Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Prince Rupert Fire/Rescue to return to Fire Inspection program with new measures in place

Prince Rupert Council members received some background on how the city's Fire/Rescue Department is making its return to it's program for Fire Inspections of inhabited structures, with Fire Chief Jeff Beckwith in the Council chamber on Monday to provide the details.

As the Chief outlined for the councillors, the previous inspection process had come to a stop owing to COVID, though the Department used that period to review how they conducted that inspection work and to redesign the program. 

"I'll just give you a brief history on it, when COVID happened and fire inspections in the community stopped because we had to respect the fact that we couldn't get into a lot of property around town ...  so we used that time to conduct an internal review to see what was working well with our inspection process and what was working poorly. So we've revamped our inspection process and rolling it out now" -- Prince Rupert Fire Chief Jeff Beckwith

The scope of the changes that have been put in place is outlined in the snapshot of the key policy elements of the report that have been formalized below:

click to enlarge 

The council members had a range of questions to follow up on from the report (which you can read from the Agenda package on page 88 ).

Councillor Wade Niesh asked about the process towards empty buildings and what the process and rules may be for those, at the moment the Chief noted that any empty building or one not in use does not meet the criteria for inspection.

"Any building or property that is not occupied does not meet the criteria for our inspection, so it's only once they've become in service, or in use, that activates our inspection frequencies and our program, so buildings that are vacant for a long time we don't go into ... the same for residential unless we're invited in to do a courtesy inspection at the their place' -- Fire Chief Beckwith

Councillor Niesh followed-up  to ask if there was some value in providing for inspections of empty buildings, with an eye on some of the unknown grow situations,  asking if it would be wise towards a pre-emptive measure. 

The Chief reinforced that at the moment the onus is on the property owner to ensure for oversight on the empty buildings.

"I think once they are vacant, I think by law we can't and that's why it's not in place. What is in place is for places that are vacant, the responsibility does fall onto the property owner or the representative for anything that does happen with that. And so if there is a fire in a vacant building they bear that responsibility. 

Our inspection process does have an enforcement angle to it. But ultimately the responsibility is on the property owner to make sure they are maintaining their buildings regardless of inspections. -- Fire Chief Beckwith

Councillor Cunningham spoke to the issue of medicinal marijuana grow operations and whether they were exempt from fire inspection regulations, The Fire Chief noted of some current loopholes in place that impacts on the process and how they are not required to be inspected, once licensed it becomes a privacy issue for the owner, the Chief noting of some of the impact that could result.

"We're certainly doing some investigating in that, but as it stands right now, there are some pretty obvious loopholes in that whole process to get some firmity. 

They are not required to be inspected by us, once they are licensed  then that is part of a privacy issue for the business owner or the occupant and it ties into security. 

So, if all of a sudden everybody else in the neighbourhood knows that this house is filled with a bunch of pot plants, some people may go in there and start looking for free pot" -- Fire Chief Beckwith

The City Manager then stepped into the conversation as to what options the City may have towards addressing the issue and how the city could develop a process for inspecting them as well as it making for an issue for the city to express to Health Canada.

"This is a  matter that Council has actually asked us to do some research and develop policy on. To allow the city to find a way to you know where medically oriented grow operations for cannabis and to develop a process for inspecting them. 

That's the one thing we can do, we can't say yes or no to them, but we can inspect. 

So that will be our way into doing what we can with that use, along with expressing our concerns to Health Canada as they reconsider their regulations" -- City Manager Rob Buchan

Councillor Adey noted of the past fires in the community and the history of the buildings that have been lost and how anything that the city could put in place towards prevention would be fully supported by him.

He also had inquiries related to the timeline for inspection laid out and how the Fire Department came to its guidelines. 

In reply the Fire Chief noted of the pressures on staffing that the inspection process could bring and how the City offers more than say the District of Port Edward  but less than a larger Community city such as Prince George.  Chief Beckwith also observed on how the process could trigger reinspections for compliance for structures where deficiencies are found. 

"That was done mostly in two steps, one was cooperative with the surrounding departments that we have around here in Terrace and Kitimat to do some comparatives. We also consulted the Office of the Fire Commissioner to see what was trending in the province right now. 

A lot of small to mid size communities struggle with an inspection program because of staffing and expenses of doing this. 

We're kind of right in the bubble between being so small that we don't really have much of an inspection and ...  but not too big to have our own dedicated inspection prevention program within the department. 

So like you know Port Edward wouldn't have this, they would not be able to offer what we offe , but we don't offer what Prince George has in place right now" -- Fire Chief Jeff Beckwith

Councillor Randhawa asked how other communities deal with the issue of vacant buildings and some of the elements that they use, the Fire Chief noted he wasn't sure how that fit into the scope of the Fire Department , though it was something that City Staff noted they would review.

Councillor Cunningham asked about inspections of residential building, advised that they can do inspections but there are no enforcement themes available and it would be more of an advisory capacity for residential owners.

The Fire Chief's presentation can be viewed from the City's Video archive starting at the 35 minute mark.

For more notes on Monday's Council Session see our Council Timeline feature.

A look at the work of the Prince Rupert Fire/Rescue Department and other Emergency Responders around the Northwest can be explored from our archive page.

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