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NFPA Impact: June 2011


May 18, 2011
By Sean tracey

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Fire departments across Canada do not seem to place the necessary onus on fire-inspection activities. This may be because city officials lack funding or commitment to see these inspections carried out, or because they may not have an adequate handle on the extent of hazardous processes and facilities in their communities. The benefits of mandatory inspections are not clearly identified in our fire codes or prevention acts.

Fire departments across Canada do not seem to place the necessary onus on fire-inspection activities. This may be because city officials lack funding or commitment to see these inspections carried out, or because they may not have an adequate handle on the extent of hazardous processes and facilities in their communities. The benefits of mandatory inspections are not clearly identified in our fire codes or prevention acts. This further highlights the gap between the National Fire Code of Canada and the NFPA 1 Fire Code. The NFPA 1 Fire Code has a specific section enabling local fire officials to charge for permits for most of the high fire-risk operations in their communities. Local fire chiefs should consider implementing bylaws that enable them to charge for permits that, in turn, fund fire-inspection activities in their communities. The examples found in NFPA 1 Fire Code can be a good basis for this.

In 2006, an NFPA needs assessment of the United States fire service found that 25.2 per cent of responding fire departments reported that no one conducts fire-code inspections within their communities. I believe the gap is even greater in Canada. Lack of inspection or negligent inspection practices can result in casualties and fire loss. When a fire occurs, it could be argued that the community approved the high-risk operation but did too little to safeguard or follow up on the fire-code requirements.

In its July 2008 report entitled Measuring Code Compliance Effectiveness for Fire-Related Portions of Codes, the NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation provides an excellent summary of past research and studies that show how effective inspection programs can be at identifying risks.

The NFPA 1 Fire Code section 1.12 (Permits and Approvals) provides excellent guidance on the requirements for permits and approval of these for high-risk processes. It includes a detailed list of almost 80 hazardous processes that would require a permit, including the nature of the permit required and the reference to the code provision. A sampling of these:

  • storage of aerosol products
  • carnivals and fairs
  • commercial rubbish handling operations
  • cutting and welding operations
  • dry-cleaning plants
  • dust-producing operations
  • storage of flammable and combustible liquids over specified quantities
  • inside and outside storage of tires
  • places of assembly
  • torch-applied roofing operations

In my opinion, these can be incorporated into a local fire-prevention bylaw and the corresponding fees should be adjusted according to the time and effort the department is required to commit to reviewing the application and conducting the inspection, if necessary. The section also provides excellent guidance on the implementation and management of the permitting process, which includes giving the authority having jurisdiction the right to inspect the property prior to the issuing of a permit.

The argument that these requirements represent an unfair burden on the affected industries can be countered by the fact that international code agencies have recognized that these processes are hazardous and can have a significant impact on other properties and on the community. The permit process also ensures that these hazards are adequately monitored in our communities; effectively, the permit processes can serve as the eyes and ears of the fire-operations division. The inspection process can also result in the identification and mapping of hazards in the community. This, in turn, could support larger community-wide risk reviews, such as those found in Le schéma de couverture de risques, or the latest guideline from the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal, Operational Planning: An Official Guide to Matching Resource Deployment and Risk. This, in turn, would improve the pre-incident planning undertaken in the department. The permit fees would also provide the necessary revenue back to the community to offset the costs of the inspections. Thus, only high-risk users of fire-protection services pay for the enhanced risks and services in the community – not the entire population. Under the Fire Underwriters Survey grading system, all will benefit from improved grading and, thus, lower premiums.

The concept of requiring permits for high fire-risk operations needs to be implemented by the fire service at the local level. The added revenue that this generates can provide the needed funds to operate a vigorous fire-inspection program. Such a program benefits communities through reduced fire losses and minimizes the risks to firefighters.
(All NFPA codes and standards are available online at www.nfpa.org .)


Sean Tracey, P.Eng., MIFireE, is the Canadian regional manager of the National Fire Protection Association International and formerly the Canadian Armed Forces fire marshal. Contact him at stracey@nfpa.org.


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