MR. CHAIRMAN: Some of our members have not arrived yet. I believe we are past our starting time so we will start, even though there are a few members of the committee who are still on their way.
My name is Jon Carey. I'm the MLA for Kings West and Chairman of the Select Committee on Fire Safety. Perhaps we can start with introductions of our members that are here.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have, I understand, a couple of members who are still on their way. Maybe they are having trouble finding the fire hall, I'm not sure.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: The Tories are lost.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The Tories are lost. (Laughter) Thank you, Russell.
In the past meetings we have had, we have taken a moment to extend our appreciation and sympathy to the 300 firefighters who lost their lives in New York. I know, having been a firefighter for a number of years, the close brotherhood that it is and the loss of one anywhere is felt by all. Perhaps we could just take a moment tonight and stand to recognize them.
[One minute of silence was observed.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Ron, you were a little late coming in. Would you like to introduce yourself as part of our committee.
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: I'm the late Ronnie Chisholm and I am from Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Welcome to this meeting of the Select Committee on Fire Safety. The select committee is an all-Party committee and 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 sixth 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 in 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 that 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. Bill No. 58 is written with the intention that it would replace, completely, the Fire Prevention Act that now is in effect in Nova Scotia.
Details on Bill No. 58:
- 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 people who are responsible for - preventing fires - for putting them out - for reporting fires and for investigating them - 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 fire safety
We are here tonight to gather information. If you have given your name as a presenter and have a formal presentation, we are looking forward to that. If you just want to come forward and have any comments regarding the fire service, fire safety, this bill, anything, as your elected all-Party committee, we are interested in hearing from you and we will take back whatever information that you provide us with.
Again, tonight, I am pleased to have the Fire Marshal, Bob Cormier, with us. Welcome, Bob.
MR. JOHN HOLM: A former fireman with the Sackville Fire Department.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Yes, really, I know. He was with Sackville, yes.
MR. HOLM: The Fire Chief.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So having gone through that, we will start with our first presenter. We would ask that you come forward to the mike and give your name, and if you are representing an organization, so that Hansard can get a copy. If anyone has not already
registered and wants to present, if they would see Kim at the back. She will certainly be happy to get the information from you.
Our first presenter is Mr. Gordon Smith.
MR. GORDON SMITH: My name is Gordon Smith. Before I retired in the late 1980's, I had been a paid firefighter for 42 years. I served as a firefighter, Shift Chief, Deputy Fire Chief, Fire Chief and for 18 years, as the Deputy Fire Marshal, Chief Training Officer for the province.
In looking through Bill No. 58, one reads as its purpose, ". . . to educate and encourage persons and communities to apply the principles of fire safety so as to prevent fires, preserve human life and avoid unwarranted property loss due to the destructive forces of fire."
If we are looking to preserve human life and avoid unwarranted property loss due to fire, one has to presume that no matter how careful and knowledgeable we are in fire prevention matters, accidental fires will occur and fire suppression activities will be necessary.When the fire is small and can be safely attacked, this fire suppression activity may be performed by the building occupants. However, when the fire cannot be safely extinguished by the building occupants, then the local fire department is called.
The effectiveness of the responding fire department in saving human life and fire control and extinguishment is not only determined by the equipment responding and the qualifications of the personnel manning this equipment, it is also very much decidedly determined by the time factor involved between receiving the call and the arrival at the scene. In the fire department we call that the response time.
Bill No. 58, as it is presently worded, attempts to regulate an acceptable level of fire protection by stating in Clause 13(1) "The Fire Marshal may . . . (h) make recommendations, including guidelines, respecting (i) fire suppression, fire prevention, fire protection and the training of persons involved in the provision of these services as well as rescue and emergency services and the delivery of these services and matters related to any of them,"
I won't go any further in that section. However, the two words that create a problem in my mind are "may" and "recommendations" because "may" and "recommendations" are not compulsory or mandatory. The fire marshal also may not, if time and personnel are limited. Equally, a recipient of recommendations may or may not act on suggestions if circumstances dictate otherwise.
So the word "may", in my estimation, should be changed to "shall" and the word "recommendations" should change to "requirement", making it, the fire marshal shall make requirements, including guidelines respecting fire suppression.
At present, there is no minimal standard of fire department response, either urban or rural set by the province. Such a standard would be necessary if the fire marshal or any other provincially-appointed authority is to regulate fire safety. It would also help the fire insurance industry when determining premium adjustments.
Surveys by a competent authority should be carried out in the area served by a fire department and a satisfactory response should be determined as a result of these surveys. If the fire department is not able to provide a response appropriate to that determined by the survey, Building Code requirements should be increased beyond the minimum and possibly require greater use of non-combustible construction, additional fire walls and the installation of automatic sprinkler systems.
Referring, again, to the requirements for the performance of a fire department, Bill No. 47, An Act Respecting Municipal Government. Under Part X, it states "Fire and Emergency Services, Clause 295, "A municipality may maintain and provide fire and emergency services by providing the service, assisting others to provide the service, working with others to provide the service or a combination of means."
Again, "may". There is not, at present, a requirement that a municipality shall provide this service, so that we have ended up with fire departments - many, many years ago - be informed within a small area and quite capable, and well-equipped enough to attend any fires within that area.
Several years ago, I was asked by Halifax County to attend a meeting where fire suppression was being discussed and, coincidentally, Sackville came up at that time - in fact, it was revolving around Sackville. I believe my suggestions didn't sway the committee. However, I do believe that the opinions of Sackville Fire Department were supported by my comments.
As a result, Sackville - well, Sackville had been saying, the town is growing up, it is growing longer and longer along the highway and here we are with one fire hall which cannot respond in time, the responsibilities of firefighters. When they join, they more or less dedicate themselves to the idea that they will be there to save lives, limit the spread of fire and to extinguish or to control fire. They do provide other emergency services but, principally, the one is the saving of life in fire and the control and extinguishment of fire.
The Sackville Fire Departments, as many other fire departments in this province, are experiencing a growing up of the area and they are extending their range to a point where they can no longer provide the service they originally promised to provide to the communities.
That is my concern. At the moment, we have fire departments who have an area and that area is growing larger, and perhaps more complex and condensed at the extremities of the area, and they cannot provide the service they are designed to provide.
People in remote areas - not in remote areas - people in new subdivisions are paying quite a high rate of taxes but, honestly, if you were to ask the fire department that services that area, they would agree that, really, they cannot do the job that the community thinks and expects of them.
My presentation is only in handwriting but it will be available to your secretary if you wish any copies of this. I will leave that with the secretary after this evening.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Any questions from our members? The gentleman who came in late was Kerry Morash, the MLA for Queens.
MR. KERRY MORASH: My apologies.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any questions for Mr. Smith? Graham.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: Thank you very much, Mr. Smith, for taking the time to come out tonight. You certainly have a great deal of experience that we can all benefit from.
The one thing I wanted to ask you is about cost. Now, you were saying that a service like Sackville may not be able to serve as well as might be desirable of the area because, as everybody knows, Lower Sackville and surrounding area has been a very high growth area. The same is true of other parts of HRM and elsewhere in the province.
One of the concerns municipalities have is cost, that, you know, if the province is going to pass a new piece of legislation that imposes additional duties, perhaps higher standards, a certain cost is associated with that and they feel they may not be able to bear the costs, which affects their decisions about what gets done or how it gets done. Do you have any thoughts on that about, if extra money is needed, where it should come from?
MR. GORDON SMITH: No, and I don't know - actually, I've been divorced from fire service now for the past 12 years so I am not quite sure what it is costing to provide a service.
However, in some instances, some fire halls in the province are not located in the correct position to provide a service. It would be costly but not horrifically costly to move
those fire halls and perhaps upgrade those fire halls. It is very possible that one large fire department could service several small fire halls, as such, so that the administrative costs may only be quite small considering that there was only one headquarters to maintain, rather than several, as we have with many individual fire departments. Costs might be able to be reduced by more consolidation, perhaps.
MR. STEELE: Based on all your experience, over 42 years I think it was, what is the one thing that would more than anything else improve fire safety in Nova Scotia? If we could do one thing, what do you think it would be?
MR. GORDON SMITH: At one time, when I first built my home out in the Head of St. Margaret's Bay, automatic sprinklers were available for assembly buildings, industrial, commercial buildings and, also, institutional. However, the underwriters at that time were requiring the automatic sprinklers discharge copious, tremendous amounts of water and they were still demanding, at that time, very high standards, basically because of industrial strengths, not for domestic usage. So there were no such things as domestic sprinkler systems at that time. Later on, they have become available.
I would say that my experience was that I never had a fatality of a person in a building protected by an automatic sprinkler system who was not directly involved in the fire. When you had an explosion immediately, then there could well be a casualty before the automatic sprinklers came in. But I never experienced a casualty within a building when they were not directly in the area of the fire, in a sprinkler-protected building.
If a standard can be developed that will make them attractive to householders and not too conspicuous, if the insurance industry does not demand too great a water flow, because some homes could be protected by an automatic sprinkler in a rural area where they only have a well to provide that water and others could be in an urban area where they have municipal water supplies. So the costs would vary according to where they were located.
Still, an automatic sprinkler system in a dwelling still should not cost more - original construction, mind you - than, perhaps, a good quality wall-to-wall carpet throughout the building.
MR. STEELE: Thanks very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. The next presenter is Miss Elizabeth Publicover.
MS. ELIZABETH PUBLICOVER: I am here this evening as a result of a phone call I made. I have a written submission here.
My name is Elizabeth Publicover. I own a house and lot with storage shed in Lower Sackville, Halifax County, Nova Scotia. I also own a woodlot in Blandford, Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia. I wish to make the following comments on the proposed Bill No. 58. This is mostly to do with my woodlot.
When you mentioned land, I own land, so I phoned up the committee, they talked with the lawyer, and they came back a couple of days later and what they mean by land with this is somebody who is storing something. They gave me the example of somebody who stores tires and things that are man-made.
So what I wanted to find out was, when I saw land, how this applied to forest, trees,
and they didn't know. So they said, that is a very interesting question, go to the meeting and bring it up. So here I am.
I had a couple of other comments so I will just read them off. On Page 3, Clause 3(w) says, "'land and premises', or 'land or premises', includes a part thereof and buildings, structures and things situated on, or attached to, the land or premises;" I would like to see the word "land" defined clearly as to the type of land - i.e. cleared, agricultural, commercial, industrial, wood, et cetera - so owners of land will know if this Act applies to them.
On Page 9, Clause 17 says, "Unless this Act or the regulations otherwise prescribe, every owner of land or premises, or a part thereof, and every person shall take every precaution that is reasonable in the circumstances to achieve fire safety and to carry out the provisions of this Act, the regulations and the Fire Code." A person who contravenes this Act is guilty of an offence; however, I see no clause outlining an educational program for owners of land and premises so they know how to carry out the provisions of the Act, regulations and Fire Code and, thus, avoid being guilty of committing an offence.
On Page 10, Clause 19 says, "A municipality shall . . . (b) appoint a municipal fire inspector who shall carry out the inspections;" My concern is with owners of woodland, if wood should be included with land, who have fallen trees, if a municipal fire inspector would be inspecting woodland, and the training these inspectors would have regarding trees. Fallen trees give nutrients to the soil and provide shelter for animals and birds. An inspector, not knowing this, could consider them to be a fire hazard and order them removed. The Department of Natural Resources should instruct municipal fire inspectors on woodland as fallen trees are distinctly different from things situated on or attached to land and premises.
If you are looking at Bill No. 58, the Fire Prevention Act, to apply to everything except woodland, then you have the Department of Natural Resources responsible for fighting fires in forests and woods. You are having a separation there. So I called them to see what they were thinking and what they were doing and they are interested in this process. They want me to supply a copy of my comments to them to see how they are going to get involved in the forest end of the fires.
If you are going to have the municipalities responsible for hiring fire inspectors, they have to be - there is a separation there between houses and land surrounding houses, or commercial, or whatever, and to forested land. You have to know where you are going to inspect. They are interested in seeing that process and how they are going to fit into it.
I am concerned because I have a few fallen trees on my land. I don't think that they are a hazard but if you have somebody coming in there who doesn't know trees, I mean, that is a separate training area. People go to university and they learn about trees and forests and that sort of thing, and somebody who doesn't understand that might think that something is a hazard; whereas somebody who is trained in that would know it is all right. So I just want to see, because I wouldn't want somebody coming in . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps what we could do, the fire marshal is here and we will use his expertise because I am sure he can explain the difference here and where Natural Resources would be different from the fire inspector and what would be under his jurisdiction. So, Bob, if you would come up.
MR. BOB CORMIER: As with many Acts, it would be very nice if we have very nice divisions that we could draw with long black lines and say everything on this side is one and everything outside is on the other. It doesn't quite work that way.
You are absolutely correct. On your particular woodlot with no structures, no storage on-site, et cetera, that certainly is not the privy of the fire inspector. That is not their role. However, we have a tremendous fire problem in North America right now called the Wildlands Interface. It has to do with the wooded areas where we are building our homes right in the middle of those wooded areas and we are building other structures in the middle of those wooded areas.
Certainly, if there were large amounts of brush, large amounts of fuel load in the immediate vicinity of a building, even if it is on lands, then that becomes a concern of the fire inspector. But the fact that a piece of land - for instance, I have got about 800 feet behind me. I am sure there are some fallen trees in there that is certainly nobody's concern. That is part of nature for that to drop and die.
There is a division there but it is not black and white. Again, it is up to the government to ensure that we work together. Natural Resources and the Office of the Fire Marshal are both part of the same organization. It is not up to us to create more problems for the owner than are necessary to secure safety.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is it fair to say, Bob, that the intent of the Act is not to have fire inspectors checking into Natural Resources' territory?
MR. CORMIER: Absolutely. I doubt - no, not that I doubt, but we do not supply our fire inspectors with gum boots to get them into the woods to check them. That is not their intent.
MS. PUBLICOVER: I was just curious to see . . .
MR. CORMIER: Yes, but if there is a need to clarify the definition there, except on lands controlled and overseen by the Department of Natural Resources or under the Forests Act, or something, it could be done.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.
MS. PUBLICOVER: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Our next presenter is Sandra Vidito.
MS. SANDRA VIDITO: My name is Sandra Vidito. I am the Deputy Chief with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Service. I do not have a formal presentation. I am just here to make a comment.
In August 2000, our fire service had a problem with 40 issues in the bill after we had reviewed it. We did submit those immediately to the fire marshal and he, very quickly, provided us with clarification. Then in September, we did provide another written submission to the Minister of Labour in which we had 13 outstanding issues. Since that time, we have been working with the fire marshal for clarification on that.
I wish to state publicly that Halifax Regional Fire Services does support, in principle, the bill.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. You are going to get some - Graham won't let you get away. (Laughter)
MS. VIDITO: Sorry. Too quick. (Laughter)
MR. STEELE: That would have been the quickest presentation in history, I think, but what you have to say is very interesting. It is good to know that the fire service is behind it. But I am interested in knowing - and I am sure other members on the committee are interested in knowing - what are the other issues that are still remaining on the table to be resolved?
MS. VIDITO: Some of the issues still on the table are unclear, needing clarification. Some of the times that we reviewed it, we did not have the regulations and without those regulations not being put out at the same time that the bill was, it led for some fuzzy
interpretation on ours. Some of it was just - we had some clarification we were seeking on, like intent of certain articles that were in the bill, such as what constitutes a qualified chief, are there going to be prerequisites set to state what is a qualified chief? We have since been told, yes, that will happen.
Some of the other ones were just about some of the things around the municipal inspectors. Will they be appointed local assistance - we sought clarification on that - under what circumstance would the local assistance status be revoked? It states in there, it can be revoked, so we would just like to know the guidelines to state how that would be revoked.
So those issues are being clarified with us. And that is why I said we reviewed it prior to a lot of the regulations coming out, because they didn't come out at the same time.
Also, we were concerned about entry. There are several areas related to entry which we thought should be read very clearly because we didn't think it was clean as to what buildings we could enter and did we have to have permission of the fire marshal to enter buildings. That can be a very long process if we feel that someone is in danger and we want to enter a building.We asked for clarification on those issues and we have gotten those.
As I said, we just didn't even know who the Fire Safety Board was at that point, so we asked for clarification there. Also, we had some issues around the smoke alarm bylaw, the language being used in the bill concerning that bylaw.
The ability to recover costs, that is mentioned in the bill, we had concerns over that. Was it hampering our abilities, if we had to go in and board up a building, could we then recoup the cost if it was a cost to us as a municipality, or was the province then going to recoup those funds and we would be left with that bill? We got clarification.
Some of those are still outstanding but Bob Cormier is working with us on that so it is more for clarification on our part than actual concern that this is going to cause us problems.
MR. STEELE: Okay, it sounds to me like with most of the concerns, you just wanted to be sure about how the Fire Marshal's Office was going to interpret certain things.
MS. VIDITO: That's right. Their interpretation and how we interpret it so that we are not overstepping our boundaries.
MR. STEELE: Also, that you would prefer, I suppose, to see the regulations in advance so that you could look at the Act and the regulations together.
MS. VIDITO: That's right.
MR. STEELE: That has come up in other meetings and we are certainly encouraging the Fire Marshal's Office and the government to bring forth the regulations at the same time so that everybody can look at it as a complete package.
MS. VIDITO: That would have stopped us from having 40 issues initially if we had had that.
MR. STEELE: Okay, thanks very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: John, did you . . .
MR. HOLM: All my questions pretty well have been answered, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Go ahead.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Ms. Vidito, you will recall a couple of months ago - maybe a little longer - the fire at the Joseph Howe Building, across from the Legislature. I raised on a previous day, at this committee level, the issue of aluminum wiring. I still haven't been able to get an answer as to whether there is aluminum wiring in the Joseph Howe Building. Does anyone in your Halifax fire service have knowledge of what type of wiring is in that building? I recall asking the fire marshal that question and I haven't been able to receive an answer to date.
MS. VIDITO: I can't answer yes or no at this point, but I can certainly check into it for you and see if we do have knowledge of that.
MR. CORMIER: In response to that, it did go over to the Committees Office.
MR. MACKINNON: The only response I received, Mr. Chairman, was in general nature of all the buildings. My question pointed specifically to the Joseph Howe Building.
MR. CORMIER: I sent a memo over - I believe it was on Monday. We had finally got the responses back from Public Works and, yes, the Joseph Howe Building does have aluminum wiring in it, as does One Government Place.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay. Thank you.
While I have you there, maybe we will keep in the same forum here. With regard to sprinklers, as we know, sprinklers are a big issue for a lot of the older buildings, particularly in and around the metro area of HRM. Are there many significant issues surrounding sprinkler systems, let's say in senior citizens' complexes, facilities that are privately owned but yet rented out to the government type thing, whether it be municipal or provincial? Are there
many of those issues outstanding that, somehow, this Act may be able to deal or not deal with?
It seems like everything was going along fine and dandy until that fire up in the North End, with the loss of life and so on. I realize at that particular juncture we were in government and then all the government departments, the technical people, came together, prepared a report and everything seemed to be going great guns and then seemed to have died off. I am just wondering what the situation is and what the implications of this proposed Bill No. 58 will be on that particular issue.
MR. CORMIER: There is no change from what it is presently. That particular building - the only change we had asked for the seniors' complexes, because of the age of the individuals who were in there, was that we have door closures placed in the doors because the codes of the day did not require them.
The number one reason for loss of life in high-rise and for apartment-type structures is a lack of door closures. That building reacted exactly as it was designed when it was built. It contained the fire within the structure. However, the door to the apartment had been left open and that filled the hallways and, subsequently, the stairwells with smoke.
We had other issues there of which we have taken some steps to try to alleviate, such as we had very senior people on the top floors and as these people reach a period where they are no longer as mobile as they should be, they should be moved to lower floors. These are seniors' apartments, not regular apartment buildings. So there is an onus there.
That building is being sprinklered but that is a voluntary compliance. No one has ordered that nor would we have ordered it, because the building did react in a way it was designed to react.
MR. MACKINNON: One final question, if I could, Mr. Chairman, with regard to fire inspections. My sense is that the Fire Marshal's Office would like volunteer firefighters to have an increased role and duty on doing basic fire inspections. Does HRM have any knowledge of that? Have they analyzed Bill No. 58 in such an initiative and what are the implications on the ability of volunteers to be able to carry out such a function?
MS. VIDITO: Our belief is that volunteers could definitely carry out that function. Our firefighters in the core area do carry that out under the direction of our Fire Prevention Unit. They are given a check sheet and given an education session on how to do that.
In fact, we are working with the Fire Marshal's Office and we are looking at hiring - well, we have it in the budget - for January, a new fire prevention officer who would coordinate activities in some of the rural areas, so that we can start providing more of those services that are not being provided in those areas.
MR. MACKINNON: I guess my final question, Mr. Chairman, that is the dichotomy that we are dealing with, see, because prior to the amalgamation, a lot of volunteer fire departments seemed to be operating quite well. I have noticed over the last year or so, there appears to be a considerable friction between the rural part of HRM versus the urban. It all comes down to paid versus volunteer. What you are suggesting here today is that you are going to increase the paid service to be able to supervise the volunteer. Is that what I am interpreting?
MS. VIDITO: That is not right. It is to help coordinate and provide materials because we are a larger unit and have access, sometimes, to educational materials that some of the rural areas cannot afford. We are able to do things such as train the trainer programs or we can help those individuals deliver services that they can't now. It is to sort of standardize the service but it is in no way to force our beliefs or standards on others. It is to help them so that they are able to expand their service out into those areas.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Brian.
MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just want to ask the deputy chief a question. First of all, I want to congratulate you because you, being a woman, it is a pretty good rank and it is obvious that your efforts are being recognized. I want to congratulate you for that. Before, when you indicated that you had a concern about the cost . . .
MS. VIDITO: Recovered costs?
MR. BOUDREAU: Yes, you indicated that you had assurances that the regional municipality would not be pinpointed with this cost.
MS. VIDITO: Well, our clarification from the fire marshal is that if we go in and board up a structure and we incur the cost, then we could recover that cost as we have been doing in the past. If it was in a provincial jurisdiction and we did that, then it would be provincial and we would probably get the money back. So that was clarified. That was our thing.
Right now, if we do buildings that have sustained fire damage that do not have insurance and we feel they are a safety issue to the public, we go in and board those up. It has come back at quite a bit of cost to the municipality so we like to have other avenues that we can pursue to recoup our costs. But if we knew that we had to then turn that over to the province, that is a concern to us but that has been clarified.
MR. BOUDREAU: Are you concerned about any additional costs, other than circumstance of cost, like administration of appointing a fire inspector, or . . .
MS. VIDITO: No.
MR. BOUDREAU: That could be handled with your present . . .
MS. VIDITO: We already did a budget submission for some of the activities that we will be taking over from the Fire Marshal's Office, so we have already had that approved through council.
MR. BOUDREAU: Okay, but is it an increase, overall, from last year as a result of these new . . .
MS. VIDITO: Yes, it is.
MR. BOUDREAU: It is. And the municipality is not concerned about those costs?
MS. VIDITO: I am not going to say they are not concerned. It is up to us to work within the envelope that we are given within our municipality. We may have to then alter some other service delivery, but we believe that we wish to move towards offering the service in co-operation with the Fire Marshal's Office.
MR. BOUDREAU: I am just wondering, did you indicate before that you had approximately 40 issues that you had concerns with?
MS. VIDITO: Yes, that was before, as we stated, we had the regulations.
MR. BOUDREAU: I am wondering, would you be willing to table the letter with the committee, so that we would be aware of what your concerns were?
MS. VIDITO: Certainly.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Holm.
MR. HOLM: Just briefly, Ms. Vidito, you indicated a number of concerns and mostly, although some of them are still being worked on, they have been satisfied as a result of interpretations. I guess my question is, are you satisfied with the verbal interpretation, clarification, or do you think that the regulations and/or the legislation need to be amended to make the language more clear so that whether it is Mr. Cormier or somebody else who is occupying that particular chair that there would be a consistent interpretation in the future?
MS. VIDITO: There was some concern over that in our submission that we did to the Minister of Labour, stating that very point, that Bob Cormier, we could certainly understand his verbal interpretation and agree with it, but if there was another fire marshal, where would
that stand us? We did put that in our submission when we sought clarification of the other 13 issues.
MR. HOLM: And you haven't had a response back yet about a willingness to . . .
MS. VIDITO: We haven't at this time, and in fairness to the fire marshal, he wasn't cc'd on ours. So, today we issued that to him, and he has already started working on some of the issues and bringing that clarification to us.
MR. HOLM: Hopefully the others, who would have to make the final decisions, also may be in support of doing that. I guess the last question is, you indicated that certainly you have budgeted for an envelope to provide the additional services that are going to be required but that if you don't get the monies that you are hoping for there might be some other services that would have to be cut back to do that. I am wondering if you could tell us, if it is possible, the amount of additional cost to the municipality that you think it would have to assume as a result of this? Also, what kinds of services could have to be cut? I know it is very early in the budget process and so on, but what are the kinds of things that may be being looked at in order to come up with the funds necessary if additional funds aren't approved by council?
MS. VIDITO: We did have the one position approved in our budget for this fiscal year, to be approved to be hired starting in January. We may delay that hiring only because of things that have happened to us within the municipality that were beyond our control, and we may not hire until April, but we will go forth with the one hiring that we have been approved for. As for the cost of that, it is the salary of an officer, we have to have a vehicle for that officer, and then we have to have a computer system for that fire inspector.
MR. HOLM: But that is a total increased cost . . .
MS. VIDITO: Last year we had to go for a modification to our budget to ask for that increase.
MR. HOLM: The legislation and the new responsibilities, that would be the total additional . . .
MS. VIDITO: That is what we are looking at at this time. It is just one additional officer. As it comes down, we may require more additional staff to do that. We are looking at a coordinating effort at this time, to use the resources that are already in the rural areas, because we know there is a lot of expertise and experience in those areas and that they can do the functions, to have someone who coordinates it, standardizes it, that is what we are looking at.
MR. HOLM: So you don't see this as a major download?
MS. VIDITO: It is a download. I am not going to say that it's not because it is a huge area now that we are going to have to move into and provide services to, but we still know that we can also rely on for assistance from the Fire Marshal's Office. We have had discussions over that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps, Bob, would you clarify. My understanding was that back in the 1970's, legislation was in place where municipalities were responsible for fire inspection, so I would just like to have it clarified about downloading.
MR. CORMIER: In 1976, the legislation required that every municipality have a system of inspections. In fact, what we have done with the Act is decreased the type and the number of times the facility has to be inspected. At the present time, it is four times a year that every assembly has to be inspected. They would require one inspector in Halifax, the downtown area, just for the bars alone, to be able to do that. They would just rotate from bar to bar, in order to be able to get them all cleaned up. (Laughter) I know it sounds like a pleasant occupation, and I applied for it but didn't get it.
The truth of the matter is that it is unrealistic. In response to the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, we decreased that to where we did a risk evaluation. The number of inspections are based on the occupant load of the structure. So the more people who are in there, the more inspections that would have to be done. For instance, the four inspections a year included a 14-person restaurant, mom-and-pop restaurant, and that was never the intention. We have decreased it to try to bring it down to a realistic amount. What that will do is allow multiple municipalities to share one inspector, or for the responsibility to be carried out by the building inspector in those areas where there are downturns in the economy or construction off-seasons.
Yes, it is a download, but we are trying to keep it as easy as possible. In the Halifax core area, Sackville, Bedford, Halifax, Dartmouth, Cole Harbour, Eastern Passage, all had fire inspectors since the early 1970's, even previous to the previous Act. One of the problems that happened with the confusion over the legislation was those people who served on the committee, this has taken so long to do, are now retired and are no longer with HRM and were unable to bring back the reasons that we did many of those things. They are all contained in the explanation.
Yes, it does appear to be a form of downloading, the form of downloading is that we have said now it is time for you to do it, no longer can you just say no, we're not. What has happened with HRM is we have had a five year fold-over time that we agreed to originally, that they would continue to look after the core, we would look after the outside area. Now Halifax region is beginning to move its operations into the outer core area. That is a change, it is not a download; it is what should have been carried by the old Halifax County originally.
MR. KERRY MORASH: That answers what I was going to ask.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Holm.
MR. HOLM: I will just ask this one question. Talking, obviously, about the number of inspections, and yes, it seems quite logical that, depending upon the number of patrons or people who would be using particular facilities, some facility, a bar that has many attending each night versus a mom-and-pop restaurant, there may be different requirements in terms of frequency. However, do you have or is there, that could be made available to the committee, a breakdown or information on what the divides are going to be on when it would be for, when it might be to, and what about other public structures like schools and hospitals and all the kinds of facilities of that nature?
MR. CORMIER: Where the province is directly involved in licensing, my office will continue to be involved because the province is responsible for placing the people in there. Therefore, we are the loss prevention organization for the province.
MR. HOLM: Would that include schools?
MR. CORMIER: No. Schools have, since 1976, been the responsibility of the school board. When we requested that it be taken over by the municipalities, the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities put forward a resolution requesting that they not be burdened with the responsibilities of inspecting and looking after the schools within their districts. What we have created is an inspection responsibility on the school boards with my office acting as the auditor of that system. In other words, they have to maintain records, we will go in and go through their records, train their staff to do that work, and ensure that the safety is maintained in those facilities.
Some municipalities will continue to inspect those schools. Halifax region is very proactive in the school system. That is not true across the Province of Nova Scotia. In some jurisdictions the municipality will continue to - other municipalities have asked not to be involved.
MR. HOLM: Those municipalities where they asked not to be involved, they will have to train and use their own school board staff?
MR. CORMIER: That is correct. We have met with the Nova Scotia School Board Council, and the process has been worked out. They do have an expectation for us to provide the training to their staff. We are not talking about high-level inspections, but to make sure that the exit doors aren't damaged, they are operable, that the exit lights are working, that there is no damage to the furnace room, items such as that. We are not talking about a high-level fire inspection. The desire is to turn a building over that meets the code requirements. The fire inspection merely keeps that building in the maintenance condition it was designed in.
MR. HOLM: Just the last one, if I can, and I know this is nitpicky, but you talked about doing audits and audits of the records and so on. Will there be any actual spot inspection of . . .
MR. CORMIER: That is included, an audit includes an on-site inspection. For instance, we have just over 540-some odd schools in the province right now. There is no way we could even attempt to do 10 per cent of those along with all of the other duties we have, so it would be an audit function.
MR. HOLM: The only ones, and certainly your department in certain situations, the municipality, the fire service and, I guess, school boards, nobody else would be given responsibilities to do audits or inspections?
MR. CORMIER: Every facility is required to do self-inspections.
MR. HOLM: I appreciate they are supposed to . . .
MR. CORMIER: But as lump groups, only the universities. Again, for the same reason. The universities have been very co-operative with us. We have had a great deal of concern with the boarding houses and other facilities universities have used for their students. There is now criteria for that. They inspect them previous to going on their list. That doesn't mean we don't have people living in improper facilities right now, but the major work in relationship with the universities has been excellent.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Our next presenter is Jack Leedham.
MR. JACK LEEDHAM: Mr. Chairman, I have a lot of stuff for you, this is just going to take a second. Good evening. My name is Jack Leedham, and I am here as a representative of the Nova Scotia Building Officials Association. With me are members of the executive, Glen Lelacheur, who is a building official with HRM; Jim Donavan, a building official with HRM; Gerard Donahue, who is a plans examiner with HRM and is zone rep for our Zone 2; and John Healey, who is a building official, previously with CMHC and now Scotia Homes.
Our association is a non-profit society established in 1963 under the Societies Act. One of our association's objectives is to promote and encourage a high standard of inspection services in the profession of building inspection, and to ensure that the essential elements of public health, fire and life safety, structural sufficiency and accessibility are in keeping with the objectives of the Nova Scotia Building Code.
I have been employed with the Nova Scotia Building Officials Association for five and a half years as their executive officer, retiring in 1995 from the Province of Nova Scotia. When I worked with the province I was part of the Senior Management Team in the
Department of Municipal Affairs and had responsibilities under the Building Code Act and the Planning Act.
Part of my responsibilities under the Building Code Act required that I sit on a variety of provincial and territorial committees dealing with public health and safety issues. I sat on the Nova Scotia Disabled Persons Commission; I was a provincial representative on the Provincial Territorial Committee on Building Standards, which was a committee that provided policy advice to the Canadian Commission of Building and Fire Codes; I represented the department on the Nova Scotia Fire Prevention Advisory Council; and I did the executive secretary work for the Nova Scotia Building Advisory Committee, a committee that provided liaison with the National Research Council and heard appeals on fire and life safety matters, with respect to the design and construction of buildings.
My responsibility here today is to provide the committee with the concerns that our members have regarding the proposed Fire Safety Act. I want to make it clear to the committee that there is a need in this province to enact, for the first time in the province's history, the National Fire Code as the Nova Scotia Fire Code, and our association supports that. I also want to point out that none of my comments deal with the fighting of fires or the enabling provisions in this legislation for the volunteer firefighter, the volunteer fire service, the paid firefighter or the day-to-day operations of the firefighter in dealing with fires, investigating fires or provisions dealing with fire suppression, issues typically administered by the fire service.
Our concerns with this legislation pertain to the fire and life safety provisions, and the policy and administrative provisions dealing with fire and life safety as it relates to the Nova Scotia Building Code. The Nova Scotia Building Code is the National Building Code of Canada adopted in Nova Scotia under the Building Code Act.
We read with interest the Hansard of your first meeting held on September 6th and wondered how the committee is going to work through the first objective of your mandate, which is to review the proposed changes to the Fire Prevention Act as reflected in Bill No. 58 and the relevant reports of the Fire Prevention Advisory Council. In an earlier life I was a land use planner, and I often went into communities to write planning documents and bylaws or amendments to these documents for the province or the municipality. We spent a lot of time at the beginning of the process educating and enlightening these communities of their responsibilities in preparing these documents and what was required to do the task at hand, ensuring they understood the legislative environment and its limitations, the purpose of the laws they were creating, and to ensure that the document was reasonable, workable and enforceable in law.
A lot of what I am going to say today could be interpreted by this committee that our members have a grudge or a desire to be in control of this legislation. That is not the case at all. We are putting forward issues that should have been worked out before this legislation
was prepared. As a result, we have no choice but to bring these concerns forward to ensure that we end up with an effective piece of legislation on fire and life safety.
From reading the Hansard of September 6th, we are of the opinion that the select committee is not getting the information it needs to complete its mandate, and the author of the report is not providing the essential information. The questions you ask are not answered, and there is no distinction made between fire safety and fire operations. If you don't understand the purpose of the legislation, its historical context on why this legislation is with the committee, how can you fulfill this mandate? The Fire Prevention Advisory Council, in our opinion, did not get this information, and that is the reason why this legislation didn't proceed beyond first reading and why this committee was established.
You are reviewing proposed legislation that does not provide a clear, workable administrative framework under the Building Code and the Fire Code, for its administration and enforcement. There is existing provincial policy on fire and life safety, and that is in the Building Code Act. It is a piece of legislation that deals with fire and life safety and requires municipalities to administer and enforce it. I guess our bottom line is that if this legislation is enacted as drafted, there is going to be an unworkable fire and life safety system established with nothing but administrative problems ahead between two levels of government and their respective inspectors.
If the province is of the opinion that they want to be directly involved in the administration and enforcement of the Building Code, because the municipal level of government is not competent or capable of administering these fire and life safety provisions, then the province should eliminate the duplication and overlap that will exist under this legislation and hire the 200 building officials, and fire inspectors then do the job. Don't create a mess and confuse the public, building owners and developers. For the record, we don't support this and we will attempt to make some recommendations to the committee to ensure that a workable system of fire and life safety is put in place.
For the record, the Fire Prevention Advisory Council did not reach a consensus or have unanimous approval of this draft legislation, but it moved forward without it. We are here today because of that.
In an attempt to get a much broader discussion of the issues, our association has responded to all discussion papers and draft legislation; we have met with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, the red tape reduction task force, and Municipal Affairs, Health, and Community Services Departments; and we contacted all municipal units in the province last July, informing them of our concerns and requesting that they respond to the minister.
The red tape reduction task force, in its interim report of November 2000, indicates that it is willing to take a closer look at the issues we have raised because they see that there is a considerable amount of overlap and duplication between the two processes.
Our letters and reports to the Department of Labour get acknowledged, just as the Assistant Fire Chief with HRM said, but we don't get answers to the questions we raise. Other departments, indirectly affected by this legislation, appear to understand our concerns but there is no vehicle or committee established to deal with the issues related to these overlapping responsibilities. For example, fire marshal approval for fire and life safety provisions addressed in the Building Code is also required for licensing certain activities such as nursery schools, daycares, small options facilities and country inns, to name a few. Those are responsibilities under the Building Code Act and are also addressed by municipal inspectors at the time the building permit is taken out for those facilities.
When we approached the municipalities last July, we had about six of those municipalities respond under the short time frame that we had because we didn't get our letter out until July. I think the responses had to be back around August 15th. We had about six or seven of those municipalities respond with concerns that we were concerned about, with the overlapping responsibilities and duplication, and the downloading, of course, but that is not a concern that our association has. They wanted to see the regulations before the legislation was enacted in the House.
Before I go on to other issues, I am going to provide you with some of the background that our association believes you should have in order to make recommendations on this very important piece of legislation.
In 1987 the province enacted the Building Code Act, which requires municipalities to administer and enforce all of the fire and life safety provisions dealing with the construction, design and inspection of buildings. Prior to 1987, only 50 per cent of the municipalities in this province had adopted various versions of the Building Code. To deal with that reality, where there were so many versions of the Building Code Act, there were buildings that were designed without having any input under the Building Code.
The province in 1974, under the Fire Prevention Act, required that all plans for buildings larger than single-family dwellings be approved by the Office of the Fire Marshal for conformity to the National Building Code. Sprinkler regulations were adopted under the Fire Prevention Act because there were so many units in the province that did not adopt the code and those that did, there was no consistent standard in place.
When the province enacted the Building Code Act in 1987, it should have addressed these matters but we didn't at the time. We have kind of had an overlapping responsibility since 1987. We have dealt with that in a small way. The sprinkler regulations that were originally prescribed by the Office of the Fire Marshal have now been moved over to the
Building Code and are administered under the Building Code regulations by the municipalities of this province. That was done in 1993.
The plan approval process, to a large extent, has also been dealt with in the sense that there were five plan examiners in the province who examined all buildings. Since building officials are responsible for that activity as well, the fire marshal doesn't do all of those buildings. They do provincial buildings to a large extent and whatever plans are forwarded to them. They have one staff person, I believe, that does that activity on a full-time basis and that is because municipalities do that responsibility. That is the overlap. Building permits applied for at the municipal level, the building official has to review those plans for fire and life safety. The applicant is also forwarded to send the plans to the Office of the Fire Marshal for the same approval.
The Building Code is the blue document and the Fire Code is the red document. I can leave these with you if you need them, but I am sure you have them though. This document, the Building Code, deals with how the building is put together, structurally. It clearly deals with two-by-fours and the rise and run on stairs. However, its main purpose is to deal with fire and life safety issues in the design and construction of buildings.
Matters such as the following are dealt with in the Building Code: the installation of fire alarms, smoke alarms, fireplaces, fireplace inserts, insulated steel doors, fire test doors, windows and glass block assemblies; the installation of standpipes and hose systems for firefighting; the installation of fire doors and fire windows, chimneys, fireplace vents, solid fuel fire equipment; emergency and electrical power to the building; safety codes for elevators; boiler pressure valves; pressure valves; and pressure piping codes; the installation of oil-burning equipment; the installation of solid fuel burning appliances and equipment; and the sprinkler systems, just to name a few, are all addressed under the Building Code. All of those requirements have to be designed and reviewed by a building official and are inspected by the building official prior to the building being occupied.
Building and Fire Codes are compatible pieces of legislation. Mr. Cormier has addressed that and you will see that in your Handsard on Line 23. This document deals with the design and the construction of the building. This building maintains the standards that are in this document. For example, the exit light requirement is under the Building Code. The panic hardware on the door over there is in the Building Code. The Fire Code allows the fire inspector in the building to ensure that those assemblies are maintained.
As I said earlier, you probably think we have a grudge or something, and it has also been a concern of ours that there is a 'who's in charge' question. We believe, as building officials, that there is a 'who's in charge' question in this matter of fire and life safety. We believe that we are responsible for this book and the fire inspector is responsible for that book. The Building Code Act, which is a provincial document, requires municipalities to
administer and enforce it. We are hoping that this document gets enacted and requires fire inspectors to administer it and that they are municipal employees.
In order for fire safety to be successfully accomplished in the province, the Building Code Act and the proposed Fire Safety Act must address the policy question of which level of government is responsible for the administration and enforcement of those documents.
Different levels of government administering these documents will not work. There is such a relationship between the Building Code and the Fire Code in protecting public health and safety, that that issue is the foremost issue that must be addressed by this committee.
Nova Scotia is very unique in the country because we have 54 municipal units and there is no place in this province which is unincorporated, as is the case in a lot of other jurisdictions and territories in this province, which is why the province is involved in the day-to-day administration of this document outside of its own buildings. We don't have to have that situation here because we have no unregulated land. It is all turned over to municipalities and they are responsible for those areas.
I know at first blush it would appear that the Fire Safety Act is requiring municipalities to administer the Fire Code, but when you review the proposed legislation - and I am going to give you a bunch of clauses here - Clauses 7(a) and 7(b), 13(4)(a) and 13(7)(b), 18(1)(a) and 18(1)(b), 27(1)(e), and 51(l)(i), (ii), and (iii) - clearly show that the authority, direct or enabling, is in the hands of the province to amend and administer the Building Code and the Fire Code. Further, the language in Clause 27 allows the amendment to the National Fire Code by the province. This can create conflicting requirements by putting in place requirements that would normally be contained in the Building Code which, as already stated, include the requirements commonly accepted to make the building safe for the intended use and occupation.
Keep in mind that municipal building officials are in charge under the Building Code Act to issue building permits where there is accepted conformance with the Building Code. This part of the proposed legislation ignores the fact that there are established procedures to enact amendments to the Building Code which are in force in the province. In other words, the legislation opens a back door to enabling additional requirements that building owners would have to meet and they are not in the Building Code, they are in the Fire Code.
Admittedly, there are some situations, as the fire marshal has alluded to, where you may have an existing building that is not undergoing a renovation or a change in occupancy classification, where there is a good reason to be concerned that people may be in an unsafe condition. However, the Building Code Act and the Municipal Government Act both address unsafe conditions and allow municipal building inspectors and bylaw enforcement officers to enter and inspect these issues, issue orders and correct the unsafe condition.
These are examples where we feel the legislation is in conflict and is creating an overlap in duplication of the existing legislative authority. We agree that there is a need for fire inspectors; however, their role does not need to duplicate the existing authority already legislated by the Building Code Act and the Municipal Government Act. The roles and responsibilities of fire inspectors and deputy fire marshals ought to be limited to safe use of existing buildings. If they identify perceived Building Code infractions, these should be turned over to the appropriate authorities, the building inspectors, to ensure that the appropriate remedial action is taken.
It is the Building Code Act that establishes the procedures to adopt and amend the Building Code in force in the province. This process works well. The Building Code Act requires that any amendment to the code be thoroughly vetted by the Nova Scotia Building Advisory Committee - the fire marshal is a mandatory appointment to that committee - they are then taken to the public for comment before an amendment is adopted by the minister, into the Building Code, via the Building Code Act regulations.
This Act is enabling those amendments to be done just by regulations to amend this document.
With respect to the ability of building inspectors to do their jobs, I want to advise the committee that there are certified building officials in place in almost every municipal unit in the province. Other than the odd complaint about the day-to-day administration and the fact that applicants don't always like to apply for building permits, there have been no problems with the administration of that legislation in the past 14 years that I am aware of.
For your information, I am going to provide you with a copy of our National Occupational Standard for the Professional Building Official, a copy of our Professional Studies Program which outlines the activities for which building inspectors are required to go through in order to be certified, and a copy of our bylaws and constitution. Our Professional Studies Program outlines a whole variety of courses that are required, that building officials must take in order to deal with fire and life safety issues. There is also a mandatory maintenance requirement once you are certified, that you have to continue to take courses in order to maintain your certification. We don't want building inspectors responsible for fire and life safety without taking mandatory training to maintain that certification.
It is also important for the committee to have an appreciation of what the future holds in the administration and enforcement of fire and life safety provisions of the Building and Fire Codes. These existing codes are, for the most part, prescriptive codes, which means the requirements used to determine compliance are laid out in the text of the document and there is very little flexibility available to the inspector when someone is proposing something outside the norm.
In 2003, which is two years from now, the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes is publishing an objective-based Building Code and an objective-based Fire Code, as well as the prescriptive documents. Objective-based codes will enable building owners, through their professional engineers or architects, to propose alternatives to those requirements for consideration. They deal with fire and life safety issues.
If there is not a close working relationship between a building inspector and a fire inspector, the building inspector who enables a building to be built, meeting the objective of the new Building Codes - and that is not fully understood by the fire inspector - the fire inspector walks into the building and says, oh, gee, this doesn't meet the prescriptive requirement of that document. We have to create a change, so it is really important that both the fire inspectors and building inspectors are well versed and have a good working relationship in order to appreciate what is going to go on in the next years, because of the change in these documents.
That is why, in our opinion, it is imperative that these documents are administered at the municipal level of government with the province having a leadership role to support municipal inspectors in doing a competent job. This is the relationship between the province, who enacted the Building Code, and municipalities, who administer and enforce the Building Code; that relationship is there, and that is a provincial policy, in our opinion, on fire and life safety. We think it should be consistent.
You should also be aware that the Fire Code is proposed to be amended around the same time that the objective base codes are published. The building feature provisions contained in this document are to be removed and put into the Building Code. There are provisions in the Building Code that deal with the maintenance of the building, and they are to be transferred into the Fire Code, so that it is clear. Even though the documents will remain compatible, this is going to be the document that is going to be fully responsible for the design and construction of the building, this is going to be the document that is going to be used to maintain those buildings. That is supposed to happen around 2003, with the next rounds of Building Codes and Fire Codes.
One of the arguments against having municipalities responsible for the administration and enforcement of Fire Codes is that the province requires control over its own buildings. This has been achieved with respect to the Building Code Act as the province, as a matter of policy adopted by Cabinet, does not apply for municipal building permits, and the fire and life safety requirements of the Building Code are addressed by the province. If this policy, under the Building Code Act, can exist under the proposed Fire Safety Act, we have a very workable system. We have municipal building officials and municipal fire inspectors working at the municipal level, dealing with all buildings in their municipality, and the province working under the Building Code Act and the Fire Code Act for the buildings that it has control over.
If that is the way this is to be set up, and we think that is the way it is to be set up but it is unclear to us because we can't get detailed answers to our questions, we don't have much of a problem here. Because we don't get answers to our problems, we think we have a real problem. There are so many enabling provisions in that legislation to amend the Building Code without notice to the public, which is required under the Building Code Act, additional requirements for sprinklers, way above and beyond any other standard in the country. We just don't think that should happen without it being enforced under the Building Code Act, because that is what that Act is intended to deal with.
The most difficult part in delivering this presentation, when you want to convey so much background and information in such a short period of time, as you try not to lose your audience while delivering details on this very dry and complex material, is hoping to remain objective and supportive of the adoption of a Fire Code for the province in a process which has to date ignored the basic policy issues and questions with who is responsible for the administration of those documents.
We have done this believing that the issues we raise and the questions we pose are in the best interests of the legislation. We hope we have not appeared negative, because we do support the fabulous role which the fire service does for our communities, but the administration and enforcement of the Building Code is the role and responsibility of the building inspector under the Building Code Act and it is not the responsibility of the fire service. Adopting the Fire Code which is a companion document to the Building Code is necessary to maintain the fire and life safety standards for all buildings, that is enacted in that document.
In summary, I am just going to give you a couple of pages here. Again, prior to the adoption of the Building Code Act, the Office of the Fire Marshal administered the Building Code, approving plans and administering sprinkler regulations. The Building Code Act was enacted in 1987, requiring all fire and life safety provisions under the Building Code Act be administered by municipal building inspectors, notwithstanding provincial properties. An alignment of those responsibilities should have been reviewed in 1987, and they are being entrenched in this legislation with no real justification.
We have some questions:
Is it the purpose of this legislation to adopt the Fire Code and to require municipalities to administer and enforce it?
Does the province want to administer and enforce the Building Code and the Fire Code with respect to provincial properties?
Why is it necessary for the Office of the Fire Marshal to become involved in the day-to-day administration of the Building Code?
When an order is issued under the Fire Code, that deals with a Building Code matter, why should the appeal be enabled to be heard by two advisory committees, i.e. the Fire Prevention Advisory Council and the Nova Scotia Building Advisory Council, as the Nova Scotia Building Advisory Council is already mandated to hear appeals with respect to Building Code matters?
Why do private facilities, such as nursery schools, daycares, homes for special care, nursing homes, bars, restaurants, nightclubs, colleges, et cetera, which require a municipal building permit and the licence from the provincial department to operate for the approval for fire and life safety, have to be reviewed by the Office of the Fire Marshal?
We have some recommendations. A policy regarding the adoption and administration and enforcement of the Building Code and the proposed Fire Safety Act must be decided and then the other details, which complement this policy, can be established in these pieces of legislation.
Where the Building Code Act deals with the front end of fire and life safety, and where it is enacted by the province, requiring municipal administration and enforcement, and where it would appear that the proposed Fire Safety Act was drafted, requiring municipalities to administer and enforce the Fire Code, notwithstanding the identified areas of duplication and overlapping responsibilities, therefore it would appear to us that there is an identified provincial policy regarding the administration and enforcement of the Fire Code, which implies that municipalities should be responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Building Code and the Fire Code, subject to the province being responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Building Code for its own properties.
Our recommendations have been formulated in response to that implied policy framework. Those recommendations are:
1. Enact the Fire Safety Act adopting the Fire Code as the Nova Scotia Fire Code, requiring municipalities to administer and enforce it.
2. Remove all references to the Building Code and the Building Code Act from the proposed Fire Safety Act. The provisions in the Fire Safety Act are not necessary to administer the Fire Code, because when you adopt the Fire Code you bring this with it because it is a companion document to the Building Code, and vice versa. It gets you into the Building Code for the day-to-day administration.
3. The Fire Safety Act should not enable the Office of the Fire Marshal to amend the Building Code regulations or establish regulations on which plans must be submitted to the fire marshal for review. If it is the intent of Clauses 18(1) and (2) and 51(l) to regulate only provincial properties, it should be clear and state that.
4. There should be a provision in the Fire Safety Act which requires a fire inspector, who issues orders that require buildings to be renovated or changed, to comply with a provision of the Fire/Building Code that involves new construction or the installation of fire equipment regulated under the Building Code that the administration and enforcement of that order is regulated under the Building Code Act with input from the fire inspector.
Those are our four recommendations. I thank you for your patience.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacKinnon.
MR. MACKINNON: I thank Mr. Leedham for his comments. There is some rather substantive material in your presentation, I will certainly take it under advisement. One thought went through my head as I listened to you make your presentation, the turf war comes up in my mind. I think the biggest losers on this are the people of Nova Scotia. I may be wrong, but I am reading it as a turf war between two government departments and, by extension, perhaps down to other agencies, the municipal building inspectors or whatever. That is my perception of it, right or wrong.
In the municipality where I live, I recall when I first started land surveying back in 1978, the cost of a building permit was $5.00, today it is approximately $350. The cost of a subdivision plan was $15 and now it is $200 plus the HST. The cost of getting a lawyer to make up a deed was $35, now it is over $100, maybe $125, depending on the lawyer, whether he or she has their Q.C. or not. Then, to register that, it was approximately $10 plus 10 cents or 20 cents for every page, now it is $70 plus $1.00 for every page. How much more are the people of Nova Scotia going to have to pay for these turf wars because government departments are not getting out of the box? When are they going to start working together?
The first thing that went through my head, as well, is the very same minister who introduced this particular piece of legislation, is now the minister responsible for the Building Code that you are referring to. If he was happy enough with it in one department, why wouldn't he be happy enough with it in another department? Are things that fragmented that the people of Nova Scotia will continue to suffer?
Maybe it is more of a frustration from a policy-making point of view. I know you have worked quite extensively in Public Service, the provincial government. It seems to me, the question comes to my mind, who is really the loser? Whose interests are being served? I raise that generally, and I think you can appreciate my frustration.
MR. LEEDHAM: I don't really know how to respond to the issues of the costs for the permits, the pages, the recording of deeds and so on, because those are things that continue to go up and change in time. I think one of the concerns that I observe is, why was
a minister in one department who was also responsible for the Building Code Act not aware of this conflict? I think most people don't realize that the Building Code Act deals with fire and life safety matters. I think they believe it is responsible for the design and construction of single-family homes, and that there are provisions in it that deal with accessibility to get disabled people into buildings.
I don't think they appreciate the fact that all fire and life safety provisions are contained in that document, they don't see that, they continue to believe that they are addressed under the Fire Code by fire people. Typically they are issues that are required to be designed into buildings and maintained in those buildings under the Fire Code. I think there is just a lack of appreciation of the scope of the Building Code.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, I will ask one more question and then I will rest, because it is becoming very self-evident that we have two government departments, civil servants, professionals, high-level professionals, that can't get their act together. That bothers me. (Interruptions) Wait now, I am not finished. Politicians take advice from these senior civil servants, experts, and you can't be second-guessing your experts. Having served in Cabinet, I know you can't be second-guessing your experts every time you turn around. You have identified yourself as a senior civil servant.
You are saying that for years, you and another government department could never see eye to eye. What you are saying here is an administration, or the fact that two different personalities can't develop a meeting of the minds. Only one of two things can happen, either they get their act together, or you clean the slate and get a body that can, whether that be political or civil servant or a combination of both. To me that seems to be the resolve to what is happening here.
MR. LEEDHAM: I guess my response to that is I haven't been in government for six years, and I am not going to say that if I was in government that this legislation would be better but I would hope it would have been. It really bothered me to have to come here tonight, it would have even bothered me to have had to go to the Law Amendments Committee to raise this. As I said, we are not trying to raise these from a turf war, we are trying to raise them to ensure that we end up with the best piece of fire and life safety, so that the people of Nova Scotia know where to go for that and get well served.
We had a Fire Prevention Act in the province long before we had a Building Code Act in this province. We have only had a Building Code Act in this province for 14 years. When we brought the Building Code Act in, I had nothing to do with buildings or Building Codes. Subsequent to that I have had an awful lot to do with it because governments get downsized and you get that responsibility. Then I was employed on a part-time basis with this association. I appreciate what these guys do in order to protect public health and safety.
I think all we are trying to do is to ensure that we have a workable piece of legislation. I don't think we are really far off, I think there are just so many enabling provisions in this legislation that deal with the Building Code that aren't necessary. If they are necessary and someone can prove to me that they are necessary, hey, case closed, we don't have any concerns. As we see it, we don't think they are necessary because we have a provincial Building Code in place in this province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Holm.
MR. HOLM: A few, hopefully, short snappers. First of all, have you seen the regulations, the draft regulations?
MR. LEEDHAM: No, we haven't.
MR. HOLM: Have you asked for those?
MR. LEEDHAM: Yes.
MR. HOLM: I don't know if they will address any of the issues or not, they may or may not. Secondly, am I correct in that you think that, obviously, the building inspection should be done by municipal employees? Did I hear you saying that?
MR. LEEDHAM: Yes.
MR. HOLM: Do you think that the fire inspections, except on provincial buildings, should also be done by those same building inspectors?
MR. LEEDHAM: No. You are not hearing me say that building inspectors should be responsible for fire inspection. What you are hearing me say is that fire inspection, as with building inspection, should be a municipal responsibility. If the municipality wanted to appoint the fire inspector as the building official, with the appropriate training, they could cross-train and do that job, the same as a building inspector may be able to do fire inspection. I don't see how they could do that, because there is such a volume of work here that it could be quite impossible.
MR. HOLM: I guess that really comes to another point, in terms of the volume of work and in terms of the building inspections. I know that most building inspectors that I have come across are pretty well run off their feet as it is, and to assume that additional responsibility without significant additional staff strikes me, in most areas, as a virtually impossible task. Is one of your concerns, however, that the Fire Marshal's Office could sort of override what a building inspector might or might not determine needs to be done?
MR. LEEDHAM: No, because typically they are not involved in the day-to-day administration, they are involved in the building after it is built. There are provisions in this legislation which would enable additional requirements under the Fire Safety Act for the building inspector to administer, as we read it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. The next presenter is Gerard Donahue. (Interruption) Certainly, we are here and we would like to hear from you. I see our MLA from an adjoining constituency, Barry Barnet. I don't know, Barry, if you would like to join us.
MR. GERARD DONAHUE: My name is Gerard Donahue. I am a certified building inspector and I am presently employed with Halifax Regional Municipality. Part of my duties as a building inspector is to review plans for Building Code compliance when a building permit is applied for. The review can range from a deck on a single-family dwelling, to a multi-million dollar hospital or nursing home and everything in between. My responsibilities in plan review cover a whole gamut of fire and life safety provisions, to ensure that all major building components are examined, to determine compliance with the Building Code.
My review addresses the following Building Code requirements: building classification, or how the building is going to be occupied; building size, both area and building height; access routes for firefighting, including streets, hydrants, hose connections, firefighters' elevators, smoke controls and exits; and voice communications systems. I determine whether the building falls within the scope of Part 9, which is traditionally smaller buildings, or within Part 3, which is the larger buildings.
I determine the type of construction, whether it be combustible or non-combustible construction. I determine if a sprinkler system is required, and also the type of sprinkler system that is required. I deal with occupant loads of buildings, to determine exit widths, whether it be corridors or stairs, or doorways. I determine the requirements for fire alarm systems and panic hardware and doors. That is all related to occupant load.
With the fire alarm system, I deal with the type of fire alarm system, and also whether it has to be monitored or not. I deal with standpipe systems in buildings for firefighting purposes. I deal with fire separations in buildings, including structural separations, suite separations, public order separations, exit separations, elevator shafts, service rooms, and vertical and horizontal service bases.
I deal with fire protection of adjacent properties. I deal with exiting facilities for these buildings. I deal with exiting and emergency lighting. I deal with type, size and location of fire extinguishers. I deal with fire pumps and back-up diesel generators. These diesel generators can boost the sprinkler or standpipe system, or they can be used for emergency power in the building. I deal with all types of heating appliances, including solid fuel, oil, propane and
natural gas. I deal with exhaust systems for appliances producing grease-laden vapours in restaurants. I deal with fire stopping of all mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
Besides all that, the Building Code regulations have identified 36 alternate compliance methods that can be used instead of the Building Code for heritage buildings and buildings that existed prior to March 13, 1987 that were undergoing renovations where there was no change of views, or the occupancy had a reduced risk. So when I read the proposed Fire Safety Act, in particular Clauses 13(4) and 51, I feel that it takes my ability to do my job away from me and it also possibly increases the municipality's liability when changes to a building that were done under a permit have been ordered to be changed. So it puts the municipality at risk.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any questions?
MR. STEELE: I take it that you agree with everything Jack said before you.
MR. DONAHUE: Yes, pretty much.
MR. STEELE: Okay. Thanks very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Our next presenter is Dave Barrett.
MR. DAVID BARRETT: Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen, first I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak here. I have a long background in the fire service, including my father. In fact, my father had a petition around Beaver Bank to have a fire department here in Beaver Bank and Sackville. That was the time when the citizens had a say on how the municipality spent their money. I had to have a plebiscite. I was a volunteer for 10 years and I have been active in the community and concerned about the fire thing ever since.
There was one thing that Elizabeth Publicover brought up, the thing on forestry. There is a saying in the forest industry. These parks and protected areas are parks and neglected areas because they are just planning on letting the timber fall down making a fire hazard. I would just pass something along to you. When the government made the Occupational Health and Safety Act, no way did they think they would be sued for the highways being unsafe. So I think somewhere along the way, you should make sure that you don't back yourself into a corner.
Fire is a motherhood issue. Like here in Sackville and Beaver Bank, we have had a cadillac fire department, as you see. We have the fire marshal; a lot of the people from our fire department have moved up the ladder and have done a 100 per cent service, we think.
Back in the 1970's, when we were expanding so fast and didn't have enough funds, I think we had maybe one or two deaths in the fires. But we had one of the highest suicide rates for young people. The thing was that all the money basically, at that time, went to the fire department and there wasn't money to fund the others. So somewhere in your thinking, it has to be balanced because when you are dealing with motherhood - I mean, if I was a fire chief or the fire marshal, or something, I would be focused on the one thing. There are only so many funds, so you have to have a balance.
The thing is, I am in small business and on this one where it says the fire marshal may, I agree with that very strongly - the backbone of rural communities is small business. I was on a planning committee in Sackville in the mid-1980's. One chap said, how many businesses in Sackville would be able to even get off the ground if they had all these rules when they started? The same thing goes on the fire protection.
The one thing that comes to mind, I heard a speech from the President of Oxford Frozen Foods. For 10 years he made most of his capital expenditures in Maine because he couldn't make a freezer plant in Oxford because of the sprinkler system, where the Town of Oxford didn't have enough water to feed it. There was very low rest, from what he told us, on big freezer motors, and the rest.
So somewhere along the way, there has to be - if some industry wants to go to rural Nova Scotia where we really need them - and I don't want to take it away. Things change and, I mean, HRM is expanding so much and the same rules for HRM. I mean, you have to have it. You are getting people jammed in tighter and tighter. But when you have rural Nova Scotia, there should be some balance in it.
I have had experience with fire, to my regret. I was burnt out on Christmas Eve, in 1992. I phoned the fire department and I had a fireman at my door in less than five minutes. He happened to be visiting his girlfriend who was next door. (Laughter) But the volunteer fire department, to me - I mean, with all due respect to you politicians, I think this country would fall apart if we didn't have the volunteers. I mean, they just see a need and they fill it. They don't ask for money. They don't do that.
I was very - what would you you say?- upset, I guess, is the word, when I found out last year that volunteer firemen were instructed by their union not to volunteer. I think part of this law should be the right to volunteer. I think that it is just as much of a need to have that. There should be no one - I mean, if someone was - especially in the rural areas of Halifax County and what I understand is, whether they are professional firemen in the city, with all the training - living out in the rural area, they are basically saying we have to deny giving a service and that is wrong. So I think that part of your system should have the right to volunteer.
Another thing on the volunteers is that we don't appreciate the volunteer firemen enough. I know we do but you jump at 2:00 a.m., in the middle of winter, into a cold car, and you go immediately to a fire. Now, you know what that does to a motor. You can just cook a motor pretty quick. Yet, the government in power decided to tax the honorarium that the fire department is doing. I just think that no matter what honorarium we give them, there are expenses that they are putting into the services they are giving to us. Well, as a lot of them would say, if I was paid, I wouldn't do it.
Anyway, I haven't had a chance to read this whole bill, but somewhere along the way I think it is just as important that you make the right to volunteer, and somehow or another to appreciate them the way they should be.
I want to thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. John.
MR. HOLM: It is not really a question, Dave, but I just can't let it go by without saying that, yes, indeed, this community has been extremely well served by the volunteers; not only in the fire service but, as you well know, with the community's activities. If it wasn't for the volunteers, so much of what we have within this community wouldn't exist because it was done through volunteer efforts in the actual planning, the fundraising, often the construction, and the purchase of much of the equipment that we have within our fire department. For so many years, the majority of the force was volunteers and they worked extremely well with the paid members.
I just want to say that I think that at least the majority of people in the community may not necessarily always understand who is and isn't a volunteer, and regrettably, the numbers of volunteers have decreased over the last few years. I won't get into some of the reasons for that. But I think that the community recognizes that we have had, within the greater Sackville, Sackville-Beaver Bank area, a pretty good bunch of dedicated men and women, whose families have made tremendous sacrifice as well; not only the volunteers, the family makes them as well.
If I could say, I think that Barry would agree with those comments, that we know that we have been well served by the men and women of both the professional and volunteer fire services for many years. We look forward to that again in the future.
MR. BARRETT: Just one comment. When we had our fire on Christmas Eve, from 10:20 p.m. to 3:00 a.m., there were 30 volunteers that worked their heart out to save our home. I thank them. I will never forget it. Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Do we have any other presenters? (Interruption) Certainly.
MR. LAURIE WALKER: Mr. Chairman, my name is Laurie Walker. I work for Atlantic Alarm & Sound. Basically, what we are going to get involved with is fire alarm service. At the present time, the legislation of the province is that any electrician, anybody who has electrical experience, is qualified to work on fire alarm systems. It is even getting to the stage now where the systems are being bought through distributors. They are being installed. Electricians are installing them and they are verifying them.
Prior to this, verification was something that the engineer called for when the building was constructed. He would call for the manufacturer of the product, the fire alarm system, to do the verification, to make sure that the system was installed as per the manufacturer's recommendations. The people doing the work were trained by the manufacturer. However, this now can be done by anybody. Again, I reiterate, the service can be done by just about anybody.
We would like the committee to look at the possibility of accepting a standard for fire alarm inspections for service technicians who work on fire alarm systems. The systems today are not like they were years ago. They are computer-based, multiplex, addressable systems and we don't feel it is being done in the proper manner. That is primarily all I have to say.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any questions from the members?
MR. STEELE: I have a question. It is probably best directed to the fire marshal, if you don't mind coming back up to the front. It is an interesting question that is raised here. I am just wondering whether the Fire Prevention Advisory Council has considered this issue.
MR. CORMIER: Yes, this is a growing problem right across Canada. Probably the most severe place, in our consideration, is apartment buildings, where there is a requirement for 75 db - decibels - at the head board when the room is occupied. If you can't reach that through the wall alarm, then there has to be a piezo or an alarm put within the unit. On a 200-unit apartment building, not putting those into those apartments saves a tremendous amount of money. We don't have the decibel readings. We don't go around and do that. We need the verification agencies to do that for us.
It is part of the regulations which you will see when you get back. Those were released to everybody back in - I believe the date I ran off today was September 2000 that they were mailed out. They are on your desk, when you get back to the committee room. Part of that is a requirement that people carrying out service work or installation of fire protection equipment - whether it be sprinklers or fire alarm systems - must meet a standard.
Our problem is we will have to have a time period to allow people to reach that standard, especially in the sprinkler industry. They do have an excellent training program but we have not been overseers of the process in the proper manner. So that is in the proposed regulations.
MR. STEELE: Thank you.
MR. WALKER: Could I ask a question?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure.
MR. WALKER: What would be the standard for the person to work on fire alarm systems?
MR. CORMIER: That would have to be set by the industry. We would probably follow the Ontario standard. We are working very closely with UL out of the United States and ULC out of Toronto, to come to grips with the standard. We are also working with the community colleges to provide that training.
MR. WALKER: Excellent.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Kerry.
MR. MORASH: One question. So from a fire marshal's point of view, what would you take for verification of an alarm system that is being installed today? My signature, that it meets what it should meet, or . . .
MR. CORMIER: I dare say that the Building Code is a responsibility of the building inspectors. I have been very clear and very thorough with that from the first moment that I met with this committee. The Building Code does state that the initial verification and the annual testing must be done to the manufacturers' standard and must be done by the company that is the manufacturer of that, or the supplier of it. It is a ULC standard. There is a specific standard for carrying that out.
MR. MORASH: So if I buy a system from this gentleman, then I must have him do the annual inspection in order for it to be . . .
MR. CORMIER: What I have been told by the industry is that one of the problems is that if they don't allow some of the weaknesses in the system, when an individual buys from me, if I go in and I verify it and I say, this doesn't meet, and you've got to put all those piezos in, the next order will not go to that company, it will go to another company. So what we have is a race to the bottom. We have to get a grip on that.
One of the ways of doing it, as we have done with some of our others, is to have control on the tradespersons who are doing this work so that we bring the quality of the trade work up and the requirements for the activity. This has been successful in Ontario and they had tremendous problems with their fire alarm industry there.
MR. MORASH: Do we have the same problem with sprinkler systems currently, or do we have . . .
MR. CORMIER: At the present time there are no requirements outside of pipefitters' requirements. There is an individual from the sprinkler manufacturers here who could probably answer that question best. They do have good training programs, but there is nothing to say that that person going in to install that sprinkler system has to be licensed in the Province of Nova Scotia to do so.
MR. MORASH: So anyone can go in and install a sprinkler system in the Province of Nova Scotia currently?
MR. CORMIER: Basically, under legislation, yes. There is no trade requirement.
MR. DONAHUE: Under the Building Code Act regulations, there is a sprinkler engineer who certifies that system and we get the certification at the end of the job, as well as an electrical engineer certifies the electrical work and the fire alarm system in these buildings, when there is a permit involved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other questions? Thank you very much.
Are there any other presenters? John, as the host, I would ask you to conclude our meeting.
MR. HOLM: Thank you very much and certainly on behalf of all the committee members, I extend a very big appreciation that everybody came out. I am not going to attempt to try to summarize what everybody said. Fortunately, we have Hansard here, who is recording what has been said so we will have a verbatim transcript of all the ideas, concerns and issues that have been brought forward. So again I want to thank you all for coming. I am not a regular member of this committee but this has been - and it is not a surprise because, of course, this is Sackville - the largest meeting that has been held to date. Thank you all very much for coming.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much for coming.
We are adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 9:02 p.m.]