Let’s start with an analogy: If we were intending to walk on the moon, most of us understand there are certain things we would need to do in order to stay safe.
When we plan long road trips, we take safety precautions to protect ourselves, our passengers and other drivers, from vehicle maintenance and just-in-case gear to buckling up and following the rules of the road. We expect pilots and mechanics to tick off every box on their safety checklist prior to takeoff so that we arrive safe and sound at our destination.
So it still surprises me that the same thing isn’t necessarily true closer to home, when owners of public buildings don’t fully understand their responsibilities regarding fire safety. Much like walking on the moon, driving on the highway or flying on a plane, fire safety is critical to everyone’s safety and wellbeing. In fact, in B.C., public building owners are accountable for the public’s safety – particularly when members of the public are in their building and at the mercy of the environment being provided.
Unfortunately, getting the sale or having the show go on is often prioritized over providing basic levels of safety — a reckless and potentially lethal gamble. Thankfully, in our society, we have embraced the idea that you shouldn’t have to risk life and limb when embarking on a day of shopping or a night at the theatre, and as a province, we have taken steps to insure our safety by creating the B.C. Fire Services Act. This act legally requires that buildings frequented by the general public maintain at least a minimum level of fire safety.
The B.C. Fire Code is the document that administers how this is to be done. I would like to stress, it is the minimum level of fire safety that we as British Columbians require in our public buildings.
B.C. municipalities have a legal responsibility to insure that public buildings within their jurisdiction meet this minimum level of fire safety by delivering a regular system of fire inspections. Historically, municipalities have tasked the fire service with performing these fire inspections. This is just good common sense: knowing the conditions under which a fire can start — as well as how to put fires out — provides a huge advantage towards knowing what to look for to prevent fires from happening in the first place. And it’s good common sense and good public policy that these fire inspections take place regularly.
However, common sense doesn’t always prevail when we undertake these inspections.
The fire service has been accused of interfering with a business owner’s right to earn a living or that the inspections are just something a fire department does to keep ourselves busy when we aren’t fighting fires.
But fire inspections are part of the responsibility of keeping people and property safe from fire. Fire inspections are a diligent effort towards stopping fire from occurring in the first place. They are what we as a society expect when it comes to our personal safety. And they are about allowing a business or building owner to focus on what it is they do while at the same time providing peace of mind that they are abiding by their legal obligation to provide for the safety of everyone that comes into their building.
Fire inspections check that the right equipment is being used and maintained properly and that flammable and combustible materials are stored in a safe manner. They provide for the responsible and safe use of any sources of ignition while keeping watch over the requirements for early detection and fire containment.
They make it possible for fires to be quickly extinguished before they grow into something that will threaten the safety of people’s lives and property. They insure that firefighters can perform their jobs in a safe, efficient and effective manner. And finally, fire inspections are critical in making sure there is a safe way out so that in the case of any emergency, everyone can safely leave the building.
Keeping you, your customers and your property safe is what Vernon Fire Rescue Services is all about and fire inspections play a major role in doing just that.
Lawrie Skolrood is a deputy chief with Vernon Fire Rescue Services.