MR. CHAIRMAN: It is close to 7:00 p.m. so we will try to get started. There may still be a couple of committee members show up. My name is Jon Carey, I'm from Kings West and Chairman of this committee. We will begin by introducing the members of the committee.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: This is an all-Party committee and certainly, if you want to make a presentation, even though you may not have a written one, feel free to do that. If you would like to do that Kim is at the back and would be happy to take your name and we will call you forward to the microphone at the front so we can have a record for Hansard.
At the other locations we have taken a moment to recognize the loss of 300 firefighters in New York. Having been a firefighter myself, I understand the brotherhood and camaraderie involved with firefighters. So with your indulgence we will take a moment.
[One minute of silence was observed.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Welcome to 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 receiving 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're 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're meeting in ten communities across the province. This is the eighth 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's important to get it right from the beginning.
Once we've 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.
Bulleted 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 the 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 became law, it would be against the law to give false information to a fire official investigating a fire or to tamper with a device that would help people escape a burning building
- discusses what regulations the government can write to further protect Nova Scotians from fire and to reduce the harm of fires
- establishes a Fire Safety Advisory Council to advise the Minister of Environment and Labour on matters of fire safety.
Before we get our first presenters, we have the Fire Marshal Bob Cormier with us tonight and I understand he has a clarification to make before we start.
MR. ROBERT CORMIER: Mr. Chairman, I made a statement last night during discussions in Lunenburg County about a mail-out of the Fire Prevention Regulations in their written format and not just in the indicated sections. That was not done, the municipalities did not receive that and I apologize to the committee for any misleading comments I may have made. Those regulations will be sent out within the next week and a half. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Our first presenter is Ken Kelly.
MR. KEN KELLY: Mr. Chairman, MLAs, my name is Ken Kelly and I am President of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. I am the Fire Chief for the Town of Yarmouth. I am past president of the Nova Scotia Fire Officers Association and I am also past chairman of the Fire Advisory Council. I was chairman when the work started in progress of the review of this Act. I met you in Lawrencetown about a month or a month and a half ago and I had a message for you then and I would like to share that same message with your members.
The process that was followed to review this Act was one that in my opinion was reprehensible. There was nothing more we could do to represent society, the private sector, governments both at the municipal level - Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities - the various departments of the provincial government and even some representation at times, I think some advice from the federal government. There were stakeholders of every profession that would be involved in fire safety to my recollection. I think it even went so far as being around 25 to 30 members. There was an extensive review done.
We know the Act is 20 years old and it is out of date. It is time for a new Act. The work has been done and we understand not everybody is satisfied with the work that has been done but by far, the majority of stakeholders were satisfied with what we had put together. It is not a perfect document but it is certainly far better than what we have had in the past. I would say for Nova Scotia to keep on par with the rest of the country, I would solicit to you people to go back to the government and have them enforce or make this bill law as soon as possible. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any questions for Mr. Kelly? Graham.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: I am Graham Steele from Halifax Fairview. I didn't want to let the President of the Canadian Association get away without any questions. My first question is about some experience you may have at the national level. How do you think this proposed new Fire Safety Act compares to similar legislation across the country?
MR. KELLY: I would say it is compatible. At the present time we are antiquated but I would say with the adoption of this bill you will be on par with Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, which I think is fairly well advanced in this country.
MR. STEELE: Are those the provinces you think firefighters look to for setting the standards in terms of fire safety legislation?
MR. KELLY: Not totally but they are the larger provinces and more active in the fire service to some degree.
MR. STEELE: My other question relates to one group who is not entirely happy with this Act. It is very clear to me and certainly, I am sure, to the other members of this committee that the fire officers association is 100 per cent behind this legislation. In fact, the position that has been repeated by yourself, Mr. Clark, the immediate part president and the gentleman who appeared last night who is the current president . . .
MR. KELLY: Mr. Craig.
MR. STEELE: That is correct, John Craig. It was very clear in their message to us which is what are you waiting for, we need this legislation and we need it passed and get it passed as quickly as possible. One group who is not entirely happy are the building inspectors, the Building Officers Association. I wonder if you have any comment on what I take to be their main concern, which is that the new legislation may cause confusion about the respective responsibilities of fire inspectors and building inspectors. Do you have any comments on that?
MR. KELLY: Yes, I would say if that is the case then this bill, when it becomes law, is not carved in stone, it can be amended. Even if there is a problem and this is so, there are problems there, they can be corrected. But to hold up a bill, an entire Act, because of a disagreement between the building inspectors and fire officers is kind of trivial, is it not?
MR. STEELE: I don't know, do you think their concerns are trivial?
MR. KELLY: I would say with respect to the overall Act, it certainly is. Like I said, if there is a problem it can be corrected. You amend bills every day in the House I believe, do you not?
MR. STEELE: We do?
MR. KELLY: Yes. This can be amended if there is a problem there and there is sufficient justification for the amendment it can be done. There are so many other parts to this bill which are so important to the citizens of Nova Scotia and the fire service that it is not justified, in my opinion, holding up a bill for that reason.
MR. STEELE: So if I understand you correctly, your message to us is that there may be some legitimacy to the concerns of the building inspectors and if in practice that turns out to be the case and there is some confusion, then amend the bill and resolve any confusion that might arise but that there is so much in this Act that is good that we should go forward with it immediately. Is that a fair summary of what you are saying to us?
MR. KELLY: Yes, a very good summary.
MR. STEELE: Okay, thanks very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Brian.
MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I thank Mr. Kelly for coming. Would you suggest that this bill, in its present form, with the difficulties my colleague Mr. Steele indicated, the way I look at it is this, is the bill more important to you for the safety of firefighters in that these other problems can be worked out by the various groups by working together after the bill is passed?
MR. KELLY: I concur with your thinking, yes. There is so much important stuff in this bill that it is significant that it becomes law right away. These other matters - and I don't consider them trivial but - they can be fixed. The other consequences from this bill becoming law are too important to hold it up.
MR. BOUDREAU: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Morash.
MR. KERRY MORASH: If I might, we have probably asked this question as we have gone through the province, but could you highlight some of the important parts of this bill that will make us a better province and protect public safety, compared to the bill in existence now?
MR. KELLY: I think the authority that is passed onto fire chiefs in the operation of their department and the delegation of their authority certainly enhances the operation of the Nova Scotia Fire Service. I think stiffer penalties will certainly make people follow codes more stringently. Certainly training, the responsibility that falls under the fire marshal is more properly allocated, in my opinion. He is responsible for a standard of training for the Nova Scotia Fire Service through consultation I do believe; I think that is excellent.
I think the recovery of some expenses by municipal units for investigations is positive. I think it will bring the two closer together and there are several others. I can't remember them all.
MR. MORASH: Maybe if you wouldn't mind, just because of your exposure to some of the different Acts across Canada, are there places here where there are some - I guess I shouldn't call them shortfalls but - areas that aren't included in this Act that perhaps are included in other provinces that we might want to consider?
MR. KELLY: Not at this time. If you pass this one I will have some ideas for you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Brian.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Kelly, just one more question. Would you know of a method we could use to negotiate with the various groups? Do you feel a committee, such as a committee of the three groups, could work out the differences that my colleague, Graham, indicated during his questions?
MR. KELLY: The three groups would be the . . .
MR. BOUDREAU: The Building Code people definitely have a problem with it and I believe the municipalities are going to have a problem with this because of the cost of implementing the regulations. It is too early to tell yet because we don't know if this is going to cost any money or if there is going to be any actual cost but the UNSM is keeping a very close eye on us, I am assuming.
MR. KELLY: I am surprised to hear you say that because I thought that the municipal units were all on-stream. I believe the immediate past president, I can't remember her name, she is from Windsor, she served on this committee. She was very positive and supportive of all the changes we were making. Some municipal units must have put the heat to them or something. I understand, they are going to have to provide fire inspection services and so on but they should be, this is life safety we are talking about here. We are not talking about a grocery store or a vending machine, we are taking about the safety of people, our citizens of Nova Scotia and they deserve the best.
MR. BOUDREAU: I agree, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Do you see this affecting the paid firefighter in Nova Scotia any differently than the volunteer?
MR. KELLY: I would think not, they are both professional, so I would think not.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Kerry.
MR. MORASH: My favourite I guess, I believe you are in a situation where you have paid and volunteer firefighters working together?
MR. KELLY: I do.
MR. MORASH: The standard of training, I was just wondering if you could enlighten me as to what the standard of training is for the paid and volunteer firemen who are working. NFPA has come up on occasion and I was wondering if that was the standard you use or is it a department by department type thing that takes place?
MR. KELLY: I use the standard NFPA 101 and the standards equally apply to both career and volunteer.
MR. MORASH: Okay, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Kelly. Do we have any other presenters?
MR. STEELE: Mr. Chairman, while everyone is thinking about whether they want to step up to the microphone, last night we were in Oak Hill near Bridgewater and in talking to people afterward several people said, I was thinking of coming up and then they said really helpful, intelligent things and I know some of you are probably thinking I should go up to the microphone, so this is your big chance to say something. I am also wondering if there is anybody here from the municipality, any of the local municipalities interested in speaking because the other groups that had expressed some reservations about the costs associated with the Act are the municipalities. I know I would and I am sure others on the committee would be interested in hearing the municipalities' point of view. So those are just a couple of thoughts for you as you consider whether you would like to make a presentation.
MR. ROBERT AMIRAULT: Good evening, Mr. Chairman and committee members. My name is Robert Amirault, I am a Deputy Warden for the Municipality of Argyle. I am chairman of the fire committee for our municipality. I would like to go back to some of the comments when Mr. Kelly was making his presentation.
I think part of the problem, when you come to the building inspectors, as Mr. Steele indicated, I think where they are getting their problems from is that they are going to be thrust into fire inspection without having the proper training, for lack of a better word, where in the past all they did was a building inspection of the building itself, and now they are going to have to comply more with the fire Act, hand in hand with their building inspection.
I guess I have more comments than anything else. I believe this Bill No. 58 is a step in the right direction. It is well past due because the other Fire Prevention Act is over 20 years old and is lacking a lot in very many areas. As a member of council, I must say that I don't see any added cost to our municipality by enacting this bill. Our municipality is comprised of
10 volunteer fire departments. It is quite a large municipality. Training is ongoing, as Mr. Kelly said, the training that a paid fireman gets is the same as a volunteer. They go by the same standards. We will always have ongoing training for our members.
I believe this Bill No. 58 protects the lives of not just our firefighters but the residents. When the call comes during the middle of the night for 911, with this bill in place there is added protection for the firefighters and more, I don't want to say power, but I guess it is in a way, for the officers of that fire department to ensure the safety of not just their firemen but the lives they are protecting. The problems with some of the other groups can be worked out. I truly believe that.
I have been on council now for close to 20 years, and I have always been interested in the fire committees and the fire departments, and I have followed right from before I was on council. These are just some of my comments. I believe it is very well high time that this gets passed through the House. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any questions for Mr. Amirault? Mr. Steele.
MR. STEELE: Thank you very much, Mr. Amirault, for appearing tonight. You did already answer one of my questions, which is whether you anticipated that there would be any additional costs for the municipality. You said that your belief is that there would be none. Does your municipality currently have a fire inspector?
MR. AMIRAULT: Our building inspector is doing double duty, I guess you would call it.
MR. STEELE: The concern we heard from other building inspectors was in the municipalities where the building inspector and the fire inspector would in fact be different people.
MR. AMIRAULT: Right.
MR. STEELE: I think any concern about confusion disappears if you are actually using the same person.
MR. AMIRAULT: Right. He has had the training to do the fire inspection, but I still feel that some of these people who have been trained for years in the building aspect of it and then they moved over to include the fire inspections still feel uncomfortable about doing the fire inspection. I think that is where the comments come from, that they are not comfortable with this Act.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other presenters?
MR. HAROLD RICHARDSON: Mr. Chairman, my name is Harold Richardson. I am a member of the Yarmouth Fire Department. I did not come tonight prepared to present to you. As you can tell, it was a last-minute decision. I was involved in a 1984 select committee study on the volunteer fire service that really didn't go anywhere. So, I was doubtful that this is going to go anywhere and I was going to stay home.
Listening to some of the comments here tonight, I grew up in the fire service as a volunteer. I have never been anything but a volunteer, but I have 37 years in. I grew up in the fire service where we had building inspectors and fire inspectors. I don't believe that building inspectors should be fire inspectors, because you become blinded by your training, by your profession, by your choice of what you want to do. I can remember a very large building in our community, recently, that was inspected by the building inspector and given a certificate of occupancy. No way should they have had a certificate of occupancy, because when the fire inspection was done there were a lot of deficiencies, including no alarm system.
I think the building inspectors in some municipalities are going to be asked to do the job, and I really don't think that should hold up a bill like this. The other things that are in this bill, besides that little bit of conflict - and there shouldn't be conflict, people are adults and they should be able to straighten that out pretty quickly - is the fact that right now there is no legislation on the books in this province that mandates anybody to provide, to set standards for or do anything with training, not one. I know that because we just got our certification program in this province accredited. We had to bend a few rules and lie a little, but we were able to get it done successfully.
This Act will help us accomplish that. It will help set standards. We have apparatus out there in the fire service that is not proper. The government passed the Municipal Government Act not too long ago. In that Municipal Government Act, it requires registration. I dare you to go out and ask how many municipalities have followed through on that part of the Act. If it is more than 20 per cent, I will be surprised.
You have to get these kinds of things in place. To play around with them, three or four years this went through committee. The building inspectors were there, now the guy who is involved is off on his own business, so he is probably opposing this, and the municipalities were there. Every single key player in this Act sat on that committee, and for the government to waste their time and money sending you people around to do this at a time when fiscal restraints are on is crazy. They have all had their chance. They all approved this or it wouldn't be out here.
I encourage you, I urge you to get on with it. Personally, I think there are things in this we should strengthen not weaken, but at least the regulations may help us do that. We haven't seen them yet. There is so much in there that could protect the firefighters. Eighty per cent or better in this province are protected by volunteer firefighters. For you people not to pass this bill in this format is a disgrace to them. What you are saying to them is that we really
don't care about you guys, because there are things in this bill that they need. We killed two firefighters in this province because they were driving a piece of apparatus that should never have been on the road, and we have had other problems in this province. We have to get something passed, we have to get some Acts in place. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any questions for Mr. Richardson?
Mr. Steele, go ahead.
MR. STEELE: The chairman was asking if I have any questions and I told him I have a comment not a question. You are not the only one to say to us, what are you doing here, why aren't you just passing this legislation and being done with it? The consultation process around this legislation, as you know very well, Mr. Kelly knows very well, has been going on for what must be five years now. This legislation was presented to the Legislature, it was actually presented in the Legislature, on June 6, 2000, getting on to a year and a half ago. For reasons that I don't quite understand yet, the government didn't take it any further. In case you can't tell, it should be clear by now that I am not a member of the governing Party. The government has never clearly explained why that bill didn't go forward. Then the government proposed this committee.
If this committee is the price that we pay for the government to get its courage up, that is the price that we are willing to pay. I think the message you have delivered tonight is loud and clear. If I can summarize it in one sentence, it is get on with it. Thank you for presenting tonight.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other questions?
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I would just like to make a comment, too. I want to just go on record as saying thank you for coming up and making the statements that you do, because originally this bill was presented in 1999. My colleague on this committee is Mr. Russell MacKinnon, and I do apologize, he is at home sick. We recognize what you are saying, and we are hoping that the other Parties are able to hear you, too. Thank you.
MR. RONALD CHISHOLM: I would just like to make a comment, too. Graham has made his comments about why we're here, and you have also indicated that we should get on with it. I totally agree with you, but a lot of the reason that we are here is that a lot of the municipalities had opposition to this bill. There were the building inspection people who had opposition to this bill. I think what the government is trying to do is make totally sure that everybody gets their fair crack and say as to what goes in the bill. Like the chairman said when we started, this bill is going to be passed, and this bill is probably going to be in place for a long time. We want to make sure we do it right. I think it was mentioned a little earlier that amendments can be made, sure, but it takes time to get amendments made. One session of the House might get it through and it may not. All this stuff takes time. Why we are here
tonight, in my opinion, is we want to do it, we want to do it right, and make sure that everybody has their say.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other presenters? Mr. Cormier.
MR. CORMIER: You had asked in the initial meeting if there was anyone who I would recommend you meet with or discuss this matter with, and I have tried to hold off of this but I would say that at the present time, for the building/fire-type question that you are looking at, you need a third neutral party. I would recommend that you contact the National Research Council in Ottawa, and ask for the guidelines. The Building Code and Fire Code are developed by the National Research Council through committees, the working relationship between the two documents and the authorities who normally work with those.
I would agree in most circumstances that the building and the fire official cannot be the same individual, but not in all cases. In smaller communities where we have smaller buildings that is a good fit. It is not necessarily wrong. The more sophisticated the building, the more sophisticated the fire safety measures, which are not just the building by the way. The Building Code is 100 per cent building, the fire code is only approximately 40 per cent building, the rest has to do with tire storage, hazmat storage, the hazardous materials, et cetera. There are a lot of things that are in the Fire Code that do not have anything to do with buildings, they are also related to people.
I would suggest that as a neutral third party the National Research Council be contacted for information in regard to our present bill. I might also add, you asked Chief Kelly the relationship of our bill with the others, our bill is a direct copy of Saskatchewan and Ontario, as far as the relationship between the building and fire officials. The one difference is we require a closer working relationship between the two. I would just put that forward as a suggestion.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, I would make a motion that we accept the recommendation of the fire marshal.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We can get that information.
MR. BOUDREAU: Do we need it as a motion, though, to make sure we get it?
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, we can request it. Are there any other presenters? Well, if there are no other presenters, we certainly thank you for coming out. We thank the presenters who have presented, and we certainly thank you for the opportunity of being here in Yarmouth. If you have anything later on that you would like to present, certainly you can e-mail, snail mail, fax. We are open to still taking information all along the way. If you think of something that you think would help us do this better, we certainly would appreciate it. Thank you very much.
[The committee adjourned at 7:36 p.m.]