MR. CHAIRMAN: Good evening. Unfortunately, I guess, as many people as we would have liked to have known about this, don't, but those who are here, we certainly are glad you are here. My name is Jon Carey. I am the MLA for Kings West and I am Chairman of this Select Committee on Fire Safety. Perhaps the MLAs would just introduce themselves around.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: The purpose of these meetings that we have been doing throughout the province, generally, is to get all the input that we can from the citizens and various special interest groups, businesses, or whatever. It is an opportunity for you to share your thoughts with your MLAs, an all-Party committee, so that we can take the information back and try to come up with the very best legislation that we can for the fire safety.
This is our 10th meeting and we have been from Sydney to Yarmouth. At all of those locations, we have taken a moment, just in recognition, realizing the close brotherhood and the sacrifice of the fire people, and the 300 firefighters, in particular, who lost their lives in New York.
I saw on the news last week, I guess, where another firefighter in the U.S. - I forget the city at this time - had lost his life. Knowing that any one of the people that go out and protect our communities are putting their life on the line. So perhaps we could just take a few moments and stand in silence in recognition of these people.
[One minute of silence was observed.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We are pleased tonight, as well, to have the Fire Marshal Bob Cormier with us, who has been able to attend pretty well all of our meetings. Welcome.
This select committee is an all-Party committee and we have been charged with the responsibility of making recommendations to the House of Assembly on a new law for fire safety. We are reviewing proposed changes to the Fire Prevention Act which are contained in Bill No. 58. Bill No. 58 was introduced in the House of Assembly in June 2000.
Now the government wants to widen its base of comments from the public and complete the legislation. We are also meeting with Nova Scotians. We would like to hear from the public, as well as people who will be directly affected by the new law such as, insurance companies and other businesses, municipalities and the fire service. We are meeting in 10 communities across the province and this is our 10th 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 many years so it is important that we get it right from the beginning. Once we have collected and reviewed all submissions, we will make recommendations in a report to the House of Assembly.
Bill No. 58 sets up a framework for fire safety. It assigns responsibilities to individuals and organizations that work to prevent fires, people that fight fires, companies and individuals that own land, insurers, municipalities, 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.
Specific bulleted items in Bill No. 58 - and this is not all of them but this would be a number of them:
- is written with the intention that it would replace, completely, 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
- is 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, for 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 could 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. It establishes a Fire Safety Advisory Council to advise the Minister of Environment and Labour on matters of fire safety.
Those are the highlights of the bill.
As I said, we are here today to listen to your concerns and your input regarding fire safety and what you would like to see, if you have specific points. Kim, do we have any presenters? Would any of you like to comment on any aspect of the Fire Prevention Act now, or anything regarding the fire service? I mean, we are here and if you have concerns, we are pleased to be in your community and, as I said, it is an all-Party committee so we have an opportunity to gather information. We certainly are interested in your thoughts. It doesn't have to be a written presentation, or anything. You can just come up to the mike and feel totally at home, and share with us. You don't have to know what is in the bill to express your concerns about fire safety or what you see as a problem with what is now being done, or anything like that.
If there are none - you can think a bit - I know Bill Dooks will have a few things to say. So, perhaps, Bill, if you would like to just make a few comments.
MR. WILLIAM DOOKS: Yes, I would, Mr. Chairman. First of all, I would like to welcome my colleagues here in Sheet Harbour tonight. I would like to welcome the people in attendance as well. I also would like to apologize to both our community and to the committee. Obviously, there has been some misunderstanding in advertisement or notification, or whatever. I would just like to make a few comments.
In the Eastern Shore riding, we have two municipal districts: District 1 and District 3. Within District 1, we have 13 fire departments, watched over by Councillor Streatch, and in District 3, we have three fire departments watched over by Councillor Colwell.
I think, with what has happened tonight, that I will take the responsibility and send, fax or e-mail a copy of Bill No. 58, I believe, to your departments tomorrow for your review. I am not sure, Mr. Chairman, when is the cut-off date for them to put in submissions?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We are going to be working on this so I would hope we would have them in at least a couple of weeks.
MR. DOOKS: Well, I would ask for the committee's patience on this. Obviously, I am somewhat embarrassed here tonight, of the happenings, but like I said, I will take the responsibility to e-mail or fax off Bill No. 58 for your perusal and for your comment. You can drop off those comments at my office in Jeddore or mail them to the committee, I would think. We will try to do whatever we can do so that you will have the proper input. Also, I will send Mr. Colwell and Mr. Streatch a copy of the bill, as well.
Other than that, feel free to come to the mike and open up for some dialogue. But you will get the bill and you will have an opportunity to comment. Thank you.
MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Chairman, can I just ask, is it the intention that this legislation will come forward in the fall session?
MR. CHAIRMAN: We are not absolutely sure but I would expect it will be in the spring sitting.
MR. DEXTER: In the spring setting.
MR. CHAIRMAN: There are some things, I think, that we would like to deal with. Everyone who is on the committee, I think, will need at least two or three meetings before we can finally put it to rest, after it is written.
MR. JERRY PYE: Also, Mr. Chairman, I am wondering if it is not possible, since there are no presenters tonight, and since you have already done some tours across the province, maybe just to briefly enlighten those individuals who are present tonight on some of the issues that have come out of the previous meetings, so that maybe there is a sense of direction one might go with if they are going to do a written presentation to the parties involved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps what I will do is, we would take advantage of the expertise of our fire marshal. Bob is here and I know Bob thinks this is pretty good legislation, as he worked on it. Maybe, Bob, if you would come up and just share a few of the points where it will show, as it is now, and perhaps even make a few comments on what opposition there is and what you see as a reason why.
MR. ROBERT CORMIER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. There is, I guess, one capital concept with the Fire Safety Bill and that was to make it an evolutionary bill, I will call it. That is, a bill that is not going to stand still. Although, most of the powers and the authorities lie within the Act, the actual activities lie within the regulations.
The reason for that is, we have seen over the years throughout North America a change from centralized fire safety or fire prevention to regionalized, mainly because central governments just cannot afford to provide this service on the level that they should.
Ontario has probably provided the full benchmark. They have now come full cycle, where the Office of the Fire Marshal is also responsible for the fire safety or suppression activities, the firefighting activities, now, set standards for communities that they must reach. Nova Scotia still has a standard where a municipality may have a fire department, and from there we have evolved whatever we receive from our community. Ontario now sets that standard.
So when we started out we knew that we wanted to create a bill that was going to last for a long period of time and we did not have to open the Act, but the regulations had to be a constant review of where we were in the province.
The bill is broken down into three major sections. The first section deals with the powers for inspections. The powers for inspections are mainly carried out on those buildings that have already been passed by a building inspector. So if the building inspector has gone in and has approved the building, the building meets the Building Code, then it is the fire inspector's job to maintain that, to make sure that it doesn't deteriorate, nobody has kicked in the doors, the fire alarm is still working, the sprinkler system works, et cetera.
The other aspect are those buildings that never met a Building Code that were built previous to the adoption of the Building Code that have to be upgraded. People go in and they go into a - right now we have one where a company has taken over a fish plant and decided to turn it into a school. The municipality has not taken action on ensuring that they get an occupancy permit. We can't allow the students in there without taking action. So the fire safety officer has to have the right to be able to take action.
The third aspect - and everybody seems to forget about this - are the non-building issues, the issues related to hazardous materials, waste storage, the storage of petroleum products. The situation that we had at Cornwallis with the tire fires, those are also the responsibility of the fire safety official.
The third part is education, where the official is responsible to ensure that everybody within a building knows how to get out. Evacuation procedures and the more critical the situation with the individual, the more important that is. When we look at a hospital, nursing
home or correctional facility, those evacuation procedures are absolutely critical and have to be done properly. That is the one side of the program.
The second side of the program was an attempt to work more closely with the fire service under the administration of the Act. That was for any inspections they decided to undertake and for the investigation of fires. Without the fire departments, we don't have a proper accounting of our fire causes or our cost of fire. Without that, we can't put our resources in the right place. When we don't put our resources in the right place then, of course, we waste them.
The other aspect of that was to set up an advisory concept with the fire service. At the present time there is no voice to government from the fire service, except through the Fire Marshal's Office. We have basically been unable to provide that service in what I will call a rationalized manner. So there is the formation of an advisory committee to advise on standards for training and other items which will become voluntary. They will not be mandated that fire departments should follow them but it does give them goals to reach for.
The major opposition or problems with the bill have been divided into two different categories: the municipality and the building officials. The building officials are, again, split by whether they feel they are going to lose some of the interaction that they presently share with us and others who feel that the entire matter should be turned over to the municipalities to look after.
We don't feel that Nova Scotia is at that point yet. We don't have fire inspectors in three-quarters of our communities and I do not believe, and cannot advise, that the responsibility for our high life safety facilities such as nursing homes, residential care facilities, correctional facilities be turned over immediately. Although, at some future point, for most municipalities such as Halifax region, that will occur. But Halifax region at this point hasn't got that ability.
At the present time, the majority of the resources are centred in the core area and they are now just beginning to move their fire prevention out into the rest of the municipality. We are looking at approximately five years before they are going to be able to accomplish that. There is a need to maintain that ongoing working relationship.
What we did build into the Act was a requirement that the building and the fire official had to work together. They cannot turn their back on each other. It is critical. It costs too much for an owner who is improperly either delayed in construction or held back by costs that are incurred when they shouldn't be, the fire official who requires a sprinkler system to be installed when it doesn't need to be installed. So those things we wanted to prevent.
The other opposition came from the municipalities who, even though they were required to have fire inspections carried out since 1976, many of them have not. Of course, they see it as a cost factor and as a downloading. They are concerned about the amount of dollars that are going to be involved in that. Those are the two major oppositions to it.
We have heard from fire departments who mistakenly understood that the concept of the advice was, in actual fact, going to be mandatory. For instance, we have just put together - and the committee is meeting on it - it is made up of fire service personnel. The committee is meeting again in November to finalize the occupational health and safety guidelines for firefighters, to assist volunteer fire departments in meeting at least a minimum standard and keeping their firefighters alive and safe.
There has been some voice of opposition there but, again, there is nothing in the legislation to allow that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Bob. Two members have just joined us. Russell, would you like to just introduce yourself and the constituency you represent.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I do apologize for being somewhat tardy but we left a meeting in Halifax and it was almost 6:00 p.m. before we were able to escape that meeting to come here. I do apologize. Of course, Bob and I have exchanged views on his presentation already. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Brian.
MR. BRIAN BOUDREAU: Brian Boudreau, Cape Breton The Lakes. I also do apologize. It was the time frame. We didn't get lost. (Laughter) I do apologize.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Does any of the committee have any questions for the fire marshal, or do any of the people here tonight have any questions for any of us, or do the fire marshal? We would be happy to try to answer.
MR. MACKINNON: I have one question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Russell.
MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Chairman, a question of Mr. Cormier. I believe the very first hearing that took place at the Mira Road Fire Hall, I raised the issue - or perhaps it was the one in Port Hawkesbury - I raised the issue of the Department of Environment and Labour providing some assistance to volunteer firefighters, to help adjust with the increased costs that will be incurred because of the increased safety standards that they will have to meet.
Has the department undertaken to give considerations as to what initiatives would be forthcoming that would generate some revenue? I know I did raise the issue of some type of pay-back levy through the department via the Workers' Compensation Board because of the cost to each volunteer fire department on workers' compensation premiums.
MR. CORMIER: I will speak first to the aspect as to whether there should be any costs incurred by the local fire department.
There is nothing in this bill that impacts the fire department on fire suppression for emergency operations. They are there as guidelines. It is a choice of whether the municipality wishes to put them in as policy. Under the MGA, the municipality does have the right to put policy together to impact the fire department on its operations. There is nothing in this bill, other than to try to give some guidance to that process if it is chosen to be done.
The workers' compensation is a good concept that is an expensive one. I would dare say I would like to have a survey of how many departments are actually taking part in that because it does require the municipality to play a role in that. Some municipalities do not wish to and many of our fire departments are now buying their insurance through other insurance companies. That includes their long-term disability and life and death benefits. So I'm not sure how many would be affected if we were to do something through that.
MR. MACKINNON: One supplemental, if I could, Mr. Chairman. The number crunching I did at that time showed that it would mean, approximately, one cent per $100 of assessment to cover the entire cost which would be somewhere between $800,000 and $900,000, if you took an average of, let's say, $3,000 for, approximately, 300 fire departments across the province. It might be a little more or a little less.
Some were using the figure of $2,400 but I went on the high end just to be safe and even at that, when you look at the growth of the economy and the total payroll for the province, my figures would show that it would work out to, approximately, one cent per $100 assessment which is pretty modest when you consider that out of the $2.54, 72 cents of that goes to the unfunded liability and it is going to be paid off in less than one-third of the period of time. So somebody is doing quite well at the expense of both employers and employees. I think volunteer firefighters should be given some consideration, given the impact on both private and commercial and industrial.
MR. CORMIER: The committee that was struck to review - I am loathe to use the word "compensation" but - assistance to volunteer fire departments by the government. As you are aware, of course, we came up with the license plates, the free registrations for volunteer firefighters.
There was a complete review of the concept of an income tax rebate which the committee suggested be set aside, mainly because it provided assistance to those in the urban areas who received the most assistance in their firefighting, including very high honorariums, and that those in the rural regions who were really the ones who worked very hard to bring in the money for their fire departments, actually, would receive very little, if any at all.
That committee is certainly open to any suggestions on ways that we can assist in compensating. If it were seen that the workers' compensation could assist the full fire service, it would certainly be one that would be looked at.
I think you will find that Cape Breton is very intertwined with the workers' compensation system, where the Valley region, almost totally from Windsor right through to Liverpool, is tied into an insurance scheme through a private insurance agent. So it depends on where you are in the province, if you would receive any return on that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Brian.
MR. BOUDREAU: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am just a little confused about - when you replied to the question in regard to the cost of rural volunteer fire departments, you indicated that there wouldn't be any cost to them.
MR. CORMIER: Within this bill, there is nothing that requires a fire department to do anything, other than investigate fires. If they investigate fires and there is money involved for security, then that money is recovered through the municipality by a lien on the tax or the property.
MR. BOUDREAU: You indicated that there might perhaps be a cost to the municipality, if they choose.
MR. CORMIER: Absolutely, there is a cost to the municipal tax rolls.
MR. BOUDREAU: Then you indicated that if they choose.
MR. CORMIER: Okay, we have to separate two issues here. For those municipalities that do not have a fire inspector and have to hire and train one there will be a cost incurred. For instance, Halifax region, even if we did not have a change in the bill, their increase in cost to provide fire inspections in the rural areas is going to increase their costs. In some of the counties or municipalities where we have no fire inspections done now, there will be a cost to the municipality for having that carried out.
For the fire departments, the fire department is under the direct - I have to be careful of my wording because the MGA is very clear on that - the municipality as a registering agent for the fire departments does have a right to set policy. If they should decide that the
guidelines we create, the training, is a requirement on the fire department, then it will cost the fire department money to meet those requirements, but it is not directly from us. It is the choice of the municipality.
MR. BOUDREAU: I want to make it clear. Will the municipality have a choice? I know in 1976, that Act is not being used by the municipal units. Will the municipal units have the option of either applying this bill or not?
MR. CORMIER: It is very clear in the language of the legislation that they shall have an appointed fire inspector, that we have the right to audit the system to ensure that they are carrying them out, and if they are not carrying them out then we have the right to do it and bill them for it.
MR. BOUDREAU: That was the question I wanted answered.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other questions?
MR. MACKINNON: On a point of clarification, Mr. Chairman. Under the present legislation, Mr. Cormier, who is responsible for fire investigation?
MR. CORMIER: Fire investigations, the fire chief is supposed to initiate the fire investigation, and then they may call on our office, if they so desire.
MR. MACKINNON: But who is ultimately responsible under the present legislation?
MR. CORMIER: Under the present legislation the chief is responsible to begin the investigation.
MR. MACKINNON: To begin, but who is responsible to make sure . . .
MR. CORMIER: It does not say in the legislation, sir.
MR. MACKINNON: Okay, that's the point I wanted to make.
MR. CORMIER: Now, we are trying to create that clarification.
MR. BOUDREAU: Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. Who is currently paying for it today then? How about if I ask this question, whose cost is it now? Is it your office or is it the . . .
MR. CORMIER: For the fire investigation?
MR. BOUDREAU: Yes.
MR. CORMIER: The fire departments normally begin the investigation. If they are unable to easily determine cause, then they will call in my department. Halifax region does a full investigation from beginning to end. Many of the others, I have my staff on the road weekends and nights trying to handle it.
MR. BOUDREAU: I am very familiar. There is no doubt your staff is overworked, they are very professional and good at what they do. I am not suggesting that for one second. The fees to your office, are they recoverable right now?
MR. CORMIER: No, not for investigation purposes.
MR. BOUDREAU: So, is it fair to say the province now pays for investigations, if your office is called in?
MR. CORMIER: That is correct, and that will continue.
MR. BOUDREAU: And it won't be billed back?
MR. CORMIER: To the municipality?
MR. BOUDREAU: Yes.
MR. CORMIER: No. Investigation is not included in the inspection activity.
MR. BOUDREAU: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there anyone in the audience who has any questions or comments they would like to share with us? Come right up to the mike, sir. Could you just give your name so that we can have it on record.
MR. KEN MCDERMOTT: My name is Ken McDermott, Station 34. My rank is Captain. My question goes to you and perhaps to everyone around this table at this time. How come we aren't already covered by workers' compensation? When we volunteer our services, when I get in the fire truck along with my crew or Station 28, if they get into their vehicles, we are putting our lives on the line to provide a service, and we don't ask one red copper in return, not one red cent do we get back. If somebody gets burned, hurt, half blown-up, crippled for the rest of their lives, we don't have any compensation. What does the HRM say, go to hell, sorry, you can't work for us anymore, you're no more good? What is the answer there? How come we aren't already provided with that?
MR. CORMIER: I am going to be cautious on this one, because I would have to check with HRM and their continuance policy. Certainly I know that under the previous policies for Halifax County, et cetera, firefighters were covered under a different scheme, but
there was coverage there. Now whether that has been continued or not, that I can't say. Chief, are you aware?
MR. ANTHONY FARRIS: There is coverage through HRM.
MR. CORMIER: Is it a private plan?
MR. FARRIS: Yes.
MR. CORMIER: Volunteer fire service insurance plan. That is there to replace the workers' compensation.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Am I correct that that would ensure that everyone . . .
MR. CORMIER: I would have to check that, but that is normally a blanket policy that is bought on all of the firefighters.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Of HRM.
MR. CORMIER: That's correct.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other comments or questions? Thank you, Bob. Perhaps, Bill, if you would like to conclude our meeting.
MR. DOOKS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and audience. Indeed, I would like to welcome both members from the Liberal caucus, it is nice to have you in Sheet Harbour this evening. As I said earlier, you will receive the information necessary within the next couple of days, from my office. Take an opportunity to digest that and pass your comments back along to the committee. I think it is important maybe to review it and to talk it over with your local councillor, indeed his input will be very important as well. Thank you, and enjoy your evening.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We are adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 7:57 p.m.]