Comment: March 2016
By Laura King
Back in 2008, I was flabbergasted to learn that the Sunrise Propane depot that blew up in Toronto was in a residential area, across the street from ordinary homes.
I was in Nova Scotia on vacation – it was Aug. 10 – when I saw the report, gobsmaked that there were no regulations prohibiting a propane filling station from locating in the middle of a seemingly nice neighbourhood. Whether the propane company or the homes had been there first was irrelevant; something should have changed before two people died – one in the explosion, one responding to it.
Later, while I was still learning which agencies regulate, or don’t regulate what, I was equally flabbergasted to find out that not all seniors homes have sprinklers, and that trains full of heaven-knows-what hazardous products speed through towns and cities across Canada but municipalities and responders often have no idea what’s in them.
I remember questioning the Sunrise location and wondering how policy makers could be so complacent. A Sunrise worker had, of course, violated policy on the morning of the incident, but why had the depot been allowed to be on that site in the first place?
Policy, of course, isn’t the issue; it’s politics, and the bulldog-like efforts of the vocal minority who aren’t afraid of backlash and get things done. Sadly, in each of these examples – propane, retirement homes and the transportation of dangerous goods – people had to die before the rules changed. (No surprise, really, given smoking, seatbelts, carbon-monoxide alarms and the like.) In all three cases, individuals and organizations had to take on government(s) to force change. Why? Because change costs money – for government or big businesses that pay big taxes.
So, what’s changed?
Propane facilities can no longer be built in residential areas in Ontario and there are strict operating regulations, thanks to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) and bulldog Ted Bryan, the fire chief in Otanabee-South Monaghan.
Although it took a disaster of mammoth proportions to change the transportation of dangerous goods by rail in Canada, the after-effects of Lac-Megantic are accumulating; there’s a list of bulldogs connected to this issue – primarily Chris Powers, a former chief in Ontario and New Brunswick, and the CAFC.
And retirement homes in Ontario must be retrofitted with sprinklers – at tremendous cost to the province, which owns many of them; Jim Jessop, now a deputy chief in Toronto, was the bulldog in that battle, bolstered by the OAFC.
So, it’s February as I write; three people died in an apartment-building fire in Toronto that wasn’t fully sprinklered and a quick look at the home page of our website shows residential fire fatalities in Vaughan, Ont., and Langley, B.C. in the last week.
Residential sprinklers. Any bulldogs out there want to take on that one?