortunately, this system is reactive because we are always reacting to a travesty that has happened. In this particular case, we have a chance to be proactive and get in on the ground floor and get the message out there, and educate our children, as they are coming up, in fire safety so that by the time they become teenagers and adults, they have a solid foundation on which to build.
I have been a burn survivor myself for 24 years. I was burned in an explosion at the steel plant. It has very little to do with the Fire Prevention Act, but it has led me to have discussions with quite a number of burn survivors in helping them cope with the results of their injuries. As I said, the reactive end of things comes in at that perspective. When you have to go out and talk to people whose lives have been wrecked, if you will, it doesn't just affect the individuals who get burned, it affects the whole family, it affects almost every member of that family. To be able to assist and help those who happen to be burned requires a complete family unit. I can attest to that, being a burn survivor for 24 years. I have had complete and utter support from my family, and that has helped me to be able to go out and help others.
As a burn survivor, most of the horror stories that I hear are utterly preventable. It is just stupidity, things that people do without the thought process of normal thinking being enacted. It is unfortunate that when you talk to people who have suffered severe and serious
injuries as a result of a fire, most of them are - well, you hear on the radio, Retire Your Fryer - from cooking french fries in an open pot on the stove, it is just a terrible, terrible thing. People continue to do these things.
Somehow or another we have to get education back into the community to let the people know that we certainly have to change the reactive end of things. It costs millions and millions of dollars a year to try to put together the pieces, to rebuild homes, to rebuild lives after the fire, when the easiest and the safest thing to do is to be proactive and prevent it from happening in the first place. The Learn Not to Burn and the reason I feel it would be so beneficial to children, my accident at the steel plant was the second time I was involved in a fire. When I was four years old our house burned down. My older brother, who was six at the time, was experimenting, playing with matches. Unfortunately, the house caught fire, it burned down. My younger brother, who was three at the time, burned to death.
Now, to live with that, for myself there wasn't any recrimination, I was just another one who was involved in the fire, but I can certainly tell you that my older brother lived with that until the day he died. He never quite got over that. This is a six year old child, who was experimenting. He wasn't doing anything that he thought would have such severe consequences.
It is not just the fire, it is the emotional and psychological consequences that follow afterwards. If we can get this message out to today's schoolchildren, to let them know what can possibly happen, we can prevent that from ever taking place. So we can not only save the ravages of fire and the cost to the community, we can also save the emotional strain and stress put on the families as a result of something of this nature happening.
I believe that's about what I have to say at this point in time. I should hope that there would be something forthcoming with regard to getting back on the educational track, if you will, going forward with our schoolchildren with the Learn Not to Burn Program. As I said before, it is a wonderful thing, it offers us a chance to be proactive, and it is something that I believe will pay tremendous results in the future. Unfortunately, we don't get a total on how many fires were prevented, the only thing we know is how many actually happened. As I said, if in fact we can get the message out to the children, I am sure we can prevent quite a number. In the event that they happen, at least we have armed them with the ability to know what to do under those circumstances. I thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Does any member have any questions they might like to ask Mr. Legge?
MR. FRANK CORBETT: Thank you, Joe. One question, the cost per visit to a school, do you know what it would cost? I know it depends on the size of a class, by and large, but do you have an average?
MR. LEGGE: Yes, I believe the materials are somewhere around $3.00 a book, so you would be looking at a class of 30 children, it could possibly cost $100 to make a visit to a classroom. That's the aspect where you are delivering the information. We also have to have someone who can come in and train people. If we have a group of volunteers, we probably have 10 or 12 people within our organization who want to go into the schools to do this. We have had one or two visits with a career firefighter who is doing this as a regular, daily occurrence within the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, who now has other things. The odd time he will come in and give us an update as to what to do.
What we need is a lot more intensive training as to how to do it. They are going to ask questions and you have to have the right answers. You don't want to go stumbling around and seem like you don't have the exact answer necessary at the time. Most people are slightly apprehensive doing it with very little training. Again, if something could be set up where a training mode is offered to volunteer organizations, I am sure we could get the necessary people to do that. Again, with results to a class size, I would imagine you are looking at about $100 a class to do that, and that is handing out the materials. You would do a class, probably, on a yearly basis.
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: In part of your answer to Frank's question you might have answered mine. I was just wondering, who is the administrator of the program that was in place before, was it is the municipality, the fire service?
MR. LEGGE: The municipality, to my knowledge, was running it. I believe when it was enacted before it was under the City of Sydney. I believe it has been downloaded, if you will, since the regional municipality took effect, so it would have been under the auspices of the former City of Sydney.
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: The school board had no involvement?
MR. LEGGE: As I said, to my knowledge we got involved in this as a result of a need within the community when it became apparent that the service was no longer being offered in a full-scale manner. It was brought to our attention by some teachers who happened to be members of our society. We also run a camp for burn-injured children around Atlantic Canada. This past summer we had 40 burn-injured survivor children from all over Atlantic Canada at a summer camp and we have done that for the past four years, hosted here in Cape Breton. We do have a great number of volunteers who work with us on a regular basis. It's through the information garnered through those volunteers that we realized there was a need out there and tried to get involved in it.
We are in the process now of trying to step up and do what is necessary in this regard but as I said, we could certainly use some expert training and obviously, being a volunteer organization, we could use some help with the cost of materials to run the programs.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I would like to focus on the schools. My understanding is that every school board that is commissioned is required by law, I believe, to conduct at least three fire drills a year. Recently I made a request to the Minister of Environment and Labour, as well as to the fire marshal, to enquire whether that has been ensured province-wide and to date, I haven't been able to get that assurance. Do you have any working knowledge of how it is working in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board?
MR. LEGGE: I would not. I have been involved in sitting in a class watching one of the former professionals who delivered the Learn Not to Burn program and during that process, a fire drill was enacted. This was in a class of Grade Primary and they acted most professionally with the teachers and in the way they conducted themselves, so in that particular instance there certainly was at least one. I would not know whether the fire drill aspect has been dealt with. This program goes so much further than just the fire drill within the school. It actually takes the incident into their homes, it gets parents involved, it gets the other family members involved to do this. They have to do this as a chore from school, it is part of their curriculum work. They bring it back to school and the teachers go over their answers and other answers of the children and quiz them on the information given to them in the booklet to ensure that they read it.
This type of program isn't just something thrown out in book form and left to sit in the child's desk or home on the back porch until such time as it gets thrown in the garbage. This is something I can assure you first-hand is dealt with and dealt with on a level of professionalism that makes the child understand what's going on and causes them to enact it and obviously, to get their families involved as well. You are not just getting the child, you are getting the entire family unit involved in this program so that when that child goes home with the booklet and says they have to do a schematic on a safe fire route out of their home in the event of a fire, the information is there that they have to set a designated meeting place outside of the home with the information explaining why. These things tend to stick with the adults and by getting the whole family unit involved, you are sending a message and setting up the whole family unit to get involved in the proactive end of fire safety.
MR. MACKINNON: First of all I would like to commend you on your efforts and that of your organization. By the details you have explained it is quite a comprehensive program, particularly for young people. I guess on that note, I suppose what you are looking for in this new Act, or at least to have incorporated into Bill No. 58, is some component that would ensure education for fire safety and fire prevention, that sort of thing?
MR. LEGGE: Certainly, at the elementary school level, that is who this program was developed for. The program is already out there, it is just a matter of incorporating it into what the province views as proper education and proactive measures for fire safety.
MR. MACKINNON: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Boudreau.
MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: First of all I would like to thank you for your presentation. I know first-hand you have worked very hard volunteering your efforts for this society you represent tonight and I want to congratulate you for that and for the success of this society over the years. I know a cost is going to get into the fix here, particularly when we look at the restraints of the current government in Halifax. After a fire, the emotional turmoil and even hospital stays themselves, they are accessible through the Department of Health, isn't that correct, for counselling and that sort of thing?
MR. LEGGE: There are a lot of things that are available through the provincial departments. What we do, you have initial incident circumstance where there is a fire in the home, somebody happens to get burned. Automatically with the major institutions in dealing with burn survivors being in Halifax, usually one or more of the family members are obviously on their way to Halifax. We initially get involved right off the bat and provide automatic funding for travel and accommodation in the initial incident for a couple of days or whatnot, the family being stressed with what has happened, a loved one has been severely burned and transferred to Halifax. We get involved right off the bat and help them financially with accommodations and transportation to get them to Halifax.
Burn support garments aren't covered by a lot of the insurance companies and I believe by Medicare. When I was burned, I was burned over 65 per cent of my body. Being an industrial accident, my injuries were covered, or the recovery aspect of my injuries were covered by workers' compensation. At the time, the plastic surgeon who dealt with me recommended a body pressure garment called a Jobst suit. I can show you my wrists and that skin is very level. Prior to wearing the Jobst suit, that was raised about 3/8 of an inch to a half-inch, there was a big lump and the scars were all raised up everywhere on my body. What the pressure garment does is force the scars to grow on the inside. They are still going to grow but they grow on the inside. Basically, you are going to end up with scarring but you won't have the big knots and lumps that look so odious. Obviously once you recover from your injuries you want to look as normal as possible.
Those garments aren't covered by a lot of insurance companies and having had first-hand experience with it and knowing how beneficial they are, we do supply them for burn survivors. As a matter of fact we got a bill today for a local man who had severe injuries and was transferred to Halifax and is now being suited for such a garment. That is just one of the things we do.
As a unit, as a group around the community, we are talking to service groups, local industry and securing funds for our projects. The biggest project we have is the Atlantic Burn Camp where we bring in burn surviving children from all over Atlantic Canada but it is certainly not the only one. From the aspect of trying to rebuild the self-worth of children, it certainly seems to be the most important, and also when we sit down with families. When this
type of injury happens most people don't know what to expect. I know I felt the plastic surgeon would come in, do his work and in a couple of months I would be right back to normal. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have different expectations of what can be done and what can't be done.
An individual goes through a multitude of changes, psychologically and physically, from the results of a serious burn injury. The pain involved certainly changes you on a short-term basis. It is easy for me to sit down with a family and tell them the things their loved one is experiencing are normal and given the proper amount of time and the proper amount of care and support, they will have them back at least mentally where they were prior to their injuries. It is just a matter of family support and backing them because what they are going through - the severe pain associated with it - on a short-term basis can really change almost anybody's perspective and outlook on life.
I will be perfectly honest with you, there were days I wished I had died in the fire I was involved in and as I sit here today, I can tell you, thank God I didn't, because life is wonderful. The message we try to impart both to the children at our burn camp and to the adults and others we deal with is that the only person who can make any change or do anything about their own situation is themselves. Nobody else can force them to either do or not do anything, they are the master of their own destiny and we have to tell them and educate them to let them know they can do and be anything they want to be, they just have to want to bad enough.
Unfortunately, with a severe burn comes the loss of self-esteem. From the experience of having gone through it and knowing what other burn survivors have gone through, I know that they are among the toughest, most resilient people you will ever meet. They have just overcome one of the most harrowing experiences known to man and they survived it. The problem is they don't understand that and you have to rebuild their self-esteem to get them to think that way. As a public service, it does bring them back to be good, solid, productive citizens again.
This is not a course of life's work or anything I wish to do in my retirement where I woke up one morning and decided I was going to do this. My wife, who is sitting directly behind me, has been pushing me and has been my biggest supporter for the last 24 years since this happened. Based on that family support, I know just how beneficial it can be, I know just how supportive it can be and I know what can be done if you have the right support behind you and the right people pushing you at the right time. So that is one of the reasons I am involved in this and we have a number of volunteers here tonight, some of the people who assist us in doing the main thing that we do. My reasons, as you can see, are quite obvious, I am a burn survivor and I have a stake in trying to help other burn survivors.
We have many, many volunteers who are not burn survivors, whose sole purpose and intent is to try to help people overcome their injuries and they do that out of the kindness of their heart and not because they have any experience with it. They are there only because they realize that there is a great deal to be achieved here and that they just want to help. For that I am entirely grateful to the many volunteers who work within our organization. We do have a number of burn survivors within the organization but it is mainly made up of non-burn survivors, people who are there to help and try to do what is necessary to help people in need at a very desperate time. If there are no other questions, I thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mrs. Baillie.
MRS. MURIEL BAILLIE: Thank you so much for your submission. I guess this goes back to my history in education, my background. This Learn Not to Burn society, when you go into a classroom is this a one-shot deal? Say if I am teaching Grade 3, do you come in as a one-shot deal during the year?
MR. LEGGE: Yes, we would come into a particular class, sit down with the teacher for an hour and a half to two hours and go through the check list. We have a flip chart explaining the various things you are trying to teach the children. You pass out the booklets which includes the schematic page for drawing the schematic of their homes and a question and answer on what they should and shouldn't do in certain circumstances involving fire. It involves a list of items on pages and they are asked to do a true or false on what are tools and what are toys, they show matches and lighters and this type of thing.
The program to go into the class, you are in front of the class for approximately an hour or so to deliver the message and at that point the teachers do a corrective study on it, either the following day or within a couple of days. You give them a certain timeline to complete the exercise and at that point the teacher does a correction on it and they ask them questions. All we do is go in and brief them on the Learn Not to Burn program and the teacher would take care of the aspects after that and do a corrective issue on it. If in fact there was a need to bring us back again, when the schools call we will respond.
MRS. BAILLIE: Do most fire departments have this? Maybe I should ask you, when did you start this and when did it finish?
MR. LEGGE: It was being done by fire departments for a number of years.
MRS. BAILLIE: All fire departments?
MR. LEGGE: In this area. In the City of Sydney they had a firefighter who was sent away on course to the United States who was trained in the program. I am not sure how many firefighters, I spoke to only one but I believe there were at least a couple who went into the schools and did this on a regular basis. I know that the program was discontinued because of
budgetary restraints and he is back now fighting fires, an after-effect, as opposed to doing it proactively in the education aspect of things. So it was brought to our attention by some of the teachers who were normally used to having fire services provide an individual to come in to administer the program, that it wasn't being done and asked if we could get involved in doing it.
MRS. BAILLIE: So it is not a volunteer fireman, this is a paid person?
MR. LEGGE: The individual I was involved with that we talked to within the City of Sydney was a paid firefighter, yes, he was.
MRS. BAILLIE: So this was mainly in the City of Sydney, you think? I don't know, I'm from Pictou County.
MR. LEGGE: My experience with it is one that has occurred only recently in the last year or so when we became involved with it. I didn't even know it existed prior to that. It was brought to our attention, as a board of directors for our society, that we should have a look at becoming involved with it as it was not now being covered by a local fire service, as it once had been in the past, and one of the teachers within our society suggested we get involved and get some of our volunteers trained to administer this program because they felt it was absolutely necessary within the community as an educational tool and a fire prevention tool. But it is one which had been offered and the firefighter who was administering it at the time I became involved, was a full-time, paid employee.
MRS. BAILLIE: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Legge, and we wish you and your group all the best in your very worthwhile cause.
MR. LEGGE: Thank you.
MR. CORBETT: Mr. Chairman, before we continue, the fact this is a committee dealing with fire safety and therefore we have many firefighters involved, obviously, I wonder, probably because of our zest to get the committee's work going, we may have been a bit remiss in that maybe we should have had a minute of silence before we started for all the firefighters and emergency workers who were so tragically affected two weeks ago by the terrorist attacks in the United States. I wonder if the chairman would indulge us with a moment of silence.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes.
[One minute of silence was observed.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, we certainly would be remiss if we didn't acknowledge the danger and sacrifice firefighters - volunteer and paid - contribute to not only our province but around the world and having been involved for 31 years, I understand the camaraderie and devotion that they have to each other.
The next presenter is Wade Oliver from the Reserve Mines Fire Department.
MR. WADE OLIVER: Mr. Chairman and committee members, I didn't think that this evening's presentation would be so formal, so I apologize for my dress. I have no formal presentation. Basically, the concerns I have this evening that I would like to present to the committee members, I'm not sure if they fall directly under Bill No. 58 but they have to do with the new standards the province will be adopting for firefighters' safety, which is under NFPA 1500 standards.
My concern with this legislation, if it is passed, is that basically it forces a lot of mandatory courses onto the volunteer forces within the province. I speak only on my department, I don't speak for any other departments of the municipality, but right now I feel that the demand on the volunteer fire departments at the present time is very demanding. Presently, it is up to us, as volunteers, to raise our own funding, to conduct our own in-house training as well as do any other fundraising for the purchase of equipment and other safety issues. As you heard in the presentation by Mr. Legge, the membership has also become involved in fire safety within your community by presentations to the schools, mandatory fire drills and all that there. So, time is very demanding on the members of the volunteer departments.
I just think that right now if legislation was passed and that mandatory training was to be put into effect that it may affect the present memberships of the fire department and reduce the memberships because of the demand being so hard on them now and taking them away from their family lives and other extracurricular activities at the present time. I think that fire safety is a major issue. I think that there are other ways of implementing fire safety than making it mandatory on all firefighters.
As I said, right now, some of the training would involve, if it was implemented, that the membership would have to go for yearly medicals and basically there are some senior members of fire departments that probably will not go to a medical yearly but they are the expertise within our fire departments right now. If anybody knows - and I know - around Cape Breton itself, it is pretty hard to get anybody to volunteer now. I think all throughout Canada statistics show that volunteers are declining and the man-hours that are put in by volunteers have declined over the last year drastically. Seeing that it is hard enough to get volunteers now within our community, I know it is very hard to get young members to join and if we start forcing out our senior members of the fire services, we lose our expertise, we lose volunteers and eventually we are going to lose fire departments.
I just think it is a major concern that I hope that this committee would have influence on that they could probably find other ways of implementing firefighter courses and fire safety than making it mandatory and forcing the closure of fire services.
One of the other things is, I guess, along with this training comes the extra expense to the volunteer departments and to the municipality and to the province. Basically, where is the money going to come from? Is it going to be up to the volunteers to raise it again or is the province, which is already strapped for money, going to find money to implement millions of dollars into the fire service to put these courses into effect?
Basically, that's all I had to speak on, Mr. Chairman and committee members. I'm sorry it wasn't formal or anything like that there, but basically I would just like to express the concerns that I have, as I said, for my membership, that's the Reserve Mines Fire Department. I don't speak for anybody else, but those are the concerns that we have in our area.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. To everyone, this is very informal. Most of us are wearing suits and ties because I guess we thought we were expected to.
MR. MACKINNON: They're all rented. (Laughter)
MR. CHAIRMAN: And we were coming into Russell's riding and we were trying to impress him. At any rate, no, the dress certainly makes absolutely no difference. Your presentation doesn't have to be printed or anything. Anyone who has anything to offer, we are interested in hearing.
Would anyone like to ask a question?
MR. CORBETT: Wade, do you know the average age of your department?
MR. OLIVER: Right now, probably the average - it is kind of a split age - we have members probably half from 20 to 35 and the rest of them are probably from 45 up to their 60's. As I said, a lot of the members are senior members and if we were to implement some of this training then we would probably lose half of our fire service for our community right off the bat.
MR. CORBETT: Your department has kind of a unique function too because you have an airport in your jurisdiction. That would imply extra training too, I believe, Wade?
MR. OLIVER: We have been involved in some training at the airport on the crash rescue vehicles there and, basically, we do a couple there each year.
MR. CORBETT: I know you said you certainly weren't speaking on behalf of firefighters and services outside of your own Reserve Mines Fire Department, but if these
were implemented next week, as they appear to be, what would be the impact on your volunteer department?
MR. OLIVER: If these rules were implemented within the next week, first of all we basically wouldn't have any drivers that could drive the vehicles, because right now there is a move afoot to get all drivers qualified as Class 3 drivers, which is basically large vehicle drivers. Before the volunteers were exempt under the Good Samaritan Act, they did put into effect an endorsement for air braking, which all these trucks are basically now air brakes and that was one standard they have, which didn't affect us too much. But basically we wouldn't have any drivers in our community right at this time.
Half of the firefighters who do structure fires wouldn't be allowed to enter the buildings to rescue people, so basically if a child was inside a building and we knew we could rescue them, under the new standards we wouldn't be able to go in to rescue them. A lot of the people that don't have the Level 1 qualification that you are looking for are draegermen, which do mine rescue and they have rescued people from the mines, they rescued people from structure fires before but now with the implementation of this new standard, they wouldn't be able to enter buildings unless they get Level 1 certification.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Russell.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, with regard to the increased standards, would you be in favour of a grandfather clause that would allow for a transitional process?
MR. OLIVER: I think that a grandfather clause would be something that would be useful, in effect, yes, to grandfather some of the senior members. But I think some of the standards coming through too, like this NFPA certification and Level 1 certification, I think they are more geared to major cities likes New York and stuff like that there. For local areas here, some of that stuff in the course, that takes up a majority of the time, I think it takes too much time for somebody to go through the course whereas we can shorten the course, to come up with a standard for the municipality itself or something else other than going for a North American standard course.
You could probably cut the course in half the time or something like that, not make it mandatory for people to take but make some kind of training that lets them come under the direction of the fire chief himself to make the decision. Basically, the fire chief is going to come down and say, yes, they can enter a structure or not because he is going to be overall responsible for his membership anyway. I think by forcing standards, basically all you are doing is forcing the hand of the membership to either fire fight or quit the fire services.
Just one point that I forgot to mention earlier is that each fire service, especially volunteers, is made up of unique groups of individuals and they have a diverse amount of knowledge to offer from cliff rescue to mine rescue to anything like that. I think that some
of them cannot put air packs on but they can drive fire trucks and go up ladders; some of them can't drive a fire truck but they can rescue people out of buildings. I think that by limiting them, then we are just closing off our membership.
MR. MACKINNON: On the issue of liability. What type of protection do the firefighters in your department receive through the municipality and i.e. workers' compensation, that sort of thing?
MR. OLIVER: Right now, all members of the municipality do fall under workers' compensation, as members of the municipality, but I'm not really sure if there is any other.
MR. MACKINNON: You would support, for example, a $500 tax credit if it were offered?
MR. OLIVER: Oh, I most certainly would.
MR. MACKINNON: I just happened to pick that figure. (Laughter)
MR. OLIVER: But right now, basically what all the volunteers receive is workers' compensation.
MR. MACKINNON: But that type of initiative would be . . .
MR. OLIVER: Sorry, Russell, we also have - I forgot to mention - a $200,000 life insurance policy on all our members which is bought by the individual departments. It was brought up by the fire chiefs association that we buy a $200,000 policy on all our members. But that, once again, comes out of the funds that the volunteers have to raise.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Kerry.
MR. KERRY MORASH: Maybe if I could ask a question and someone might be able to help me out here. You talked about the NFPA 1500 standards and that is one that I am a bit familiar with and that is the American standard that, for all intents and purposes, is in Queens County that I believe the fire departments have adopted. But now in Bill No. 58, we talk about in addition to the National Fire Code of Canada. I don't know how one relates to the other. I am assuming they are very similar, but I was just wondering if someone might be able to help me out. (Interruption) I knew we did.
FIRE CHIEF BRENT DENNY (Sydney River): The two codes, the National Fire Code and the NFPA really aren't related. The Fire Code is to do with buildings and fire safety from a general public standpoint and NFPA 1500 is a safety standard for firefighters and it is being discussed under occupational health and safety not under Bill No. 58. There is a committee of the Fire Marshal's Office that has a draft copy of a proposed safety standard for
Nova Scotia's fire services, an occupational health and safety guideline, which follows NFPA 1500, but that would come under occupational health and safety and any legislation under health and safety and not under Bill No. 58. Whereas the Building Code and the Fire Code speak more directly on buildings and safety within buildings and the way buildings are built. That would be the difference.
MR. MORASH: So the Fire Code is more property and NFPA is more people protection and that type of thing?
MR. DENNY: That's right.
MR. MORASH: Also with regard to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the regulations that go along with them, volunteer firemen wouldn't be covered under the Occupational Health and Safety Act?
MR. DENNY: Currently, no, they aren't. Where the relationship comes is when volunteer fire departments end up working with career fire departments. Then it becomes applicable under the Act but as long as the volunteer isn't doing anything that affects the safety of the career person, then it really doesn't apply. But the committee that was struck by the Fire Marshal's Office for occupational health and safety was trying to put in a code where all fire services, whether career or volunteer, would follow a safety code that would eventually suit the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
MR. MORASH: So I guess, the topic that we discussed here this evening, with regard to the NFPA 1500, if it is a complete volunteer group, then they are exempt, currently, from NFPA 1500?
MR. DENNY: Currently, they are yes. The only place where the advice would come in is NFPA 1500 has become accepted as the North American standard for firefighter safety. Departments are encouraged to work towards meeting NFPA 1500, whether they be career or volunteer, because that could be the standard that you would be judged by should an incident occur where there was a loss of life or injury. The question could be asked, where does your department lie in meeting this accepted North American standard? That's why they determined that we really should work towards putting something in that is workable and that is some time down the road. As a matter of fact, the Committee on Occupational Health and Safety will be reconvening some time within the next few weeks to take the next step as to what their recommendations will be to government in regard to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, but, as I said, it is not part of Bill No. 58.
MR. MORASH: That would be a committee specific to firefighters and fire safety?
MR. DENNY: The committee which I chaired, yes, was dealing strictly with firefighter safety.
MR. MORASH: And that's that last section of the regulations, or something that is in there for the regulations for occupational health and safety?
MR. DENNY: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.
MR. DENNY: If I may, Mr. Chairman, a comment on Bill No. 58.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Certainly.
MR. DENNY: I became familiar with Bill No. 58, probably a year and a half or two years ago when it was first introduced and copies were sent out to the fire services for their input. At that time it was sent out on a provincial basis, there were committee meetings held across the province within fire services organizations. I know we had some with the Cape Breton Regional Chiefs Association, the Office of the Fire Marshal did put on explanations of some of the things that were in Bill No. 58. What I can see as a positive thing with Bill No. 58 is that it clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of municipalities, of the Fire Marshal's Office and, in turn, the responsibilities of a fire chief, who becomes an assistant to the fire marshal. With that being defined in Bill No. 58, I think it makes Bill No. 58 a worthwhile piece of legislation to clearly define those various jurisdictions and the responsibilities for those groups.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any questions?
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, if I may, more so just for a point of clarification, Brent, with regard to the NFPA. This ministerial committee on fire safety of which you are a member and you chair, that represents a significant number of volunteer firefighters from across the province, is that correct?
MR. DENNY: Yes, the committee was made up of a cross-section of the fire services. It involved people from career services, there is representation from HRM, representation from CBRM and also representation from various rural departments across the province. The committee also included members of composite fire departments, which are made up of career and volunteer. It also had members of CUPE and the International Association of Firefighters had representation on that particular committee, as did a representative from the Department of Labour who sat in on those committee meetings while we were working on this Occupational Health and Safety Act for the firefighters. So it did give a full cross-section.
A lot of the concerns that Wade expressed are true within rural fire departments and within volunteer departments, my own not being any different. There are concerns about costs involved in meeting NFPA standards. It is something that the committee is aware of and will
deal with, once we get to the next meeting and discuss the input from other departments that was put in. But as I stated before, it is really not part of Bill No. 58
MR. MACKINNON: I raised it because, Mr. Chairman, it speaks to the point that Wade made in terms of the increased pressure on volunteer fire services, firefighters across the province. But it is, essentially, a recommendation that is coming from within that volunteer body as well?
MR. DENNY: Yes, the volunteer organizations did have a part in it. It is a concern of my own, as a volunteer fire chief. The saving grace in it is the fact that with the NFPA 1500 the recommendations are that there would be a long time of implementation and the implementation can be set by the authority having jurisdiction, which would be the local municipality. So they can go at their pace as far as implementing the full plan, it doesn't have to be done overnight, it can gradually be put in. But in these times, as difficult as it is, it is important that safety for volunteer firefighters be as stringent as it is for career firefighters. I think the committee is intent on addressing that particular aspect of it but doing it in a way that departments can live with it and work towards it.
MR. MACKINNON: One final question if I may. With regard to that issue, because it is important for people like Wade to have his input channelled right up to the policy level, your committee meets quite regularly?
MR. DENNY: The committee hasn't met since January, but we will be meeting again within the next couple of weeks. What we did is, the safety code was put out to all the fire services, mailed out by the Office of the Fire Marshal, with an invitation for any department that had concerns or recommendations on the report to report back to the committee, and those concerns would be discussed at the next few meetings of the committee.
MR. MACKINNON: How often are those committee meetings?
MR. DENNY: The committee, as I said, hasn't met since January. At the time, we were working on presenting the draft document. We were meeting once about every six weeks for a two year period until we got the draft document finished, then it was decided to put the draft document out to the fire services and give them some time to react to it. In fact, when I was in Halifax attending your meeting a couple of weeks ago, I discussed with Mr. Cormier about setting a date for the next meeting of the Occupational Health and Safety Committee. He agreed it should be done very shortly.
MR. MORASH: One more, maybe you could help me. Something someone mentioned to me probably a year ago, I think it has to do with occupational health and safety, an NFPA 1500 instead of this. It had to do with a newly purchased fire truck that had a larger tank than
is standard. It was a larger tank than had been approved, for whatever the approval mechanism would be, factory, Mutual or Underwriters Laboratories. Their concern was that the truck was identical to an approved truck except the tank, instead of being 600, which was approved, as an example, was 1,000 gallons, and this would mean that their truck didn't meet the approvals of NFPA 1500 or whatever the approval system would be. Is that a misinterpretation of the rules of the road as you see them?
MR. DENNY: NFPA writes a standard on just about everything in regard to fire services, trucks being one of them. They do have weight restrictions. Sometimes the NFPA standards don't match provincial standards in regard to what's allowed on the highways. That is where you run into some problems in having overweight trucks. A truck that might meet the regulations in New Brunswick wouldn't necessarily meet the regulations in Nova Scotia. For weight restriction, Nova Scotia's regulations are more stringent than they are in some of the other provinces.
MR. MORASH: That's two or three regulations coming together and having to sort them out.
MR. DENNY: That's right.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Are there any other presenters? We don't wish to try to twist your arm, but we are here to hear your concerns and if you have anything at all, we are interested in hearing it.
MR. MORASH: Shy firefighters?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Firefighters aren't shy, no.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, perhaps at this time I would like to acknowledge the host representatives from Mira Road. Our fire chief is here, Brent Boyle. He is at the back in the red sweater. I would certainly like to extend our appreciation for the Mira Road Fire Department allowing us to use their facilities. They are a great crew, as are all the volunteer fire departments in Cape Breton West and I am sure in the entire regional municipality. There are 14 in Cape Breton West. I know the past fire chief is here as well, Bernie MacEachern, the fire chief from Gabarus, Allan MacLellan; and Mr. Gary Murphy, another very distinguished firefighter. I could go on and on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, we know you can. (Laughter)
MR. MACKINNON: He is still upset because I spoke for 6 hours and 15 minutes on a bill. Also, from the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, we have our deputy fire chief, Jackie Neary. Jackie, would you be kind enough to stand and be acknowledged.
(Interruptions) Perhaps, Jackie, if you would like to come to the microphone, and just identify yourself.
MR. JACK NEARY: First of all, my name is Jack Neary. I am the Operations Manager for the regional government here in Cape Breton. I would just like to make the announcement that three years ago the Cape Breton Regional Fire Service here in Cape Breton was awarded one of the plaques from the Province of Nova Scotia for probably doing the best fire prevention in Nova Scotia. (Applause)
I would just like to comment. I know Joe is very sincere, he is probably one of the most sincere men that I have ever met in today's society in the fire service, especially on burn victims. I would just like to first talk about the Learn Not to Burn Program. The Learn Not to Burn Program was introduced by Canadian Tire. That is who sent the first books to the Province of Nova Scotia. After the first books were sent out, each school in the Province of Nova Scotia got a Learn Not to Burn curriculum, a set of curriculum books. After, here in Cape Breton, we had a lot of people who were really interested in the Learn Not to Burn Program. The Cape Breton Regional Municipality went out on a limb and bought the second-level set of books. Each school in our regional municipality has two sets of Learn Not to Burn books.
The Learn Not to Burn Program in the municipality is run very well in the schools by the school teachers. As a matter of fact, I don't know if Joe realizes it or not, but we gave the books to the Burn Society to start on their own as well. I can't remember the police officer's name but he was in charge of it at the time. Joe and his group have advanced again and they are taking it to another level. That is exactly what we need in Cape Breton Island, people to get out in the schools to do good fire prevention.
On the other aspect, and I just want to clear this up because our schools in the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board are very proud of their fire prevention in the schools. They do eight fire drills a year that are recorded. They do four the first half, they do four the second half. They are very conscious of what they do. Ourselves, in the city of Sydney here, we go out and we do our fire drills. It takes us a little longer. We probably do them in about two months, where a lot of the other smaller departments, where there are fewer schools, they do it in about two weeks.
The Cape Breton Regional Municipality is very sincere about their fire prevention, and up until last year, and I don't know, for some unknown reason, we partnered with the Fire Marshal's Office. The Fire Marshal's Office, Halifax Regional Municipality and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality would invest so much money to buy our fire prevention materials as a block. In our 34 departments that we have here, we carry enough fire prevention material to look after every fire department and practically every school. The Cape Breton Regional Municipality is very active in fire prevention. Thank you.
MR. CORBETT: Jack, before you run away on us. (Laughter) We have been talking about prevention and one aspect I am quite sure probably even began in New Waterford was Retire Your Fryer, around fire prevention. Have you folks ever done any statistics of pre that program, the amount of grease fires that are in homes and so on? For those who may not know, maybe you could explain what Retire Your Fryer is.
MR. NEARY: If I had the material I sent to the Fire Marshal's Office I could have told you exactly, today. The grease fires in the municipality are down, and it is due to that program. This year they are coming out again with the program, Retire Your Fryer, and it is going to be done this year in Fire Prevention Week. That program will be underway for fire prevention.
MR. MACKINNON: I want to pick up on your observation about the schools, because that is what I was alluding to . . .
MR. NEARY: You put the legislation in, I think.
MR. MACKINNON: That's correct. In fact, I issued a letter when I was minister to all school boards . . .
MR. NEARY: Yes, right.
MR. MACKINNON: . . . directing that action. I must compliment not only the Cape Breton Regional Fire Service but also the Fire Marshal's Office. The highest number of inspections in the entire province are done here in Cape Breton.
MR. NEARY: Yes.
MR. MACKINNON: I believe - I stand to be corrected - it is either 40 per cent or 45 per cent of the entire number of inspections are done here in Cape Breton.
MR. NEARY: You are absolutely correct. That comes under the fire marshal.
MR. MACKINNON: They do a phenomenal job, second to none.
MR. NEARY: Yes. I can speak for Mr. MacCormick and Mr. Penney. Especially when I was chief in other areas, in Glace Bay, I know I would have to go with them to the schools four times a year. That has been carried out at least in our municipality anyway.
MR. MACKINNON: Now you know the rest of the story.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Now we know, yes. Anyone else who would like to make any comments? Well, we thank you very much for coming out this evening. We appreciate the
facility. It has been great to be here. If you have anything that you would like to add, if you think of something later, feel free to send it to either Russell or the committee in Halifax. We would be most happy to receive anything that we can use, because we do want to get the very best coverage so that we can come in with legislation that is going to work very well.
The meeting is adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 8:10 p.m.]