MR. CHAIRMAN: Good evening. My name is Jon Carey. I am the MLA for Kings West and the chairman of this committee. We are still waiting for a couple of members who are on their way but we would like to get underway and certainly encourage all, even if you haven't a prepared, written presentation, if you have anything that you would like to say, take this opportunity to come forward and give the information so that we, as an all-Party committee can gather the information and take it back and try to get the results that you would like to see. So perhaps we could start with Kerry with introductions.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have a couple of members who have told me they would be here, so when they come they can introduce themselves at that time.
The meetings that we have had in the last couple of weeks, we have taken a moment of time just to recognize the sacrifice of the 300 firefighters in New York who lost their lives and also to recognize that in Nova Scotia the sacrifice of the fire service and that there have been members lost here as well, certainly not in those numbers. So I would ask at this time we just take a moment of silence.
[One minute of silence was observed.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.
Welcome to this meeting of the Select Committee on Fire Safety. The select committee is an all-Party committee. We have been charged with the responsibility of making recommendations to the House of Assembly on a new law for fire safety.
We are reviewing proposed changes to the Fire Prevention Act which are contained in Bill No. 58. Bill No. 58 was introduced in the House of Assembly in June 2000. Now the government wants to widen its base of comments from the public and complete the legislation. We are also meeting with Nova Scotians. We would like to hear from the public, as well as people who will be directly affected by the new law, such as insurance companies, and other businesses, municipalities and the fire service. We are meeting in nine communities across the province and this is our seventh 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 things 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 who fight fires, companies and individuals who own land, insurers, municipalities and provincial government officials like the fire marshal. The bill also sets up an advisory council to advise the Minister of Environment and Labour on matters related to fire safety.
Bulleted items on Bill No. 58 are - these are not all, but many of them:
- written with the intention that it would completely replace the Fire Prevention Act that is now in effect in Nova Scotia
- 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, the Fire Marshal's Office and the municipalities
- assigns responsibilities to people or organizations that own land or businesses. These people have certain responsibilities for preventing fires and for reporting fires that do take place. Insurance companies also have responsibilities assigned by the law
- forbids certain activities. For example, if this bill becomes law, it would be against the law to give false information to a fire official investigating a fire or to tamper with a device that would help people escape a burning building
- discusses what regulations the government can write to further protect Nova Scotians from fire and to reduce the harm of fire
- establishes a fire safety advisory council to advise the Minister of Environment and Labour on matters of fire safety.
Tonight we have three people who have given their names for presenting. If anyone else would like to, if you would give your name to Kim at the back so that we can have a record of the presenter. When you do your presentation, if you would come to one of the microphones at the front, giving your name and position so that Hansard will have a record of who we have here tonight.
The first presenter, I am not sure if he is here yet or not, but we had Craig Rafuse.
MR. CRAIG RAFUSE: Good evening. Craig Rafuse, I am the Chairman of the Fire Commission District No. 4 Chester Basin. I don't have too much to say in terms of a written submission. I am making a presentation in support of the bill. Being involved with the fire service and having listened to the fire advisory and the officers in the Province of Nova Scotia, they have supported changes. In reading the Act, it is somewhat old and antiquated and it is time that these Acts were revised.
It is known that all changes do not support everybody but one of the most important changes that I feel is necessary is the change to put the fire inspection in the hands of the municipality at the local level, rather than have such responsible positions being either overlooked, reduced by government services or asked by volunteers in the fire service. I have seen changes in the municipalities take place affecting what I feel were not such important items such as a fire inspection Act would in fact possibly reduce losses in lives.
Again, I can only say that I support these changes. I am sure out of legislation there will be changes forthcoming down the road but it is time these changes were made. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Would any member have any questions of Mr. Rafuse before he leaves us? (Laughter)
Mr. Rafuse, if you don't mind answering a few questions, some of the members wouldn't mind asking, if you don't have a problem with that. If you would just come back up so we have a record of it, please.
MR. DONALD DOWNE: Thank you, Craig. One thing about us in Lunenburg County, we are short and to the point. One of the issues that you mentioned here, that it is about time that the Act is updated and the changes that are being made and you support the principles of the bill and more of the power back into the hands of the municipalities, is that what I understood in regard to the bill? The question I have is, when that happens, should there be fiscal responsibility of the municipality or the town, or should it be cost-shared with the provincial government with regard to the costs associated with the different applications and training and things of that nature that will be associated with that?
MR. RAFUSE: That cost would have to be cost-shared, yes.
MR. DOWNE: Currently, you think it should be a cost of the municipality/town and the province on an equal basis, 50/50 basis?
MR. RAFUSE: Yes, I could support that 50/50, being a taxpayer and being a provincial taxpayer as well. Yes, I would support that.
MR. DOWNE: Or do you think it should be just all provincial?
MR. RAFUSE: No, I would say 50/50.
MR. DOWNE: All right, thanks very much.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: I have a question as well. I have a question very much along the same lines. One of the issues that has come up as we travelled around the province is cost. Some of the changes contemplated by this new piece of legislation are going to cost money and the question is, who is going to pay for them? I guess my question, very similar to what Don was just asking is, do you believe that this new legislation, if passed, will cost your district extra money and particularly your fire department? If so, do you have any estimate about how much that will be?
MR. RAFUSE: The cost to the fire department, I see it as possibly a cost saving for the fire department. As a taxpayer I see it as a cost that I am prepared, as a taxpayer, to accept.
MR. STEELE: Which level of government do you see this bill imposing costs on? The municipality . . .
MR. RAFUSE: Historically, I see everything usually passed down from the province to the municipalities, but I would like to think that it could be started off at least as a 50/50 cost-sharing arrangement.
MR. STEELE: Do you have any idea at all, any estimate at all about what extra costs will be imposed on your municipality by this legislation?
MR. RAFUSE: No, I can't comment on that.
MR. STEELE: Okay, thanks.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Kerry.
MR. KERRY MORASH: This might be something that we might need the fire marshal to help out with. Since we have been going around the province, it has come up on several occasions with regard to the fire inspectors that the new bill is requiring and requesting. In some cases we have had some discussion and some definition of what was included in the old Act. My understanding is it is the same from a fire inspection point of view or fire inspector point of view that there isn't a change from what exists today to what is proposed in Bill No. 58. Maybe Mr. Cormier could come up and help me out on that.
MR. BOB CORMIER: The 1976 Act stated that every municipality shall provide for a system of fire inspections and may, in addition to the fire chief, hire a fire inspector for that purpose. A number of municipalities never bothered doing either one. The requirements under the 1976 Act were four times a year for inspections of all assemblies, orphanages and other such structures. Under our proposed bill, the requirement is still the same, only it is very explicit that the municipality is responsible for the fire inspections and cannot be perceived as being a responsibility of the volunteer fire service. In areas where the fire department already provides those inspections, that is merely an appointment by the council to the fire chief of those responsibilities.
At the request of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, the number of inspections were decreased to an annual basis and if you have received the very early draft of the regulations, you will note in there with many of them, some of those inspections are now in a five year or a three year basis, depending on the size and risk associated with the activity.
MR. MORASH: Maybe another question, if I could. So we do have municipalities that have fire inspectors now. Are they doing that to fulfill their obligation under the existing Act?
MR. CORMIER: Yes, they are. We have inspectors in Lunenburg, Mahone Bay, Lunenburg County, Bridgewater, Yarmouth, Truro, part-time in Wolfville, part-time in New Glasgow. They have just hired two fire inspectors in Cape Breton County.
MR. MORASH: What additional costs can those areas expect if this new bill becomes a law?
MR. CORMIER: That depends on the salary scales that they set but our rough estimate would be wages plus benefits plus training costs would work out to approximately $40,000 to $42,000 per year. Again, depending on salary levels, because salary levels vary from the Halifax Regional Municipality to the smaller regions.
MR. MORASH: Okay, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Our next presenter is John Craig.
MR. JOHN CRAIG: Good evening, gentlemen. My name is John Craig. I am the President of the Fire Officers Association of Nova Scotia. I have been a volunteer firefighter for 27 years; three years with Milford, six years with Sackville and 18 years with Chester Basin. I have also been a paid firefighter for the last 23 years with Sackville and now, since amalgamation, the Halifax Regional Municipality. I have held a number of officer positions with Chester Basin Volunteer Fire Department. Among others, five years as a chief and the last two as a training officer.
The Fire Officers Association of Nova Scotia had their annual meeting on September 30, 2001. At that meeting, a motion was made and passed that I was to make this presentation supporting Bill No. 58, An Act to Promote and Encourage Fire Safety, in its present form and to request that Bill No. 58 be introduced in the fall sitting of the Legislature and be passed as quickly as possible.
I attended the meeting in Sackville last Thursday and have some comments on some of the presentations. I consider all firefighters as professional. Some are paid, some are volunteer. As I stated, I have been both a paid and volunteer firefighter for the last 23 years. On the paid side, I have been a union vice-president for six years and a secretary for four years. At no time in my 23 years have I been asked by the union or any union representative to stop being a volunteer firefighter.
Regarding the presentation made by the building inspectors, they had ample opportunity, when this bill was being prepared to voice their concerns and were apparently unsuccessful in convincing the members of the Fire Prevention Advisory Council to change their minds as the present Bill No. 58 was passed by the majority of the members. They are correct in saying it was not unanimous but you, as politicians, know very little is ever passed unanimously. If the government was forced to wait for a bill to be passed unanimously, the province would be in a lot of trouble. As for the legal wording in the bill, it has gone before the province's lawyers to be written as Bill No. 58 and they did not see any obvious problems.
This presentation is to reinforce Past-President Greg Clark's comments from the September 6, 2000 meeting with the Select Committee on Fire Safety. In conclusion, I have heard many times from all three political Parties represented here tonight how great the volunteer fire service is and how we do such a valuable service to the communities in which
we serve. In return, at this time, all we are requesting is that this piece of proposed legislation, Bill No. 58, be passed into law as soon as possible as we have been waiting for approximately five years.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any questions for Mr. Craig?
MR. DOWNE: I just want to compliment you, John. I have seen you run before in bed races and now I see how good you are at giving public speeches. This is the first time, I should say to the members here - it is my own riding - I am filling in, actually, for Russell MacKinnon who is in Cape Breton tonight. So I normally have not been a part of this committee. I have been asked to sit in by the chairman and by the member opposite.
One question I have, John, with regard to getting this in and through as quickly as possible, I have heard comments with regard to the fiscal issues and whether or not at the end of the day the training that is required, upgrading and some of the costs associated with inspection and things of that nature, any comments with regard to the volunteer fire department's point of view, any additional costs associated to them? You can only sell so many breakfasts and dinners and suppers and there are only so many things you can do and they are all working hard to do that. We have fire tax and so on and so forth. These additional costs, where do you see the responsibility of those lying?
MR. CRAIG: As far as the volunteer fire service, I don't see additional costs. The inspectors have been - as the fire marshal mentioned, since 1976, they have supposedly been in effect. That should not be a cost. If the municipalities haven't been providing it, it is a cost but is it additional cost? No, it is a cost that they have gotten away for 25 years without paying so they should have that much money built up to make the payments now. (Laughter)
MR. DOWNE: Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Kerry.
MR. MORASH: With regard to training, as we travelled around, there was some misunderstanding with regard to - and the misunderstanding, I think, is mine - volunteer firemen and paid firemen and to the level of training they must reach. The NFPA standard was what was mentioned a couple of times and I guess just maybe you could clarify, do if volunteer fire departments need to train to the NFPA standard, as opposed to paid firemen who come under the Occupational Health and Safety Act?
MR. CRAIG: The NFPA 1500 is a guideline. It has not been passed by the province and we have been told it will not be, as far as the volunteers; the new one that is in draft form now will not be enacted into legislation, it is a guideline. You are to work to what you can achieve. There is going to be more training. It can be done locally by the fire department.
There is a lot more paperwork but as far as direct additional costs, the costs are not a huge burden on the department.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Graham.
MR. STEELE: John, thank you very much for coming out tonight. When we heard from Greg Clark on September 6th, I believe he was the president of your association at the time . . .
MR. CRAIG: Yes.
MR. STEELE: . . . and some time in the interim you have taken over?
MR. CRAIG: Yes, on September 30th at the annual meeting Greg stepped down and . . .
MR. STEELE: So you are in the second week of your presidency, so congratulations on that.
I am going to ask you some of the same things that we asked Greg when he appeared before us on September 6th because I am interested in your reaction. It is very clear to us that the Fire Officers Association is 100 per cent behind the proposed legislation that was introduced by the Conservative Government on June 6, 2000. You were 100 per cent behind it. In fact, when Greg appeared before us, he made it clear that he didn't understand very well why it has taken this long to bring it forward. His message to us was basically, what are you waiting for, why are we having another round of hearings?
MR. CRAIG: That was the consensus at the meeting on September 30th.
MR. STEELE: The question naturally comes up, why exactly is this legislation being delayed because it was introduced in the Legislature a year and a half or so ago and you said, well, what exactly is the delay? I want to run by you a couple of places that not exactly opposition is coming from but questions are coming from. The first one is one you have talked about already. That is that from municipalities, and I believe that just a little later we will be hearing from somebody from the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg. But other municipalities are saying this new legislation will definitely impose new costs. They are not opposed to the legislation but what they are saying to the province is, if you require us to do more stuff that costs money, you have to expect to kick in a little bit of money - maybe a little, maybe a lot, maybe all of it - because you can't expect to give municipalities responsibilities without a corresponding increase in the amount of money being transferred.
I guess my first question to you is simply, could you comment on that concern which may be one of the reasons why things are being delayed just a little bit?
MR. CRAIG: I think there could be additional costs to municipalities but I think that is something the UNSM and the government can work out themselves. I don't think the safety of the people of this province should be held up because the municipalities think they have a little extra cost and basically that is what it is doing. There are things under the old Act where the fire chief was the only one who was allowed to conduct certain parts of the investigation. He was not allowed to download that or to assign somebody else with that position. Under the new bill, it is the officer in charge who has that responsibility. So there are parts of it, as far as gathering information and evidence, there is more power under this new Bill No. 58 and you are talking people's lives. If the municipalities and the government can't get together and come up with some kind of funding formula that is going to protect the volunteers and the people in this province, then we are in trouble.
MR. STEELE: The second source of questioning - I won't even call it opposition - is the building officers, the building inspectors. They made it very clear during the presentation in Sackville, they are not opposed to the legislation but they have some serious questions about it. Their main concern, and I hope I am not simplifying it too much, is that the new legislation may cause confusion between the role of the fire inspector and the role of the building inspector. Their belief is that there is currently no confusion but the new bill might introduce confusion between the respective roles of the fire inspector and building inspector. What is your comment about that concern?
MR. CRAIG: I think Bob Cormier would give you a better answer. (Laughter)
MR. STEELE: I think you should run for office. (Laughter) The main source of concern about this bill is coming from the building inspectors, there is no doubt about it. Do you care to say anything else about your view on the concerns that they have raised?
MR. CRAIG: They brought concerns to the Fire Prevention Advisory Council when it met to draft up this bill. Apparently whatever concerns they had, they weren't able to convince those people when the bill was drafted that changes were needed and, as I said, it has to go by majority vote and it did and they lost out. Sooner or later, we can't wait for everyone in this province to agree that a bill is proper before it gets passed or we won't have any bills in this province.
MR. STEELE: To your knowledge, has there ever been a meeting between the Fire Officers Association and the Building Officers Association on these issues?
MR. CRAIG: Not to my knowledge in the last four years.
MR. STEELE: Do you think it would be of any help at all in helping to resolve some of their concerns if there was a face-to-face meeting of the two associations?
MR. CRAIG: Possibly, I don't know.
MR. STEELE: I will just leave that with you to consider because it certainly would be easier and helpful if the building officers were on board with this. Although I understand that a lot of what they have had to say is passed through the Fire Safety Advisory Council, and they did get what they wanted. It still concerns me, to say the least, that this association still has substantial concerns about this legislation and I just wonder if maybe some of them might not be able to be ironed out if there were a face-to-face meeting. Those are all my questions, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Two of our members have arrived who are part of our Select Committee on Fire Safety. Perhaps you could introduce yourselves.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Our next presenter is Gary Mailman.
MR. GARY MAILMAN: Good evening. Mine will be brief as well, but I would like to comment on a couple of the questions you have already asked, perhaps. I am making this presentation to show my support in having Bill No. 58, the proposed Fire Safety Act, passed in its current form and content without further undue delay.
The current Act is outdated and does not meet the present needs of the fire services and others in this province. I cite a couple of examples where the existing Act fails to address current conditions and needs. It does not permit local fire department personnel the powers to properly secure, investigate, and secure evidence at fire scenes. It does not allow the fire chiefs to delegate/transfer the investigation powers to another member of their department in the event of the fire chief not being available to attend a fire scene.
Proper site security has costs associated with it and as fire departments may not have the resources or finances to cover these costs. Fire scenes often are not adequately secured which results in lost evidence or public safety issues due to accessibility to the scene. Departments need a means of recouping costs associated with scene security. The proposed Act addresses these issues.
I have focused on just the above issues as a partial indicator of why there is a need for updated legislation. The need of further debate and discussion is long past. The review process was started in February 1996. The review board responsible for this process had a wide and diverse membership. The membership, in my opinion, offered adequate representation and input to address the concerns of parties impacted with the rewriting of the Act.
Several hundred discussion papers were distributed for feedback on the proposed changes. This feedback was reviewed and addressed. The final report was distributed in August 1997 and again allowed for feedback. The draft of legislation, I believe, was finalized in 1999 and went to a first reading of the House in 2000, after which all activity ceased until this present process was begun. Excuse me if I don't have the dates correct, it has been almost six years since the review process began. Too long.
There has been ample opportunity for all concerned to have their views known. The time for further debate is long past. The proposed Act is designed to allow for future changes to other Acts and requirements in a way which will not compromise public fire safety. It best represents the intent with which the original Act was implemented. It is now time to implement the revised Act. Thank you.
Now, you were making comments about costs associated. A lot of these costs with fire inspections and so on delegated them down to the local fire inspection down to the local fire chief. The majority of the departments in this province are volunteer. Those with the old Act of passing that down to us, who replaces our costs in providing those? It comes out of what tax base we have, our fundraising dollars. Nobody hands us out money. We will take all you want to put our way, but nobody has been doing that.
The municipalities and the province have been getting a lot of free service from the fire service with very little protection on our behalf. Oftentimes, as I cite here, with the site management after a fire scene, it is by bluff and bravado that we maintain security on a scene. We may be bluffing the homeowner, you can't go in there yet, it is not safe - that is all we are doing, bluffing the guy away - but we can't keep him out of that building. If he wants to go in there, who is going to stop him? Legally, we can't. We don't have the powers to do that. In these days, with litigation and everything else, we are treading on very loose soil, our footing is getting weaker all the time. The lawyers are reading these old Acts and saying, hey, you don't have that right. You misused my guilty client here so now he is going to get away scot-free. Give us some protection; this is what this bill does. Give us some rights that we should have, that a lot of people think we do have but we don't.
There are going to be costs incurred. There is nothing we do these days that doesn't have costs. The province and the municipalities, you guys fight that out, those issues. You will banter them back and forth. You have been doing it for the last few years and you are not through yet. This is just another part of that process.
The fire service in this province needs legislation that gives them a leg to stand on. We don't have it now. It is time to get this in place. My views.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Don.
MR. DOWNE: Thank you. I just want to first say, Gary, that was an excellent presentation. It is nice to have it typed up, excellent points you have made. I guess the bottom line here you are saying, it is time to fish or cut bait. We need the legislation, we need the bill through. It is a good piece of legislation. It has been good for quite a number of years. It has been dealt with so many times. I remember all too well in 1996, in 1997, in 1998 and in 1999, but the bottom line here is don't get hung up between the municipality and the province on the issue of safety for the men and women in the fire departments and the men, women and children in our communities. It is really between the province and the municipality to hammer out how they are going to pay for that part of it. On behalf of the firefighters, for God's sake, do the job and get this thing forward and quit playing politics with it.
MR. MAILMAN: That is my view. As I say, we have had to bluff our way along through many a fire scene until we had representatives there with authority, whether it be the Fire Marshal's Office or the RCMP, whoever, to maintain scenes. A lot of things we don't have a legal leg to stand on. The old Act: the chief, the chief, the chief. As a volunteer, I take a vacation. Those two weeks, I can't put anybody else in charge. So if they have a scene, there is not a guy there who can do a thing. So it is time to give us a legal leg to stand on.
MR. MORASH: Thank you very much. We certainly appreciate the comments with regard to the legal matters and where you stand. I was wondering if you could help me understand, if the bill is passed tomorrow, what it will do from a safety point of view for firefighters. It is called the Fire Safety Act and I was just wondering, in your opinion, what you think it will make better.
MR. MAILMAN: What will make it better? From the point of firefighters if we - well, let's go back to the legal aspects of it. Right now we can have an arsonist running around and we may know that that guy is an arsonist and he is setting these fires. You go back to the scene security. Technically, there is very little we can do to protect evidence. We can't collect evidence. We may see something there, it is raining that night. If we don't get that now, we lose it. Technically, we can't remove a bit of evidence from that, we don't have the powers to do that. Here is an arsonist running around. He sets a fire at night, two weeks later he sets another one, he sets another one, he sets another one. Every time a firefighter goes into one of those situations, their lives are in danger, it is the nature of the game. Help us get some legislation that will stop that guy. You stop him from setting fires so those firefighters aren't responding to another needless, unaccidental situation. That is firefighter safety.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. Our next presenter is Pierre Breau.
MR. PIERRE BREAU: Good evening. My name is Pierre Breau. I am the Director of Engineering and Public Works for the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg. I am an appointed staff person as opposed to an elected official, although many of my employers are in the audience here. Building inspection and fire inspection are part of Engineering and Public Works and I recently - actually, as early as this afternoon - presented a paper of some
of my findings with respect to this Act and its implications for municipalities. I noted that there were some questions with regard to the fiscal responsibility and liability of municipalities.
I am going to take the liberty, I have already distributed this paper to one of your assistants in the back and it will form part of a written submission we will send forward to your committee by the end of next week. I am going to read portions of it and I will provide some editorial comment. It will give the perspective from the municipal administrators who are going to have to put in these new inspection systems.
First, I will preface it to say that the bill we are discussing, the Fire Safety Act, Bill No. 58, has been passionately supported by many people in the fire prevention and fire safety industry and the services, and you heard that today. Certainly the deputy building inspector that we have employed at the municipality, who is also our fire inspector, is passionate about fire safety. Any time I talk to Andy Wentzell, it is clearly something he feels strongly about and I see that often in people in fire services, labour safety inspectors, people who deal with saving the lives of other individuals who have had to be first responders. They have seen tragedies and horrors that the rest of us only read articles about in the newspaper. So it is understandable that they feel that this is an important bill to put through.
I want to make just a few comments about how it is going to impact myself, as an administrator, and the council that I have to negotiate money with and where that money is going to come from. First, I'll mention that the bill provides for increased responsibility by the Fire Marshal's Office for fire prevention education and training. Indeed, it sets a mandate for it that wasn't put in the previous Act, the Fire Prevention Act. It sets training standards for firefighters and for enforcement of these standards. The bill provides for setting the 1995 National Fire Code as the provincial construction standard, with respect to building fire safety and by regulation can set its successor documents as a provincial code.
The bill provides additional investigation powers to fire department chiefs, as well as powers to recover such fees from convicted offenders and substantially increases fines and imprisonment terms for persons and corporations convicted of offences under the Act - substantial fines, by the way; we are talking $25,000, $50,000, a quarter of a million dollars for chief executives of corporations. You heard some of these comments here. The fire chiefs want those powers. It is interesting, though, that few of them have commented, really, on this.
With regard to new training and equipment standards for fire departments, it is unknown if the Fire Marshal's Office will assist in the cost of the department's compliance, which is not unusual for us at municipal council to have to underwrite the acquisition of assets of new fire pumpers and this kind of thing for a lot of the fire departments. Yes, the area rates support them, but often they look to the municipality, essentially, to underwrite the financing of these issues. I can easily see that when the new regulations come forward from the Fire Marshal's Office.
All this is, is an Act that allows a framework to issue regulations. I know from working with the Department of Environment, the Environment Act is just one document. Out of it came regulations. Under those regulations, come policies and guidelines. That is where the bucks have to come. That is where I have to find money to be able to comply with those standards.
I suspect both municipalities and fire departments are going to find dollars because Mr. Cormier - with all due respect to Mr. Cormier - says this is the best standard we should have for Nova Scotians. Well, the fact that we are here at this standard, and now, all of a sudden we are here, even if it takes three or four years, you have to be able to find the money for that.
Taxpayers, as you well know from your provincial responsibilities, will only pay so much on an area rate or a property tax rate. Then they have to go to the municipal politician and complain, how come my rate is going up? They might not necessarily see that increased service because, heaven forbid, they haven't had a fire. They haven't had to use the service, right?
There are two particular clauses of concern, specifically regarding municipal operations. Again, I will read through the paper and make some editorial comments. The first is a Fire Marshal's Office review-only for building plans and fees for same:
Clause 13(7) of the proposed Act, it will permit the fire marshal, with the minister's approval, to provide contract services to a municipality. In the subsequent Clause 13(8), it will permit the fire marshal to charge a fee for contracted services for Clause 13(7). This means that the Act hasn't said what the fee is. It just says that we can contract with the municipality legally, it is enforceable, and we can charge a fee to recover costs pursuant to that contract.
Clause 18(1) states that where required by the regulations, construction plans must be reviewed by the fire marshal so that the fire marshal can provide critical comments, not approval. It mentions that in the editorial comments to the Act. The fire marshal doesn't approve plans anymore and that is a big issue. He doesn't approve them anymore. He provides critical comments of the plans to the building owner or the building inspector. Now, the content of these future regulations is unknown. Therefore, we are unsure as to what level of free plan review service, if any, our building inspectors can expect in the future.
As well, it is important to note that the Fire Marshal's Office will no longer approve plans for compliance with fire safety construction codes, but merely only indicate issues of non-compliance on his/her mandatory reviews. So they have to review them. They don't necessarily sign on the dotted line. They say, we found these different - the way that I understand it, (a) (b) (c) (d) don't comply with the 1995 code. So the building inspector will say, oh, okay, Mr. Building Owner, you have to comply with these things, but we approve it; not the fire marshal anymore, the municipality will approve it.
So that makes me think, as a specifying engineer - something that I do to earn a living - the municipal building permit will then become the legal approval for both the National Building Code, which it is today, and the National Fire Code. In other words, the municipality - the way I read it - will bear the liability of issuing the approval for building construction and conformance to both codes and, ostensibly, the site inspection of the compliance of the work in process to both codes.
It is interesting to note that with respect to sewage disposal systems and municipal land-use and development controls, the building permit is not the legal approval. We only issue the building permit once we know that the respective approvals have been obtained by the applicant. If Don decides to build a house and there is going to be an on-site sewage system, the building inspector will not issue the building permit until he knows that there is a valid health approval from the Department of Environment. The same thing if there is a culvert that has to be put there by the Transportation Department. We will not issue the building permit unless we know that he has a culvert permit from DOT. But we are not responsible.
Our due diligence is that we didn't issue the permit that would allow him to build that infrastructure until we have these two other agencies that he or she has shown, that they have permits for them. Those two agencies are responsible for looking after their permits. We just co-operated with them. We only issue the building permit, like I said, once we know the respective approvals have been obtained by the applicant. Inspection for compliance of the permits issued for sewage disposal systems and land-use controls rests with the agencies and departments that issued them. Therefore, while it is clear there are building inspectors who must inspect buildings during construction in order to ensure NBC compliance, well, we also have to conduct inspections of fire safety systems during construction in order to ensure National Fire Code compliance.
If a contractor asks a building inspector about a change of the prescribed fire plan, will we pay for an additional consult with the fire marshal, much as the owner would for a design consultant? At this time, we have not discussed with our solicitor what the magnitude of this additional liability may be. I want to change that sprinkler head and put it in the closet instead of where he said on his paper to put it in the bedroom. Because we are issuing approval, do we make that call? If we make that call, do the people that we have employed have the knowledge and training to make that call?
As a final comment, it is interesting to note that the Honourable Ronald Russell's December 29, 1999 reply to the UNSM in its Resolution No. 38, regarding the future fire plan review by the Fire Marshal's Office, indicated that there would be fees charged for these kinds of services, when we asked that specific question.
The second item that we have is the municipal system of fire inspection. Clause 19 of the bill provides for regulations to be established that will stipulate what type of fire inspection service municipalities will be required to provide in their jurisdiction. This is a subtle but important difference from Section 19 of the current Fire Prevention Act which explicitly states the requirements in the body of the legislation. The fire inspection of schools, power plants, provincial premises will continue to be done by those agencies themselves. In this case, it is written in the bill.
For better comparison, I will just read to you what the current Act says with regard to what municipalities do:
"It shall be the duty of the council of every city, town and municipality to provide for a regular system of inspection to buildings and premises situate within . . .", same, ". . . and every such council may authorize other persons, in addition to the local assistant, to exercise some or all of the powers conferred by Sections 16 and 17 upon the Fire Marshal, such system of inspection shall provide for the inspection at least once in every four months of all hotels, theatres, cinematographs, skating rinks, dance halls and every other building used as a place of public resort or amusement."
Now, look at the same section in the bill, it is written this way. And think of it from our perspective - if you were a municipal councillor, and some of you have been, may have been in the past - or think of it from my perspective as a gentleman who has to say, okay, now we are responsible for a new system of inspection:
"A municipality shall (a) establish a system of fire and safety inspections of land and premises situate within its jurisdiction, as required by the regulations . . ." , which we haven't seen yet, ". . . to provide for compliance with this Act, the regulations and the Fire Code; (b) appoint a municipal fire inspector who shall carry out the inspections;" All we appoint now is another person and he or she is only responsible for Sections 16 and 17 of the existing Act. "(c) ensure that the Fire Marshal is notified, in writing, of the appointment of the municipal fire inspector and the revocation of any such appointment;" Clause 19 (2) says, "A municipality that is required to establish and conduct a system of inspections . . . ", that we have a record of every inspection made. The records are available on request to the fire marshal, deputy fire marshal and we have to keep them for five years.
It is interesting to note that Mr. Cormier - and we have a good relationship with Mr. Cormier - essentially confirmed what we have suspected for most rural municipalities. I can't speak for the towns. Most rural municipalities don't have a system of inspection, other than the free service that has been provided by the volunteer fire departments. Many municipalities don't have trained fire inspectors. Some of them don't have certified building inspectors, even though they have people who have been providing building inspection services on their employ for some time, but they don't necessarily have a certification as issued by the Building Inspectors Association.
So we have a situation here where regulations, which we haven't seen yet, are about to be coming down the pipe. This bill allows this to happen. How will municipalities react when they don't really have a system of inspection to begin with? So when Mr. Cormier makes the comment in his editorial comments to the bill that this will not be onerous to municipalities because we are actually reducing the four month requirement to one year, well, the fact is that most municipalities don't even check it every four months.
As of March 13, 2000, municipal council authorized Andrew Wentzell, a certified building inspector, to conduct regular inspections of public assembly buildings in the municipality, as another person under the existing Act. Other fire safety inspections are done on a per request basis only and then we do keep such records.
We have a relatively sophisticated computer system. We can keep track of inspections. I don't know if other rural townships do in Nova Scotia. We happen to be able to provide that service relatively cheaply now, given what we know. I don't know about other municipalities. Some of them struggle to be able to get their building inspections done.
Another issue is that the prosecution of orders - we can issue orders but the prosecution of the orders is done through the Fire Marshal's Office. So far, these current duties, exclusive of training, employ about 150 hours of Mr. Wentzell's time, about 8 per cent of his time. He is primarily a building inspector. So we are uncertain if future regulations will require a system of inspection beyond what is in place now.
The explanatory notes of the bill indicate that future regulations will likely require annual inspections of assembly buildings. Municipal councils will be permitted to decide on what level of regular fire inspection for other premises can be decided upon. If so, then our current system of inspection in Lunenburg Municipality will suffice, except that we will initiate prosecution on orders not complied with, as opposed to the fire marshal. So we will have to get our lawyer to be able to process court costs, orders. We will have to pay him. Of course we can recoup that, but that is more work for us initially.
You asked the question about how much it costs. I would note that the salary and benefits for a full-time dedicated fire inspector in our area will exceed $50,000, exclusive of vehicle transportation costs, ongoing training and overhead. We did a very quick calculation
and we already hit $85,000. We have two individuals, essentially, that do building inspections, one a very passionate individual that really feels strongly about fire inspection. You can't argue with many aspects of the proposed Act. No one wants to see someone die because of a fire that could have been prevented.
From the municipality's perspective, we just can't go and hire someone on an hourly basis for 20 hours a week who has those qualifications. So we will probably have to have a full-time person. We just awarded a tender for an F150 at $28,000. There is the truck. We have got to pay for that over five years. I mean, the costs continue to roll in. So we are looking at $85,000 to $100,000 a year for a full-time person, okay, and we service about 30,000 people.
In summary, the proposed Fire Safety Act provides additional mandates to the fire marshal for safety training, fire prevention equipment and also enacts the 1995 National Fire Code as a building fire safety code in the province. There has been no word on a timeline on what these new standards are and when they will be enforced.
With regard to building construction, it appears the Fire Marshal's Office will no longer approve building plans for compliance but will rely on the municipality to approve it and the legal liability will be ours, and the due diligence will be ours. We don't know what the fees will be.
With regard to land and premise fire inspection services by the municipality, the bill will set the scope of these by regulation and we do not know at this time if this impending regulation will require expanded inspections by the municipality.
So we have four questions to pose to the committee, to the government:
(1) What is a timeline for any new regulatory standards, for fire department training and equipment, and what financial assistance will be made available by the government to assist fire departments in complying with new regulations?
(2) What level of fire marshal plan review can municipalities expect under future regulations and at what cost, and what construction inspection consulting services can municipalities expect from the Fire Marshal's Office regarding construction compliance with the National Fire Code?
(3) What level of inspection service will municipalities be expected to provide within their jurisdiction or region?
(4) Will the recent agreement between UNSM, and Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations be respected vis-à-vis a one-year advance warning regarding potential cost downloading to municipalities?
We were promised that through that department, through that minister, that we would be given a one-year advance notice when download of services to municipalities would incur additional municipal cost. Will that apply with these regulations? Thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Bob, would you like to come up? I think we will have some questions on this. Could I ask you, do you have any paid fire departments in your area of responsibility?
MR. BREAU: No.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So they are all volunteer?
MR. BREAU: That's correct.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So I guess my question would be, Bob, my understanding of the bill - and please straighten me out, as I am sure you will, if I am in error - is that there are suggested training guides and qualifications but they are not mandatory?
MR. CORMIER: Well, I guess I want to make a comment. The comments that were made are quite valid when you don't have the regulations sitting in front of you. But the regulations were sent out to every building and fire inspector, and to, I believe, the municipal units to at least look at. There wasn't a review because we didn't know if we were going to be able to carry them forward. The Act was in abeyance from September 12th and there is a copy of it in your folder, so maybe I can answer some of the questions that you have. They are very valid questions.
One of the things that the Fire Marshal's Office has ended up doing over the years, through our Fire Prevention Advisory Council, is trying to handle fire department problems in a committee that was never designed for that purpose. That committee consisted of building inspectors, engineers, people from forestry and a number of other areas, and there were only three representatives from the fire service. We would have ended up trying to deal with things so we wanted to create a fire services advisory committee - and that is exactly what it is, a fire services advisory committee - that would assist.
The concept was that there were a number of things that they looked to us to provide information on. I repeat the word 'information'. Under the Act, right now, I do that but I don't have a legislated mandate to do it. In other words, I'm spending money where I shouldn't be spending money. So I'm looking for the legislative mandate to do it.
One of the things is providing guidelines or assistance to departments in deciding which is the best direction to take. However, under the regulation-making power, there is absolutely nothing in the powers of regulations to allow me to make anything that impacts the fire service on its suppression activities. I cannot pass a regulation that says fire departments must buy this type of truck, must have this type of equipment, must have this type of training. All we can do is provide advice and assistance, and that is all we are allowed to do. The regulations do not allow us to.
The reason they don't is, this is fire prevention legislation. It does everything up to the emergency and after the emergency. The emergency itself is done through the Municipal Government Act. I cannot empower myself to do things under another Act. So that is out. I cannot do that. However, I can, because I am seen as a senior fire official, provide advice and assistance through group thought process. That has come up a number of times and it is not legislatively allowed under the bill and it is not the intent under the bill to provide that.
You're absolutely right in asking questions in regard to the number of inspections. I would just like to go through that quickly, if I could. This is the very early draft of the regulations. This is on assemblies, except for schools. The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities was very clear in stating that they did not want to have schools listed as a municipal responsibility. The school board is responsible for the maintenance of fire inspections for schools, unless they have an agreement with the municipality for the municipality to do them.
Every assembly - not an educational facility - unless it has been inspected by the municipality within the previous 24 months - so Andrew has been doing those inspections so those are done. But if they haven't been done, then within 12 months of the coming in force, they have to inspect every assembly that serves alcoholic beverages and requires a fire alarm. In other words, there are more than 150 people in there. Within 24 months of coming in force, all other assemblies. Within 36 months of coming in force, all assembly occupancies that do not serve alcoholic beverages and do not require a fire alarm, every municipal unit shall, except for non-residential school buildings with an occupant load of greater than 40, all assemblies once every three years, following initial inspection. So we are even decreasing it below the one. But if the fire inspector goes in there and they have a problem person, they may be in there every six months. But for the person who is not a problem, every three years.
Every municipality shall carry out a system of fire inspections on all buildings containing the following occupancies: residential occupancies greater than three units and not related under the homes for special care, all business and personal services groups, all mercantile occupancies and all industrial. It is a system that might be once every five years, once every 10 years. Some industries may be more often.
So we try to bring it down to the least common denominator. One of the reasons was to allow municipalities to share fire inspectors. We have 11 municipalities in the Valley region who want to have one inspector for those 11 municipal units. So we have to keep the required numbers down to what is necessarily a risk basis.
Those are some of the things that are in the regulations that you were unaware of but we have tried to answer. I think you can understand the position between the Building Officials Association, the CEOs and the political members from the municipality. Trying to find that balance was a very difficult thing.
The Building Inspectors Association wants us totally out of plans review altogether, wants us out, totally, of any prosecution or any ability to hold people accountable and have the building inspector solely responsible for that. That is not the way we function in 90 per cent of our municipalities. We have a very good working relationship with the majority of our building officials and we want to maintain that.
The cost recovery was aimed at those municipalities that decided not to carry out their responsibilities under the Act for fire inspections. We would have the right to go in where we had to and carry out those inspections and bill the municipality for them.
As far as plans examination goes, we have architects and engineers who use my office for the expertise to get their plans done. They are not bringing them in for approval, they are bringing them in for my staff to tell them how to build their buildings. We are not going to do that free of charge any longer. Our job is not to act as consultants.
As far as the staff support to the municipal units, the building inspectors, building officials, I am strengthening that, or attempting to. In 2003, we will be going to what is known as an objective base code. No longer will it state that in order to build a building, you put stick, stick and stick together and it becomes a building. We are going to something that will require a great deal of information to understand whether the building is safe or not.
I am having one of my engineers trained as a fire protection engineer because we can't always trust that the information we are given is correct. We have to be able to validate it. That will be available to the municipal units, as it is now. We have a sprinkler technician who is available to the municipal units, as they are now. But the Building Code Act of the Province of Nova Scotia says the municipality is responsible for the approval of plans and for the inspection of the property. The building inspectors have felt that we are taking a position, in the past, where we approved those plans, so we had a dual approval system. We are saying we should not be doing that.
The plans we want to look at and the plans we have listed are for those buildings where the province has a liability, a moral and ethical responsibility. Those buildings include schools, health care facilities, homes for the aged, government buildings, daycares of a certain
size, large public assemblies and industries that are considered a high hazard. I call it a dynamite factory, although we don't have any in this province, but tire plants fall within the same category.
Outside of that, the plans will be totally the responsibility of the municipality; whether it is the grocery store, the apartment building or the small industry. We will still provide assistance where requested. That is not a charge. The charge is not to the municipality for that service. We are all interested in fire safety and we are there to provide assistance to each other, but we will not act as consultants to the professional field and we will not continue to carry out, free-of-charge, to those municipalities who put no effort forward whatsoever, to try to provide fire safety in their own municipal units. Those that have will be the same as they are now. We have worked very closely with Andrew. He has moved from being able to do small inspections that he has now taken over the inspections for liquor licensing. That is a desire over time.
When the roles and responsibilities committee, between the province and the municipality, met and decided who should be responsible for what, it was a unanimous decision and it was agreed to by the central committee, that fire inspection responsibility should be the responsibility of the municipality. It has passed through the test of time with this, it has passed through the test of time with the roles and responsibilities committee and we have been there.
Anyway, those are a few of the things. If there are any other questions, I will try to answer those.
MR. BREAU: Well, if I could, Mr. Chairman, make just a few comments.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Certainly, go ahead.
MR. BREAU: I will preface them by saying that I have never met Mr. Cormier, actually, even though - you are highly regarded, let me put it that way. Our people, certainly, have always felt well-served by your office. I am also a staff person and I have to promote various legislation that I feel is in the public interest to my politicians. So I can understand his position, where he is coming from. This is an important piece of legislation.
Just a couple of comments, though, to his bosses, the provincial MLAs. The UNSM is an important body to be able to discuss these issues with but when you are talking about the regulations, the Clerk for the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg never formally received those regulations.
You have to be careful. I notice that with other provincial departments, as well. Just dealing with the building inspectors or the fire inspectors, it is important. They are the techies but they are not the politicians of the municipalities and they are not the administrators. It may
not necessarily be in the administrator's interest to say, sure, we will expand, we want to take the responsibility for fire inspection.
The fact that many rural municipalities don't have such a system of fire inspection in place, means they have no system in place, they have no funding in place for it. All of a sudden, you are saying that if they don't put a system in place, we are going to tell them they have to for the good of the public. It is hard to argue that. But on the other hand, the CAO for that county, okay, or for that district, has to say, I need an additional 2 cents on the tax rate to be able to do that and that is a serious issue.
I think, Mr. Cormier - and I have met that in other government departments, Environment in particular - you tend to forget about that. Of course it is in the interests of the fire inspector to promote fire inspection in the municipality. He doesn't have to make the argument to increase the tax rate. That is how come the timelines for those regulations - which I hadn't seen through the Clerk's Office - I had discussed them with Andy and I knew some of them.
It is a concern and I suspect you, as the MLAs, are going to hear that from the wardens and the councillors that you deal with in your particular ridings. It was a serious issue at council today. Where are we going to find the money for this and this comes after equalization discussions, this comes after assessment, and it is going to cost some money. Are we going to have that one-year moratorium?
These are important issues that you have to consider when you are looking at second reading. It is not to be able to say that what Mr. Cormier's office is putting forward, or what the fire inspectors or the fire safety officials in the province, that these are not valid. It is, public safety is very important. But municipal councils are only going to pay for so much. Look at it right now. You've got municipal districts that don't have the system of inspection. Why? No one was forcing their hand and they haven't set up the system. Were they negligent? There was an individual here who said, basically, they were.
I am not about to make that comment but I'm dealing with the realities, that if you want to make the system work - and we are already having to pay for assessment - you are going to have to put some money on the table. There is only one taxpayer, there is only one pocket to pick. You are going to have to keep that in consideration or you are going to have another firestorm from municipalities, just like you did with equalization, just like you did with assessment and just like you may have with roads over the next few years.
Again, with full respect to Mr. Cormier and what he wants to do, and for many of the fire inspectors of which we have one, they want this bill to pass. But when they ask for a new truck, well, sorry, you are going to have to go down to Rent-A-Wreck or something and, you know, I'm not going to be able to get you a new truck this year. Those are serious fiscal issues that we are facing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Graham, did you have a question?
MR. STEELE: It's been answered, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, thank you very much. Do we have any other presenters, anyone that would like to share? It is an opportunity. You have members of the Legislature from all Parties here, if you have a concern regarding fire safety or anything in that vein. Hearing none, perhaps, Don, I understand this isn't necessarily your constituency but as you are the member closest here, we would like for you to close out our meeting.
MR. DOWNE: Well, thank you very much. I'm honoured, to the colleagues that are here. The sense that I get from talking to my colleagues is that there is a lot of sincerity by all Parties to try to get this thing dealt with as quickly as possible. I am appreciative being here. I was planning on being somewhere over there, listening to the input, but it's even more - I appreciate being able to be here with my other colleagues and, obviously, my colleague, Brian, as well, in our caucus.
I think it is fitting in a way that we have heard this - I mean, here it is, a very special time. This week is Fire Prevention Week and, recently, we have seen the disasters south of the border and the concern we have with the whole issue of fire protection and protection of our people.
Here lies some of the difficulty that I see in this meeting. We are all volunteer firefighters here in Lunenburg County, Lunenburg-Queens County. People have given up their time and their energy, they have gone and trained, they are first responders, they have taken more and more responsibility time and time again. They need a bill and an Act in order to be able to, at least, justify what they are doing legally so they are not in trouble and they want to move it forward. Then you have the municipalities saying, yes, we agree but we have got to make sure that we don't pay the downloading of this cost. So herein lies some of the problems that I am sure we are all going to have.
The most important thing is that we don't lose sight, I think, with what Mr. Mailman said very well. Let's not lose sight of why we are here, and that is to make sure that we have better safety fire protection for the people and the firefighters in the Province of Nova Scotia and here in Lunenburg County. I think that is what I am hearing. I'm asking, is that what I am hearing here, from the men and women? They want the bill to go forward and you want it dealt with, and let the municipality and the government hammer out their fiscal issues, somehow or another, but the bottom line here is get the bill through.
I want to thank Mr. Chairman for allowing me to say a few words and compliment him in chairing the meeting. I know we were on other committees together. He has always made a point of trying to be fair with everybody so I do appreciate the fact that the all-Party
committee aspect here is here not in a partisan way, but in a non-partisan way to do the right thing. Hopefully we can bring our report back to government as soon as possible.
Thank you, the members that have come out. Somebody told me, hardly anybody shows up. I mean, they come in, there may be a few people come. I said, well, you come to Lunenburg County. Firefighting and volunteer fire departments are very much a part of our way of life in our culture and communities, and you are going to have a turnout of people because they are concerned and they want to make sure they are looked after properly. That is what, I think, we have seen here today, as members of the Legislature. You have seen the people of Lunenburg County say to you, make sure we do what is right and do it fast. Thank you all very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much and we appreciate being here this evening.
[The committee adjourned at 8:20 p.m.]