Comment: August 2016
By Laura King
The news on Jan. 5 that 43 racehorses had died in a barn fire in Puslinch Township, south of Guelph, Ont., was hard on the property owners, the animal owners, and the tight harness-racing community.
The loss was also tough on members of the volunteer Puslinch Fire Department, who responded but couldn’t save the 13-year-old structure, or the equines.
Classy Lane Stables can house 222 horses in its five barns; the 54-hectare complex includes an all-weather racetrack. Fifty firefighters from five departments fought the fire in barn 1, in -15 C conditions, employing a tanker shuttle.
“This is a multimillion-dollar fire, the highest dollar loss that we’ve experienced in our township,” Fire Chief Steve Goode said.
Classy Lane’s training facility was widely respected as top-notch. Yet its barns are unsprinklered.
The fire was one of several in Ontario last winter that killed large numbers of animals; according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, more than 206 metric tonnes of animals (an interesting way to measure fatalities) died in 15 barn fires this year.
There was talk after the Classy Lane fire of sprinklers. No laws require sprinklers in most barns. No laws forbid them, either.
Credit, then, to members of the Puslinch Fire Department, who not only worked with the Classy Lane owners to rebuild a safer, better-protected stable with top-notch fire-prevention measures, but also embraced an opportunity to complete a training burn during which barn owners and media learned about fire dynamics and the need to thoroughly protect their properties.
Cynics might scoff that insurance coverage is a deterrent to the cost of installing sprinklers, or wonder why there was such a hullabaloo about racehorses when more than 100 people die in unsprinklered homes in Ontario every year.
As the NFPA’s Canadian regional director, Shayne Mintz, wrote in May, NFPA 150: Standard on Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities, recognizes that installing sprinklers is one of many ways to help protect animal-housing facilities.
However, Mintz said, sprinklers are not a blanket solution because of the unique hazards and specific needs of certain animals, and are not required in barns.
Sprinklers are not required in most single-family dwellings either, yet afford the best protection and the best chance of survival.
Ontario’s Farm Building Code is under review. According to The Daily Commercial News, the Canadian Farm Builders Association supports the review but is wary of sprinklers.
“Sprinklers, insulation, wall coverings, protection, mechanical systems, it goes on and on,” CFBA board member Steve Adema told the News. “And all of sudden you have doubled the cost of your building. And I can tell you, there are a lot of farmers out there, they would be screaming if we told them, by the way, your building costs are going to double.”
Such is the price of doing business, or is it?