MR. CHAIRMAN: Good Afternoon. We will start, even though there may be a couple more colleagues joining us. We have a pretty full agenda and we want to get some work done before 3:00 p.m. I believe I will ask Mora to explain how this session is going to be broken down and the participation of individuals.
MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Coordinator): What we had discussed last time was having someone from the fire service to talk about high-rises, who ends up being Mr. Silver, a fire prevention officer with the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Services. Mr. Cormier is here to answer some of the questions you had, that is the first part of the agenda. The second part is going over the bill section by section, or the questions that you had. For that we have Pat Clahane, who is a lawyer hired by the Department of Justice but assigned to the Department of Labour. We also have Gordon Johnson here as our counsel from Legislative Counsel. Those were the two sections of the meeting, the first one being in public, the second being in camera.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any questions before we start? Welcome, Mr. Silver and Bob. Do you have a presentation that you wanted to make, Mr. Silver, or did you just want to answer questions?
MR. TOM SILVER: Well, I was just asked to appear.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. We are all, of course, concerned about fire safety but, specifically, Graham's area has more high-rises than some of the other rural areas. Graham if you would like to start off the questioning.
MR. GRAHAM STEELE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I am Graham Steel, the MLA for Halifax Fairview. I am, I believe, the only one of the nine members on the committee who represents an entirely urban area. It was largely at my request, Mr. Silver, that you are appearing here today, and I want to thank you very much for taking the time out to be with us.
I wanted to, in particular, talk about issues that are unique to urban areas. I was hoping to be joined by one of my other colleagues from the HRM, Maureen MacDonald, representing the north end of Halifax, because in her constituency she has had two high-rise fires in the last little while. Just before I was elected there was a fire in what is now my constituency, at 36 Abbey Road, Armdale Place. Broadly speaking, what I would like to do today if I can is to ask you specifically about the Fire Safety Act as it relates to high-rise fire safety and life safety and any other of those kinds of issues unique to urban areas. What I would like to do is start by asking you a very general question and then we will go on from there. The very general question is, what particular issues do you feel are raised by high-rise, residential buildings as far as fire safety goes?
MR. SILVER: I spend a lot of my time in high-rises, in fact that is my priority. I am the fire prevention officer for south-end Halifax, so I have a lot of high-rises in my area, including many of the apartment buildings. They have all been visited, I don't wait for complaints. Most of them wonder where I come from where I arrive, I give no notice. I get a lot of inquiries from tenants and from people who occupy high-rises well before what happened on September 11th, and many since.
The Fire Safety Act, when it is passed, will be similar to the HRM Bylaw F-100 which endorses the National Fire Code of Canada, 1995 Edition. It then references the National Building Code of Canada, and there is a particular standard for high-rises in terms of fire safety. Section 326, which means high-rise buildings are held to a higher standard than buildings less than six stories. My experience has been, in all kinds of buildings, both residential and commercial, office type buildings, that the management and the owners have acted very responsibly; they know the liability. They are required to have fire evacuation planning; they do have it and they check it.
MR. STEELE: In my constituency earlier this year there was a fire in a high-rise building known variously as 36 Abbey Road, or Armdale Place, or Top of the Mountain. I wonder if you could briefly tell the committee what happened there.
MR. SILVER: Ironically, just before the event, I was in that building on a random visit. Spryfield is not my inspection area, but it turned out I was asked for a period of six weeks to look after complaints in Spryfield. Being the nosy person that I am, I just walked into the place, because there are several high-rises on Cowie Hill, and that was the first one. I was there maybe two weeks before they had the fire.
In terms of the fire, I don't think the fire could have been prevented. I mean there was a similar fire recently and that fire was in the electrical room; basically from what I gather, there was a shorting out - although I was not involved with the investigation into that fire. When you have a high-rise, certainly, elevator shafts act as conveyances for smoke, smoke will migrate upwards, and that is the biggest concern in a high-rise. That is why we are so particular - I am, when I am in a high-rise. I want to make sure that the fire doors for the stair towers are kept closed. That has been the biggest problem in all buildings and particularly, in a high-rise, because if you have a problem on the second, third, or fourth floor of a 20 storey building, the whole building has a problem because the alarm system, when it activates, is telling the occupants to evacuate via the stair towers, not the elevators, so it is a major problem.
MR. STEELE: Were you involved in the investigation of that particular fire?
MR. SILVER: No.
MR. STEELE: Are you aware of what the assigned cause of that fire is?
MR. SILVER: No, not personally.
MR. STEELE: Recently as well, there was a fire in a building in north-end Halifax called Sunrise Manor.
MR. SILVER: Two years ago, yes.
MR. STEELE: There was a least one fatality . . .
MR. SILVER: Two.
MR. STEELE: There were two fatalities. I wonder if you could tell the committee briefly what happened in that fire.
MR. SILVER: I was not involved in the investigation. What little information I have about the cause of that fire is hearsay. I believe it was smoking related in an apartment on the first floor and the fire spread to another unit on the first floor. The two fatalities were found, one in the apartment of origin and the other about 50 feet down the hallway.
MR. STEELE: Now Sunrise Manor is a seniors' building, correct?
MR. SILVER: Yes.
MR. STEELE: I wonder if you could tell the committee what particular challenges are raised by high-rise, residential buildings that are largely populated by seniors?
MR. SILVER: Seniors are cranky everywhere I go. I am in the Joseph Howe building all the time, I am in McKeen Manor all the time, and the building management are wonderful, they do everything we want them to do. They are very, very proactive and they know they have to be. I probably have more complaints about issues in buildings from seniors than anyone else and all are addressed. They treat their apartment as their home because it is their home, but they treat the building as if it is their apartment. They are very savvy and like I say, I spend a lot of my time talking to seniors and going over - obviously they have mobility issues, they know when they are 80 years old that when the fire alarm goes off in Joseph Howe Manor, it is telling them to take the stairs down. We can tell them to take the stairs down until we are blue in the face, they realize their limitations - for someone 80 years old or 90 years old with a heart condition the stairs are not viable so we work on a different aspect in the fire plan. That is part of the fire evacuation planning, buildings like that.
Another good example would be Maritime Centre, which is a high-rise populated by approximately 1,700 people in one tower and 1,100 in the other tower. They do have people in the building who have mobility issues, including wheelchairs. Part of the evacuation planning is to have a valid plan on how to evacuate these people. They can't take the stairs, they are not supposed to take the elevators, so as part of the plan - which is in written form - we know in advance who we can expect to work there, maybe not visitors, and the arriving firefighters would have a list of people on different floors and they evacuate them if they have to.
MR. STEELE: Do you think the current rules and guidelines are adequate for dealing with high-rise buildings that are largely populated by seniors, or do you think some changes are called for in order to deal with these mobility and other issues?
MR. SILVER: I think, generally speaking, the laws as they are now are valid and effective. The enforcement is the issue.
MR. STEELE: I wonder if you would elaborate on that; what do you mean by that?
MR. SILVER: Well, in HRM we have an office policy where people like me go into buildings if there is a complaint generated by anybody; it could be a tenant, the owner, it could be one of our firefighters. I have had a problem with that policy - now this is a city policy - and that is why I go door to door. I don't wait for complaints; it is my own personal policy. So if I have a problem with the system it is that the system is complaint-driven and I don't care for it. That is not only here in HRM, that is also, I would imagine, right across the province, given manpower.
My personal feelings are that one should not wait for a complaint. I have told my boss and I have told his boss that if I follow the complaint-only policy I could have two dumps - and I do have many dumps - on a street and as a complaint would bring me into one of them,
and if I follow the policy, I walk past the second one. I am not going to do that. I go door to door and that is why I go door to door.
MR. STEELE: I just want to make sure I understand properly. Are you suggesting by going on unannounced visits you are breaking HRM's policy?
MR. SILVER: No, no, they want you to be proactive. Their policy is they feel there is enough work out there just to look after complaints. I agree I create a lot more work for myself but this is my own way of doing things.
MR. STEELE: Before I move on to the broader questions, particularly about the Fire Safety Act that is being proposed. I would like to ask briefly about the third recent fire, the high-rise fire.
MR. SILVER: On Creighton?
MR. STEELE: Yes. I wonder if you could tell the committee briefly what happened there.
MR. SILVER: I have no personal knowledge of what happened there specifically, I had to get phone calls about it from people thinking I was the inspector for that area. From what I understand, it was an electrically-based fire and, again, smoke would have been the issue. Smoke was part of the issue and part of the other issue though was the fact that the electrical service to the building was knocked out, and of course people cannot stay in a building where there are no services. So that was probably the bigger issue there.
Not long ago, about a year ago, at Summer Gardens, which is a very high-end condo on Summer and Spring Garden, which is in my area, it was the same situation. People who had a unit or suite just above the electrical room were in Florida and it was a particularly cold day and, for some reason, one of the sprinkler heads froze and then split and water poured down into the electrical room and rendered the electrical system useless. What it meant was everyone in that building had to leave. You can't predict that kind of thing and that is what happened, and unfortunately that kind of thing happens a lot.
MR. STEELE: Have you had an opportunity to review or at least become familiar with the broad outlines of the proposed Fire Safety Act?
MR. SILVER: Yes.
MR. STEELE: In your opinion, does it provide the fire services with the powers and authorities that they need to deal with urban issues, particularly in high-rise residential buildings?
MR. SILVER: Oh sure, we have it now as far as our own HRM bylaw, but this only makes a strong document stronger, and I think personally, from a provincial point of view, it is long overdue.
MR. STEELE: Let me ask you one specific thing about the Armdale Place fire. It has been suggested - and I don't know if it is true and I am not suggesting it is - that after the fire the landlord gave public explanations for the causes of the fire, and the repair work that needed to be done, that were untrue, and that the landlord had other motives for claiming the entire building had to be rewired, do you have any comment on that about, to your knowledge, whether there was any problem with a landlord making public statements about the fire that were, in fact, untrue?
MR. SILVER: Well, I'm not really privy to what the owner said. I mean, I read it in the newspaper, as I am sure you did. The owner, as far as I know, is a lawyer. In terms of the wiring in the building, from what I gather, hearsay, it was aluminum wiring which was code when the building was built. When you do a major renovation you have to bring it up to the latest standard, which means it has to be wired with copper wiring, so on and so forth; so that was part of the problem. As to what the owner specifically said or didn't say, I have no real knowledge or comment about that.
MR. STEELE: One of the biggest concerns arising out of the Armdale Place fire for the tenants was the fact that the landlord had all the information and was keeping most of it to themselves - the owner, by the way, wasn't just one person; one individual owned half and a group of people owned the other half. The tenants felt that they didn't have very much information, and what they did have they weren't sure that they could trust. Is there any way in a situation like that of ensuring that tenants have access to unbiased and objective accounts of what is really going on?
MR. SILVER: After the fact, I believe they could gain that information at a Residential Tenancies Board hearing. I spend a lot of my time at tenancy board hearings and, in fact, I urge people who have problems, who call me with problems - I mean, I cannot share my correspondence with them without a subpoena to a tenancy board hearing or regular court proceedings, but I tell tenants all the time to subpoena me. In fact, I make myself available. I actually go to them many times so they can serve me. If they can't get a bus, I go to them and they serve me. I say, subpoena me and subpoena all my records. If they subpoena all my records, which they do, then that becomes public at the tenancy board hearing. That is one avenue they can take and do take.
Other than that, an order that we would write to an owner - it is always to an owner or to an agent - and that is confidential, unless there is a court order releasing it. That is our office policy. We don't release it to anybody unless there is a court order. That would be that kind of a building. Now, the regular tenant issues, if someone had a problem with a landlord - speaking aside from 36 Abbey Road - like, I say, I spent a lot of time with the tenancy board
and it is always, he said, she said. I mean, let's face it, I'm being used as an agent; I'm a lever for somebody, right? But I always make sure that the tenant knows that they can subpoena me and to subpoena my records. That way nothing can be held back. That is how it is done.
MR. STEELE: Thanks, Mr. Chairman, that's all for now, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Brian.
MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just for a few minutes, we can ask the fire marshal questions, correct?
MR. CHAIRMAN: He is on next, but yes I don't think there is any reason we can't.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Cormier, you do have urban firefighting knowledge?
MR. ROBERT CORMIER: Yes, I do.
MR. BOUDREAU: You're not the rural fire marshal, you're the fire marshal for the entire Province of Nova Scotia, including the urban areas?
MR. CORMIER: That's correct.
MR. BOUDREAU: So when you were doing your homework in regard to this bill I imagine you communicated and consulted with the urban areas?
MR. CORMIER: There were at least three people on the committee from the urban area, including the then head of fire safety for the Halifax region.
MR. BOUDREAU: Would you suggest that this is an improvement for the urban areas of the province?
MR. CORMIER: What it does is provide a process for being able to establish good, regulatory activities. More importantly, it also provides for support for educational activities. Our Building Code has very well-established and very well-defined procedures for building safe buildings, especially since 1990 when all high-rises were required to be sprinklered.
The area that probably is lacking more than any other in most areas - and that does not include Tom's because he has been very proactive on this - is evacuation procedures. That especially is true of office buildings. We try as much as we can, but we have to put some of our efforts there. This is why the bill is very exacting in pointing out the owner's responsibility in ensuring safety.
My greatest concern is the physically challenged who are occupying our buildings. We give them one way in and no way out. So, we have a responsibility there and this Act will assist us in ensuring that those things are done, again, with good regulatory activities. It is not going to be, but it provides a process for doing so. It is part of the requirements under the Act.
MR. BOUDREAU: So it is an important first step?
MR. CORMIER: That is correct.
MR. BOUDREAU: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Kerry.
MR. KERRY MORASH: For Mr. Silver, just on the prevention end of things. It sounds like in the high-rises one of the causes of some of the fires is electrical rooms and electrical panels with shorts that have taken place in that area. I am just looking for an opinion; I have a little bit of knowledge, I guess, of some infrared cameras and people who used to come in and shoot through the electrical panels without opening anything or without any contact with the wires and they would be able to pick up the hot spots inside the cabinets. Nine times out of 10 they would prevent a short which would cause downtime for whatever the equipment was they were using, but it also, in the electrician's opinion, always prevented possible large fires in the motor control rooms in electrical panels. Is that something I guess is being done with regard to prevention in the province or in your area or is that something that you would see as a positive thing if we could be doing that?
MR. SILVER: Well, first of all, I don't think we have more electrical fires than other types of fires. I think by far we have more grease-type fires, smoking-related fires, not electrical. It seems that since these are big buildings and affected a lot of people, of course, it would gain the attention of the media that you might point to them more often than other ones, so that's one thing. Now, would it be prudent to do that? Yes, I suppose if you had the money it would be prudent to do that, but we don't have that many problems with them. For the most part, the bigger buildings, in my experience, are extremely well looked after. I know there have been media reports and so on about these, because it did affect a lot people. This affects a lot of people, when you dump a lot of people on the street, it's news. But I don't think you should overstate the safety of electrical vaults in large buildings.
MR. MORASH: Do you know if any of the large-building owners do that by way of their insurance carrier or as a preventative method themselves to eliminate possible shorts or possible fires?
MR. SILVER: I have no personal knowledge of it but, again, in dealing with all the landlords that I deal with, and they all have multiple buildings, this doesn't seem to have been a problem.
MR. MORASH: I don't know anything about the cost of the equipment or what there is now. I think they started out with just still cameras and then they moved to . . .
MR. SILVER: There are thermal imaging cameras.
MR. MORASH: Yes, then they moved to the (Interruption)
MR. SILVER: About $30,000. If you are asking if it would be practical to do that, I would say given the number of those fires and given everything else, I would say no. I think the fire marshal is right, I think the biggest problem is evacuating people from a large building. Take a building like the Maritime Centre in my area. It would take at least 20 minutes to evacuate people if they do what they are supposed to do, which is to take the stairs. It is a long way down and if only one person stops or two people stop and ponder about whether they should keep on going down, then they affect the flow all the way down. We recently had, as the fire marshal knows, the same situation.
There was a misunderstanding, which was corrected after the fact, but there was at one point in a recent evacuation caused by a false alarm in a building where the backup went up 11 stories in a 20 storey building. That's not good. If someone had smelled smoke, which they did not, there would have been panic. How do you avoid that? You go over it as far as being proactive about the evacuation planing. The Fire Code of Canada, which is endorsed in the Fire Safety Act and currently in practice in the city, has a section specific to fire evacuation planning and specific to the requirements for the owners.
At present I have been confining my efforts to the high-rises because of the number of people affected, but the law says that any building with a fire alarm system - and that includes a six unit apartment building - requires a full fire evacuation plan. To get around to all of those places and say, look, the owner of a five or six unit apartment building in north- end Dartmouth is no different from the owner of Maritime Centre as far as the law is concerned. I mean there are probably, literally, 2000 apartment buildings in HRM and that is just apartment buildings.
MR. MORASH: Maybe a question for the fire marshal. Would this building have ever had infrared or thermal imaging done in the vault or wherever the main power supplies come in?
MR. CORMIER: My chief electrical official is a former employee with the Department of Public Works and is one of the electrical engineers. That is periodically done. We are presently reviewing the electrical code Act and in touch with jurisdictions throughout North America to determine whether in fact, because of the type of electrical equipment we are now putting in, we need to come up with a maintenance requirement for electrical systems. It is something that everybody believes that you just put it in once and you never do it.
For instance, any of you who have screw-in fuses are probably unaware that at least once a year you should make sure those fuses are tightened down because they will, over time, as they heat and cool, contract and expand, and they will separate away from the buzz bar in the back and then you get burnout on the buzz bar. People are unaware they need to do maintenance on electrical.
MR. MORASH: That would be the same as the large wires coming into this building and where they go into the panels.
MR. CORMIER: Absolutely. There are two things that you do: one is to just sound the wires out to make sure there are no shorts in it; and the other one is the infra-system, for any extraordinary heat activation.
MR. MORASH: Do you have one of those machines or are they available in Nova Scotia?
MR. CORMIER: No, we wouldn't even be able to touch one of those. They are in Nova Scotia; there are companies who specialize in electrical maintenance who do that type of work. I do know that there are government buildings where that has been carried out. Now, on a regular basis, that I can't speak to, but we are looking at the maintenance section for the electrical Act.
MR. MORASH: It would be a concern by way of the maintenance people when you would have carried something like that out in the past?
MR. CORMIER: Yes, when the Department of Transportation and Public Works did.
MR. MORASH: Yes.
MR. CORMIER: But as for a requirement, where every five years this has to be done or every eight years or 10 years, that has never been addressed in the codes before. We are now thinking that perhaps that is one way of trying to provide some prevention or elimination. But, again, we need a long-term review of that, as Mr. Silver mentioned. It is an expensive process when you are looking at a 15 or 20 storey building, you have to do every electrical room and all the electrical all the way up through the building.
MR. MORASH: Not to dwell on it, but it certainly is a good preventative measure.
MR. CORMIER: We are not disagreeing, this is why we are looking at it now.
MR. MORASH: Yes.
MR. CORMIER: The one comment I would make is that a fire in a high-rise building, the impact on that is just the same as having a fire in, perhaps, as high as 200 homes. So one situation removed impacts 200 families. So, yes, we do have some concerns there.
I would like to just mention one thing. I was in Boston with the National Fire Protection Association last weekend and we went over the World Trade Centre. It might sound like there is not much you could do on fire safety for that. One of the fights that we have had over the years is whether we should evacuate people or do what we call 'defend in place'. That is, you stay in your apartment or stay in your hotel suite, keep the door closed, keep the smoke out and protect yourself there, because all the walls and everything are designed for a minimum of one hour and some of them as high as two hours rating. You are going to be there for a while.
The heartbreaking thing that occurred in New York was on those floors where people stayed, because that is what they were taught, which was defend in place, died; those who used the stairwells, lived. Now, that's the sort of thing when we think we might have a solution then all of a sudden it is not so easy anymore. So when we get physically challenged people in a building and the fire load is high enough, maybe they are not safe defending in place.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is, we have no simple answers and I wish we did but all we can do is the best with the information that we have.
MR. SILVER: I am constantly being asked by people who have physical disabilities, take theatres, there is a section in Park Lane theatre, and this is a modern building, you step down a number of steps to get down to it, if you are ever there, just think about it, and they have a section at the back of the theatre. I was just dealing with the general manager with that and the section at the back for people who have physical challenges, so they are almost always in wheelchairs. I have had to meet with some of these people who have complained to the general manager of the theatre. If there is a fire alarm, they want to go first, I say, no, no, you go last, because you might become an obstruction. That's a hard sell. But that's the way it is.
As the fire marshal said, we have been asked about the World Trade Centre, buildings like that weren't designed to have airplanes full of aviation fuel fly into them. A typical fire sprinkler system would have handled it and there would not have been that loss of life. I mean, probably every floor above where those planes hit, those lives were going to be lost.
It was a fire ball, it would have to come down through. Typically, in high-rises, they are very well looked after but things happen. That's the way it is.
This may be a terrible analogy but it is one that I use often. Until it crashed the Concorde was the safest airplane in the world. Now, who would have guessed that debris from a plane two minutes before would be carried up by a wheel of a Concorde and propelled into a fuel tank and have happen what happened. But based on mileage, and flying since 1976, the number of passengers and the number of flights, they have never had a problem until the first one.
MR. MORASH: One more on the prevention end of things. You said something about sprinkler heads freezing. I am assuming that that is mostly because of people leaving doors open and that type of thing and not because of design or installation?
MR. SILVER: I think maybe this one it was design. In this particular case, why it didn't happen before I don't know, but it was the unit directly above the electrical vault in this building, and this is a high-end building, well built, well maintained. I think that is what made it doubly shocking to everybody in it. They were out of that building for at least two days.
MR. MORASH: What was the age of the building?
MR. SILVER: You probably remember, it was the one where all the ruckus was about casting a shadow on the Public Gardens, 1988 possibly. It is a beautiful building. It just so happened though that the owners of the condo were in Florida and it was a real cold day and why it didn't happen before on another cold day I don't know but there was a sprinkler head right next to the window on the inside and for some reason it got real cold and it split and down came the water into the electrical room, which compromised the whole system. I mean who is going to stay in a darkened building with no heat. The heating was provided by the electrical system in that particular building, so they had no heat, they had no lights, had no electricity, had no elevators and, in fact, our firefighters carried people down from the 20th floor in arm lifts, down, everyone came down that way because so many of the tenants were well up in their years and they weren't able to come down, they could never have come down the stairwell. That's what happens, something that you really couldn't predict happened, and look how it compromised the whole building. It was just unfortunate.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Maureen.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I would like to apologize, first of all, for my lateness. I am Maureen MacDonald. I am the MLA for the north end of Halifax and in the four years that I have been the representative for this area we have had three serious fires that have resulted in one case in the deaths at Sunrise Manor, the tragic fire there, but also the more recent fire at the Gerrish building that you referred to, the Gerrish Street high-rise, but also in a multi-unit low-rise at the corner of Cunard and Windsor not so long ago, in the last
year, and quite a few people were displaced. I believe there were violations of the safety code in that case. So the issue of fire safety in urban settings has become really important, more important to me in the last few years, given these circumstances.
In addition to the Sunrise Manor situation, which I understand was a situation of careless smoking and no sprinklers in those buildings, lacking in a sprinkler system in a building that was built previous to the change in the Building Code. We have other buildings in the north end of Halifax that aren't sprinklered that are high-rises. I am wondering if we know how many buildings are in this situation in the HRM area and what are the implications of continuing along without having sprinkler systems in those buildings?
MR. SILVER: I don't know if an audit has been done in HRM. I don't think it would be difficult to do, for high-rises in particular. As the fire marshal said, as of 1990, you couldn't build a building over a certain height without them, so that's a plus. But there are a lot of them that still don't have them. Fenwick Towers is a perfect example: 32 storeys full of rambunctious students and again in my area, God bless me. What do you do? That's a big concern for us. Fires in a sprinklered building won't migrate floor to floor, the smoke will. The smoke will kill you.
I forget the second part of your question.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I was just wondering what the implication is of not sprinklering these buildings if we knew how many there were?
MR. SILVER: Do you mean what will be the implications of sprinklering them?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: If there is a fire?
MR. SILVER: Financially it would be prohibitive to sprinkler a building. It is about $100,000 a floor. Should they be done? Yes. In a perfect world, yes, but there is a lot you can do in a non-sprinklered building and that is getting the message out to the tenants that one person's problem is everybody's problem. That's the biggest problem that I have.
In what I do day-to-day, I go into older condo buildings, large ones, that were built without closures on their entry doors. That's been a major battle, because in a condo building, of which there are many in south-end Halifax, these were built before a certain date, so the entry doors were built without a closure on them. I walk in with the 1995 Fire Code under my arm which says, you get a closure. The next problem, they say, well, the door belongs to me. I haven't gone to court on that one yet. Maybe the inside of the door belongs to them, but I consider the outside of the door as part of the wall. For some buildings it hasn't been a hard sell but for others it has been. I say look - say there are 20 units on the floor - if your neighbour has a fire and your neighbour is lucky enough to get out, the door behind that
neighbour doesn't close, and you hear the fire alarm and you are trying to get out your front door, I said your neighbour's problem has just become your problem.
That's what I intend to use in court, which I will be going to soon for this one. I don't know if it is going to sell, but I am going to tell the judge what I firmly believe - one person's problem in a multi-family building is everyone's problem. The other thing is that if that building was built today it would be built with a closure on that door, and there is a reason for it. It is time, really, in some cases, for a lot of catching up on common sense, but that has been a major battle.
The other issue is, if you do as one of the buildings has done in my area, I called for closures on doors, 400 apartment units, and they put the heaviest closures in the world on. That means if you are 80 years old or 85 years old and you have an arthritis problem, opening the doors is a problem; although I asked the owners to consider spring-loaded hinges for that very reason - oh no, no, we will put on the $120, heavy-duty closures because we don't have to worry about ever having to maintain it from a practical, financial point of view. They did no favours for those 400 units, and I reminded them of that.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Certainly, I have a lot of seniors living in manors as well, and I know the issue of fire doors and trying to keep fire doors shut and not propped open . . .
MR. SILVER: It is impossible because they use the stairwells as a path of travel.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: . . . and these kinds of things is an ongoing sort of issue, for sure.
You indicated that you attend a fair number of Residential Tenancies Board hearings. I guess this is an area I don't know a great deal about and I am not sure if it is within the remit of this committee but I guess my question is with respect to harmonization between the Residential Tenancies Act and the Fire Code and whether or not it is your feeling and your experience that the Act has the teeth that are required to deal with this, and the process itself, whether it is a process that is helpful to deal with situations in an expedient and timely manner.
MR. SILVER: I have no knowledge of the Residential Tenancies Act per se. I do know, of the appearances I have made both at the Residential Tenancies Board and also Provincial Court and Supreme Court, either the hearing officer or the judges, Provincial or Supreme, place a lot of weight on documents like the Fire Code of Canada and the Building Code of Canada. They don't seem to ask a lot of questions, they accept as fact what we propose, and that has been my experience. Again, I can't refer to the Act itself, I have no knowledge of it, or very little, but when we quote sections, which we do and it is done formal in our correspondence of either the Fire Code or Building Code, those documents bring with
them a lot of weight. I don't think it is just because the judges may not be that familiar with that document as they would be with the Criminal Code of Canada but in this age of liability they realize that if, number one, in terms of a landlord, that the landlord, as far as the law is concerned is deemed responsible for proper maintenance of the building all of the time, whether or not they get visited by someone like us, they have to be in compliance at all times regardless of a visit, so there is a liability issue.
Number two, the Fire Code of Canada, in particular, spells out in black and white just what the responsibilities are. There is no jury, it is black and white. If you are literate you can read it, and you are either in compliance or you are not. In that way it has been an easy sell in court, for me anyway.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Earlier you mentioned that enforcement is the issue quite often. So I guess this must be a question of resources that get allocated to do prevention and enforcement. So, how many people are actually dedicated to doing the kind of work you do, to go into buildings like Sunrise Manor or Gordon B. Isenor?
MR. SILVER: In the city there are probably 13 of us in the fire prevention division, but up until three years ago someone in my area, for instance, would do everything. These would do the enforcement, the investigations and we would do the public education. We have since changed, so rather than all the fire prevention people doing everything, we have three people who do nothing but public education, two who do nothing but investigations and the rest of us do enforcement. I would say we have about seven enforcement people for the core of HRM right now and we are going to soon add two more because currently we don't look after enforcement outside the core. That is done by the deputy fire marshal for the area.
My understanding is - and the fire marshal can correct me - that as of April 1st, HRM will be looking after fire prevention activities in everything but provincial buildings and hospitals in HRM. We will be adding two people but we are taking on a much bigger area. Now, it certainly isn't as dense as what we have here but it is really a question of manpower. I mean, when I look at the Province of Nova Scotia and the minuscule number of manpower, people they have doing what I do, basically, it must be very frustrating. How can someone be proactive when one deputy has two or three counties?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: It's impossible.
MR. SILVER: You can't be - it can only be complaint driven.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: My final question is whether or not there is any difference between the way you approach enforcement between the private sector landlords and the public sector as a landlord. Specifically, I am thinking about the Metropolitan Authority.
MR. SILVER: There is no difference.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: No difference.
MR. SILVER: No. I have taken them - well, I have threatened four times to take the city to court and I work for the city. (Laughter) Several of the buildings, they were among the worst landlords, but they have cleaned up their act. I was surprised how many buildings the city owns.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Oh, yes, it's a lot.
MR. SILVER: But they did and now they are all on board. But, no, there is no differential.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: It's the province now, I think, who has become the major landlord in the public sector, pretty well, and a few non-profits still around. Thank you.
MR. SILVER: It is amazing how many buildings that governments do own. It is shocking, actually, to look down the list, see what they own, what they control and so on.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Yes.
MR. SILVER: The law applies to everybody and I think in the last three, four or five years, we have gone a long way to educating everybody in the system, that there are no exceptions.
In terms of what we do in the city day-to-day - as I am sure it is probably the same with the province - is that, if I come to a building where there are a lot of things to be done - and that happens often - all we really want the owner to do is look after the urgent problems on an urgent basis, which means right away, and the maintenance issues, if they have a lot of doors to change, or whatever it may be, all we ever ask of them is to be in correspondence with us and, in writing, propose a reasonable timetable. If the timetable is reasonable - and that is usually within three years - then we will accept it, but urgent matters looked after urgently.
A good example would be Dalhousie University, which, under the Fire Prevention Act, I won't be looking after anymore. But, currently, I do. They have over 2,000 rooms which they rent out to students and most of them, because of their age, didn't have closures on. We went back to the closure issue, again, okay, and they didn't have the right construction for their doors.
I wrote them a letter, identified the problems and I said, just send me back what you consider reasonable. Now, our office policy is, three years is it, but they sent me back a letter saying, we need seven years to do everything. Does it really matter to me? No, because I know they are going to do it and they have been sending me progress reports. I know, to come out of the blue and say, you've got to fix everything within 30 days, 60 days or a year is not reasonable. That is all we ever ask people in our positions, send us back what you can do reasonably that isn't urgent and it is never turned down. But they have to get the message. They have to get the first inspection too.
Like I say, in the past several years, there has been a lot of proactive work in HRM and outside of HRM in the province, but it is a slow process. Someone who has had a building for a hundred years and maybe has never been visited, to suddenly get a visit and be told that you have to meet the 1995 standard for everything but, say, sprinklers, it's a major PR job. It's not just quoting sections in the Fire Code and Building Code. It is almost making them feel good about what they have to do and when they spend money, they never feel good. It is a major PR job. That is the toughest part of my job, day to day, not going in and quoting the book. It is almost making them feel good about what they have to do and reminding them of their liability and that we are in it together. My fingerprints are everywhere, where I have been, so it's not just them, it's me too.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Silver. Does anyone have any other questions for Mr. Silver? There were, I think, a couple of issues that we had from the Nova Scotia Building Advisory Committee that we wanted to question Mr. Cormier on, so if we could move to that issue. Graham, did you have any from that meeting?
MR. STEELE: Firstly, I wonder if Mr. Silver, I presume, could be excused at this point.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Certainly. I realize he is a busy man. We appreciate you coming in. Thank you very much.
MR. SILVER: Thank you.
MR. STEELE: Well, thank you very much for the opportunity, Mr. Chairman, because I think you know what the question is. As the chairman, I welcome you, if you want to put the question to Mr. Cormier.
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, it doesn't really matter. I am sure we all have the same questions, so . . .
MR. STEELE: All right. I was unkind enough, Bob, last week to ask a question in your absence, so now I will ask it in your presence. You are the only person who is a member of both the Fire Safety Advisory Council, or Committee?
MR. CORMIER: Council.
MR. STEELE: Council. You're also a member of the Building Advisory Committee. The fire safety committee is urging us to pass the bill as quickly as possible, the Building Advisory Committee is saying they have concerns that they think need to be looked after before the legislation is passed. You are the only person who is a member of both committees and it appears from what we have been told from both committees is that you support both of them. I guess the question is, how can you support both of them at the same time?
MR. CORMIER: By the way, I'm not the only one who is a member of both. The Building Code Coordinator is also a member of both. I would like to take you back and put this whole thing into context.
On September 13, 2000, the Building Advisory Committee met. Now, they had reviewed the Fire Safety Bill at the meeting before that. This meeting was to go over it and they asked me to attend. I was unable to make it, I was out of the province at the time. I have copies of the minutes of the meeting here for you. We went through a number of different things, including the Building Code regulations and everything else.
Now, first of all, let me say that at this particular stage, we had one reading on the bill and we were waiting for all of the commentary to come back in so we could get the bill back in the House for the next two readings.
The Building Advisory Committee was going to put forward commentary. My only interest, as I stated on that day - now, I apologize, I have to get my right copy here. I am missing Page 7, for some reason. Okay: Mr. Thornhill moved that the Building Code officials' recommendations be adopted by the Building Advisory Committee and be forwarded to the minister. Mr. Cormier suggested he would like this done by Friday, September 15th. All I was interested in was getting it to me so I could respond to it. They brought forward five different recommendations.
I would like to give you some of the commentary that I made that was given: Mr. Cormier says there was no way any sections of the Fire Safety Bill regarding the authority of fire officials will be given over to the Building Code. These sections have been here for 40 years. Mr. Cormier's argument is that no matter what happens the fire official is responsible. Mr. Cormier said: I am not changing my opinion, you can take this to the minister if you like.
We had all of our arguments out. All that it was was an agreement to send the recommendations forward for comments back from the advisory council. I did not agree to the actual commentaries themselves. As a matter of fact, the report that you read was not done until two weeks ago. It was sent to me and I remarked to you at the time that I did not
comment back because I did not feel it appropriate for me to do so at that time. Also, we went down through the recommendations.
Recommendation 1 was for the approval or the adoption of the National Fire Code, they said either the Fire Prevention Act or the Building Code Act. Well, all I care is that I get the Fire Code adopted. I have been after it for 15 years. I could easily respond to that, the proper place for it is under the Fire Safety Bill.
Recommendation 2. The province follow a typical responsible model provided for municipal administration and enforcement of the Fire Code similar to the existing framework for the Building Code. Similar, not the same as, similar to. Mr. Cormier said the bill was a step in moving closer to that. I reiterated after that, although it is not captured, we do have the municipalities involved, we do have the appeal process, the municipalities are responsible. There is no mention in here, nor is it mentioned that day that the fire marshal would not be involved in the activities. I did not agree to that.
Recommendation 3. The Building Code be applicable to all buildings regardless of the ownership, licensing status or other circumstances. That is between the Department of Transportation and Public Works and the Department of Municipal Affairs as to whether the Building Code will be applied or not. It is really out of my ballpark, it is a Building Code issue. My feeling is that if we were to receive the value for the cost of the permits we give, I would be in agreement with it.
I have tried to be very conciliatory, I have tried to be very sympathetic and empathetic to the building inspectors' position, but I will be very blunt with you. Mr. Lind, in this particular meeting, made a comment that I think is worth mentioning. It will take me a second to find it, probably. Anyway, his commentary was basically that the - oh, I'm sorry, it wasn't Mr. Lind, it was Mr. McLaren. It says he likes municipal involvement - and we were talking then about the municipalities involved - but is concerned that there are inconsistencies around the province. The Office of the Fire Marshal has provided consistency. This is the discussion that was going on around these recommendations.
Recommendation 4. Where additional design or construction-set standards or amendments to the existing standards are deemed necessary, they be reflected in the Building Code and regulations. I just spent two years moving the sprinkler regulations from the Fire Code over to the Building Code where they belong. I just spent four years with the National Research Council in Ottawa taking all the Building Code requirements out of the Fire Code and putting them in the Building Code. I had to go along with this, that is what I stand for, that is what I believe in, but that is not retrofit. Those are not the requirements to meet fire safety, those are in the Fire Code, those are part of the Fire Code.
One of the major concerns they had was that Tourism, Community Services and a whole bunch of other government agencies have a whole pile of secret design requirements
somewhere. We don't inspect for anything else except what is in the Building Code or the Fire Code. I am unaware of any of these secret design requirements. It is an urban myth. (Laughter) I haven't found them yet. Yes, I do believe Tourism requires that you have to have windows on a bedroom for a tourist home. I think they do have a measurement, but if the Building Code permits it, then that is what they accept. Of course I agreed with it. Either I'm doing it or it's a myth anyway, so let's just get on with it. I just don't have time to fight some of these points anymore.
The last recommendation on the joint committee is to look after the Building Code and Fire Code. I have no problem with the two councils working together to make sure there is no overlap, that the owner is not being nailed twice. I don't have a problem with that. The biggest one seems to be how far you want to deflect that statement on how much municipal or provincial wants to get involved. Am I in agreement? Well, it is sort of like saying, are you pregnant or not pregnant? I am pregnant but I am going to have a boy not a girl. There is a difference in the end result. (Laughter)
I'm sorry, they can have it similar - I will put it to you this way, if you are going to take my authority to make this province fire safe away, then you also have to take my responsibility. You can't have it both ways. The only way I know of is to unify all of the resources that are required. That is what I set out to do, that is what the council set out to do, that is what all of the people we consulted with, all of the processes we went through, everything was to build that. I'm not going to get stuck in a power struggle.
We met with Halifax region. You have heard from the chief building official of Halifax region, you have heard from the chief fire official from Halifax region. Pat, myself, John and the deputy minister were called to a meeting, the Halifax Regional Municipality. They had serious questions with the Fire Safety Bill. We sat down, we spent five minutes shaking hands and congratulating each other and nodding, and then the four of us stood back and allowed the fire and building officials to embarrass their CEO, because the real problems were amongst the two of them, they had nothing to do with us whatsoever.
We are trying to smooth that out a little bit. We are trying to force them into working together. That is the reason the legislation is there. I have no more power over the Building Code next month or the next year than I have right now. Sometimes I get so infuriated I wonder - that's why my hair is so short, I can't get hold of it. (Laughter)
Anyway, we have a situation in Halifax region where we asked a building inspector to ensure a building permit and occupancy permit was put on a building. We started December 1999. Yesterday my deputy gave me a copy of a letter to go off to HRM to please advise us of what they are doing with it. If they don't move, we have to carry out the orders on the building.
So, I just can't sit back and say, well, we will place it over to the building officials and let them look after it. At the end of the day, I am going to be the one in the witness chair, trying to justify to somebody why something happened. I have news for you, I'm a coward, I'm going to run from that for as long as I possibly can. Basically, that is the only thing that upsets me about the process. Yes, I understand the municipalities' concern for costs; yes, I understand the fire and building inspectors who have approached you and said we don't want to lose that interworking relationship we have right now; yes, I can understand the fire officials who are concerned that if they get that Act, are we going to be required to do all kinds of extra training and buy all kinds of equipment and things, those things I can justify, those things the council can lay out explanation for, but I can't fight the urban myths, I can't fight the ghosts hiding behind the trees.
This was an attempt to get it out in the open, let's have a fight, and get it over with. I might add that we did meet with Municipal Affairs, they did go over the bill; they may not have liked it, but there was an agreement between Municipal Affairs and Labour on the issues that are in the Fire Safety Act related to the Building Code and the Fire Safety Act. That's an explanation on the process.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just to clarify in my mind and perhaps others', when the Nova Scotia Building Advisory Council said that you seconded the motion - I think that is what the wording was - then they would have had an understanding of where you stood on this?
MR. CORMIER: Well, if they didn't from the first five pages of this meeting, then they did with the commentary that went with each one of them. My seconding of the motion was to get the darn thing down on paper and get it shipped over to us so we could respond to it. Remember, I had been fighting on this issue for five years with these individuals and we finally got it down to five points, only one of which was really contentious. I was quite happy to face that. I guess, yes, I did second the motion but that did not mean I was in agreement with the contents, and certainly not in agreement with the content of the full report that was delivered to you, the explanatory material that came with it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess my only comment is - and I think this is a fair assessment - that they didn't appear to bring that message to us when they were here.
MR. CORMIER: Well, as I said, I brought copies of the minutes for your perusal and the comments were made beforehand.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Any other questions for the fire marshal?
MR. STEELE: I think that was an excellent answer to the question, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Bob.
MR. CORMIER: Okay, no problem. I just want to make sure I have got a good copy here for you to have.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Bob.
MR. CORMIER: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I guess we have about, roughly, 45 minutes left that we could expand on the actual legislation. I believe we have agreement to do this, as we go through it, in an in-camera session.
[The committee's public session adjourned at 2:13 p.m.]