MR. CHAIRMAN: I will call the meeting to order. Good Evening, my name Jon Carey, I am the Chairman of the Committee for the Fire Safety Act. We are glad to be here this evening. I would just ask the MLAs, this is an all-Party committee, to introduce themselves and the area they represent.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have two members on the committee who were unable to be with us tonight, Graham Steele, NDP caucus and Brian Boudreau, Liberal caucus. As this is the constituency that Ron Chisholm represents, we would just turn it over to him for a few moments.
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: Thank you, Jon. I guess, first of all, I would like to welcome all members of the committee to Port Hawkesbury, to the good constituency of Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury. I hope you had a good day here today and don't leave too early tomorrow, spend a little bit of money around. Also, I would like to thank the Port Hawkesbury Fire Department for allowing us to use their facility here tonight. It is a good one, and we thank them for that. I see some of the fire departments from other areas, West Bay Road and Port Hastings, are here. Welcome to them as well. Again, welcome and enjoy.
Last night we were down in Sydney, and in recognition of all the hardship and the tragedy that has happened in the United States we did have one minute of silence in memory of the firefighters who lost their lives and those who were injured down there. Maybe we could do the same thing tonight.
[One minute of silence was observed.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I would also like to recognize the Fire Marshal Bob Cormier, who is with us this evening. I think most people here know Bob. We are pleased to have Bob with us.
Ladies and gentlemen, we welcome you to the meeting of the Select Committee on Fire Safety. 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 people who will be directly affected by the new law, such as insurance companies, other businesses, municipalities and the fire service. We are meeting in nine communities across the province, and this is the second meeting. 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 submissions, we will make recommendations and a 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 that 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 replace, completely, 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 fires
- helps the fire marshal determine what caused fires, this is important for insurance and crime prevention reasons
- assigns roles to the 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 reduce the harm of fires; and
- establishes a Fire Safety Advisory Council to advise the Minister of Environment and Labour on matters of fire safety.
We are pleased to be here to have presentations. We want to hear what the people of Nova Scotia have to say about this from all walks of life. We are here to gather information, so we will appreciate anything that you may have to contribute. We have two presenters who have registered. If you wish to present after those two, you are more than welcome. If you could just give your name to Kim at the back. She will get the information so that we can have it on record. Please don't hesitate to present whatever you would like.
The first presenter this evening is Mr. Ian MacKinnon. Could you come up and sit at the microphone, please.
MR. IAN MACKINNON: Good evening. I am here on behalf of the Strait Area Mutual Aid Association, which has a concern on another part of the Act that is coming down, on health and safety.
We, the fire service of the Strait Area Mutual Aid Association, which has 30 fire departments as members of our association, have a great concern on the cost each fire department is required to find for each firefighter to have at least Level 1 training. The cost for each member is approximately $1,500, from the time the first course starts until the last weekend at the Nova Scotia Fire School, getting certified. As in NFPA 1500, all drivers shall successfully complete an approved driver training program. Again an additional cost of $100
per student. SCBA requires certified personnel to do all kinds of tests, which is another major cost.
A great number of small departments are financially strapped at the best of times, as communities are small, and a number of other organizations do fundraising for their activities. As most departments are trying to keep up by upgrading with new equipment that meets all standards, the cost is rising all the time.
Surely this committee realizes what a burden the small fire departments face. With the two family members needing to work and share in the family income, volunteers' time is now very scarce. The fire service is much different from other organizations as we require a lot of time training, fundraising and keeping equipment above standard to maintain a high level of response that works well.
Each time changes are made to the fire Act, costs are handed down to the volunteers, and the Nova Scotia Government has to find a way to offset this financial burden. We fully support the safety needs, but not at the cost of this new Act. (Interruption)We realize now that this is not a part of the Act, but it is of concern to the Act.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, absolutely. We do want to make it clear it is not our mandate, for Bill No. 58 this does not fall under it. However, it might be an opportunity for the Occupational Health and Safety Committee, there is a group involved. Bob, if you wouldn't mind, you might be able to just give us some information that would help explain how we can work best to get the proper legislation that will serve everyone best on that aspect of it.
MR. ROBERT CORMIER: Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, approximately a year and a half ago we formed a committee of firefighters from throughout the province who represented both large and small fire departments. They were all volunteer firefighters, although we did have members of the Halifax Regional Municipality there to advise us on some of the technical matters that were involved. The National Fire Protection Association in the United States writes standards for the fire service throughout North America. These standards may be adopted by law. For instance, with paid firefighters our occupational health and safety section does utilize those standards for the measurement of safety with firefighters.
We did not wish to just tell the volunteers that everything is fine, just go do as you please, and if someone dies, well, we will worry about it then. The major concern for this came from the fact that we have lost two firefighters in this province during emergency calls, and we average approximately 19 reportable injuries every year. The number of vehicle accidents and the number of damaged vehicles is unreported but we know that there are a number every year. What we wanted to do was create a guideline and that is all that it is, a guideline. It was developed by the fire service for the fire service. It goes to the volunteer fire departments as a measure of a goal to reach. That is, in obtaining or attempting to protect
their communities, these are the considerations that they should make to do it in order to do it safely, so that every one of them returns back to their family again, which is our only real concern. There is not a firefighter in this province whose one ounce of their flesh is worth the cost of a building.
This was the attempt. It is only a guideline. There was never an intent to create it as legislation requiring volunteers to meet that. However, I do have to add that I cannot protect the volunteer fire service from litigation. I cannot protect the volunteer fire service from civil suits. Those things do happen, and we are seeing growing numbers of them. Some of them are coming from the fact that accepted practices are not being followed. All we are doing is providing the information to the fire service. It is their choice whether they choose to follow it or not.
We also, I might add, provide training programs first on firefighter awareness for hazards and dangers in the various activities that they carry out, and we also provide a training program for the occupational health and safety guidelines and how they should be working towards obtaining those.
This is a common problem right across Canada, and I will finish by making a remark that was made by the head of the training section for the Quebec Government. She was asked by a local politician why his firefighters had to be trained. She said, what is your concern? He said, well, they only have to go in a burning building once a year. She said, fine, the next time you need an appendix operation give me a call, I'm a nurse, we are only going to do it once. Once is all we need to do it.
There is a requirement for training, there is a requirement for a certain level of standards, but it is not a legislated mandate that I can accomplish, nor is it a legislative requirement. I just want to make that clear. It never was intended to be.
MR. IAN MACKINNON: So, you are telling me that the NFPA 1500 will not be accepted.
MR. CORMIER: The NFPA 1500, which is the occupational health and safety document from the United States is considered the best practice for fire departments. It does not differentiate between volunteer and paid. It is not adopted by legislation. That does not prevent a court from using it as a measurement or guideline in a lawsuit or other matter.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Bob, if it is adopted, which it possibly could be, because as I understand it there is an ongoing committee working on it, presenting it to the Occupational Health and Safety Committee.
MR. CORMIER: There is an ongoing discussion amongst the fire service, not by my office, within the fire service itself, as to whether it should be mandated or not.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If it were, then would I be correct in saying that the paid firefighters would fall under occupational health and safety, so it would apply to them?
MR. CORMIER: They presently fall under NFPA 1500 themselves, all paid firefighters, and if you are working with paid firefighters, you fall under it, because they are required to be protected by the individuals who are with them as much as they are by anyone else. We do agree there is a cost factor, but there are means of addressing those, and there are means of addressing them over time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Go ahead, Kerry. That's fine. I know Kerry has had experience with occupational health and safety, and I would certainly be happy to have him ask the questions.
MR. KERRY MORASH: It might be along the same line. I was just wondering what legislation covers the volunteer firemen when they work with the paid firemen to . . .
MR. CORMIER: That's under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. That would be no different than you as a volunteer working with some tradesperson, any other tradesperson. There is an expectation of safety for both the worker as well as anyone in the immediate vicinity.
MR. MORASH: And the public, for the paid firemen.
MR. CORMIER: And the public. That's correct.
MR. MORASH: The paid firemen would be expected to maintain a level of safety for whoever is working around them, public, volunteer or . . .
MR. CORMIER: That's correct, to make sure the public doesn't gain access into hazardous areas, et cetera.
MR. MORASH: Okay. I didn't realize that it would cover the volunteer to the same extent it would cover the paid firemen.
MR. CORMIER: Where we have seen it probably the clearest is working with the Department of Lands of Forests firefighters. All of our fire departments in the province have gone through training programs to provide them with the correct training to work with the fire bosses in Lands and Forests, because that is required under the OH&S Act.
MR. MORASH: Another question, so all DNR firefighters and all paid firefighters are trained to NFPA 1500 standards now?
MR. CORMIER: They are required to be, yes.
MR. MORASH: Do we have some sort of documentation through your office to know . . .
MR. CORMIER: No. Each department is responsible to document their training and equipment. The occupational health and safety officer then reviews that. Again, I have to make it very clear that the Act that is before you is for all activities up to the start of the fire and all activities after the fire is extinguished. Whatever occurs while that fire is going or what occurs within a fire department itself is not a matter for the Act or Bill No. 58. The only thing that I am permitted to do under Bill No. 58 is to provide assistance and advice to the fire service.
MR. MORASH: When did the occupational health and safety regulations that include paid firefighters come into effect?
MR. CORMIER: I believe the Act was adopted in 1993. It covers all workers. Provided there is an employer-employee relationship or you are an independent worker, then you are covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It is immaterial whether you are a firefighter, a painter or whatever trade.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Russell.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I was going to ask Mr. [Ian] MacKinnon, but since Mr. Cormier is here I figure I will go right to my target. It is more so administrative than legislative, my question, it is to try to address the issue of liability. My colleague, the member for Queens, alluded to it, and that is in terms of the protection that is afforded to volunteer firefighters and, for that matter, any firefighter under the Workers' Compensation Act.
I was just crunching some numbers here. As we know, the average rate right now is approximately $2.52, maybe $2.54, of which 72 cents of that goes toward the unfunded liability. That was set up, as you might be aware, on the premise that we were going to pay down that unfunded liability over a 40 or 45 year period. At the rate it is going, that will be paid off in approximately 16 years. The point I am raising is the fact that a lot of volunteer fire departments are in a crunch because it is costing them, on average, $3,000 a year that they have to fundraise to come up with some money. There is approximately 330 volunteer fire departments across the province. We are looking at a charge of approximately $1 million.
If you look at the total payroll and the fact that the unfunded liability is, well, personally I think the board is being a bit heavy-handed on the employers in the province and they should slack off and probably drop that rate by about 5 cents to 10 cents. It would only take 1 cent per $100 of assessment to be able to cover that liability to the fire departments. Would you be in support of that through the auspices of the Department of Environment and
Labour, to be able to help the volunteer firefighters? That would help to address some of the administrative issues that the legislation speaks to.
MR. CORMIER: If I could try to clarify a few points. Workers' compensation is there for the protection of the worker in case of injury and if something should happen to one of the firefighters, either death or injury. Where the municipality has chosen to participate in that and the volunteer fire service is brought forward, there is a wage level set for the volunteer fire service and they can purchase workers' compensation. I cannot give you the exact numbers but I would estimate approximately 100 to 150 of our 314 fire departments presently purchase their insurance from outside agencies, they do not go through Workers' Compensation; they bill through insurance companies themselves.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Because it is too expensive?
MR. CORMIER: That I can't respond to because I have never studied the figures. I do know we are working with the firefighters to try to expand the availability of that to as many fire departments as we possibly can. The Western Mutual Aid Association in Nova Scotia are actually the owners of that policy. We had a vote two weeks ago to look at pushing that over onto the chief officers which would cover the full province.
The second part of your question is on liability which is not protected under workers' compensation. We do have an Act called the Volunteer Services Act in the Province of Nova Scotia which is there to protect the individual firefighter but may not protect the organization and its assets. All we know is that from the actions that have taken place - and these are very difficult to find because there is always the hush clause built into any out of court settlements and nobody really knows what the outcome might have been or was - we do know from other provinces that there was a growing tendency to hold fire departments accountable.
We had a multi-million dollar lawsuit in Alberta last year and part of that came on a mutual aid response. All we are trying to do is protect the fire departments as much as we can. As to whether a better participation would be taken in workers' compensation, I think we would have to go to the fire service for that.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: That was a rather eloquent response, but you didn't answer my question. The fact of the matter is and right to the point, the fire service comes under the purview of the Department of Environment and Labour. Ultimately, your office is responsible. My question is, given the fact that volunteer service is under a tremendous amount of pressure because of increased standards and obligations, as Mr. MacKinnon has stated and has been stated in our meeting last evening for other reasons, the training requirements and so on, many volunteers are at the breaking point, they just can't afford it. Why isn't the Department of Environment and Labour putting in that one cent on $100 of assessment to be able to help defray the cost of keeping the volunteer fire service -
particularly since you, yourself, have recommended that volunteer firefighters now take on the role of fire inspectors?
MR. CORMIER: First of all, I think we have to define where the fire service responsibility lies. The fire department, for emergency activities, is found in the Municipal Government Act and is directly the responsibility of the municipality. The municipality may or may not recognize a fire service in their community. At one time it said they may or may not form one but now it is the recognition of the fire department.
The fire service has looked to the Fire Marshal's Office as the only visible point to work with the government and this is one of the reasons we have asked to instill a fire services committee under the Fire Marshal's Office, to advise the totality of government on matters related to the fire service and the volunteer fire service in the province.
In relation to your question with regard to assistance to the volunteer fire service, I am sure that the committee that was struck for assistance to the volunteer fire service would be supportive of anything that would help the fire service to meet its needs, and that includes the protection of its members.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: One final supplementary. You would support an initiative of this?
MR. CORMIER: I would support an initiative that would provide assistance to the volunteer fire services. What format that would take would take some review before I would be able to commit to the exact formation of that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Our next presenter is Bob MacEachern.
MR. BOB MACEACHERN: Good evening. The Inverness County Firefighters Association represents 14 fire departments of different sizes of which all are volunteer. The urban fire departments have full-time firefighters which have the time for training, et cetera. Rural fire departments like ourselves find it hard to work all day and train, et cetera in the evenings and on weekends. We have set FPA standards of training in our individual departments. Members find it hard to travel away, due to work and family commitments.
Since the inception of the 911 system, we are now receiving more calls and the first responder fire departments have much more responsibilities. The cost of equipment is high and the fundraising is very time consuming. To set standards on equipment that are too much for fire departments is not reasonable. Since governments are trying to raise the standards of fire departments, this is creating added costs in both money and time. We also feel it is time for the county to have fire inspectors. This is too much of a load on the Fire Marshal's Office in this aspect.
We are all volunteers and our safety has always come first but if you put more pressure on them to give more of their time, we might lose them and their valuable contributions. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any questions? Mr. Russell MacKinnon.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, down in the Municipality of Inverness, approximately how many firefighters do you have as volunteer, presuming they are all volunteer?
MR. MACEACHERN: We probably have roughly 350.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: How many in your department?
MR. MACEACHERN: In my department there are 25.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: What is the average number of hours a volunteer firefighter would put in in the run of a week, for example?
MR. MACEACHERN: In the run of a week you would have I would say - depending on how much fundraising you do at the time - the average is maybe 8 to 10 hours a week.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: That is their own personal commitment and does that include their training as well?
MR. MACEACHERN: That would include their training as well.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: How many firefighters in your department have a Level I?
MR. MACEACHERN: In my department right now there is only one person.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Do you have workers' compensation coverage through the municipality?
MR. MACKINNON: Yes we do, through the municipality, plus we have our own insurance coverage besides that. If I may go back to the Level I question, we are striving to get more members trained at Level I but as of right now, we have members coming and going. We had four at one time but now we are down to one.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: What would you look for in a new Fire Prevention Act? What would be the most prominent feature you would look for? I noticed you indicated here that the municipality should have fire inspectors. Have you had the opportunity to read Bill No. 58?
MR. MACEACHERN: Not thoroughly, no.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Is there anything in particular that sticks out in your mind that may be a thorny issue in terms of the legislation or even from an administrative point of view?
MR. MACEACHERN: The biggest thing, as I said in my letter here as per the standards part of it, not to make the standards too high for the volunteer fire departments and we are all volunteer in Inverness County anyway and you are going to start losing people. The Fire Marshal's Office is just overloaded with work and the municipalities seem to be brushing it off, putting it on the Fire Marshal's Office and don't take responsibility, as per fire inspections. As fire chiefs going out to get a place inspected and call the Fire Marshal's Office, it is a hard thing to do. It can take time in order to get it done and if the municipality has somebody there, it would hopefully happen sooner and they may possibly save someone's life on account of it.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Would you support a grandfather clause that would allow for a slow graduation allowing volunteer firefighters to acquire that increased training and awareness of what is required because of the increased liabilities that are attached today, more so than let's say 10 years ago?
MR. MACEACHERN: Yes.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: So you would support that, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any other questions? Are there any other presenters? Please feel free to come forward, we are certainly interested in hearing your opinions and views. Hearing none I thank you very much for coming out this evening. We appreciate the attendance and the presenters. Ron, do you have anything you would like to add?
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: Just to thank the presenters and again to thank the fire department for the use of their facilities.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
[The committee adjourned at 7:38 p.m.]