Please note: The purpose of this article is to provide information, foster discussion and to be thought provoking. The ideas expressed are my own opinions and perspectives. This is not a scientific analysis, and no responsibility or blame is implied toward any person, entity, municipal or government official, or municipal or government office.
History of inspections and code enforcement in Saskatchewan
When the National Fire and Building Codes were first adopted as regulations in Saskatchewan in the early 1980’s and up until the late 1990’s, inspectors from the Office of the Fire Commissioner (OFC) roamed the province conducting inspections and code enforcement in the many small towns and villages. That service was phased out, mainly because the Office of the Fire Commissioner needed to direct its staffing resources to focus more on fire fighter training, fire investigations and emergency measures.
The responsibility of applying and enforcing the Fire Code in small town Saskatchewan was then left to the municipalities and their fire chiefs. During the transition and for many years later, the OFC offered fire inspector training and advisory services to all the fire departments so that fire code application and enforcement would continue to maintain fire and life safety throughout the province.
Inspections and Code Enforcement in Saskatchewan Today
Unfortunately today, some 23 years later, it has been my observation that inspections and fire code enforcement to existing buildings is virtually non-existent in many of Saskatchewan’s towns and villages. The reasons for that are varied.
It is very apparent by the myriad of media reports that small towns are losing their hotels, rinks and downtown buildings to fire at a startling rate. One just has to conduct a simple search online to find numerous media reports showing the ongoing loss of these buildings in towns and villages.
The losses to these communities are devastating. Can you imagine the disruption and impact to larger centres such as Swift Current, Moose Jaw and Regina if any one of them suddenly lost most, if not all their hotels or rinks at once?
It’s unimaginable, but for a small community that is the reality. Apart from arson as a cause, I think many of these fires are preventable. I will even go so far as to say that I know many of these fires are preventable.
Tools are Available
The tools are there to take the measures needed to prevent, or at a minimum, limit the probability of these fires occurring. These tools just have to be utilized.
Available tools are:
- The National Fire Code: It contains provisions to accomplish the objectives of life safety, health, and the protection of buildings and facilities. Many of its technical provisions are designed to prevent, limit the probability, limit the severity, and slow the spread of fire.
- Municipal Fire Bylaws: They can supplement the minimum provisions of the Fire Code to address specific local needs and conditions for fire prevention and life safety.
- The Saskatchewan Fire Safety Act: It provides the authorities, powers and requirements for local authorities, fire chiefs and fire inspectors to enforce the National Fire Code and municipal fire bylaws within in their jurisdictions.
- Accredited Fire Inspector Training: It provides the knowledge and procedures for fire departments to apply and enforce the National Fire Code and local fire bylaws to existing buildings within their communities.
- Inspection Companies: They provide accredited roaming inspectors to apply and enforce the National Fire Code and municipal fire bylaws on behalf of local authorities and fire chiefs.
The issue of fire fatalities must also be addressed. Fire fatalities don’t only occur in cities. One example is the Town of Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan. With a population of 1,400, this small community had 6 fire fatalities over an 18-month period beginning in 2017. Astonishingly, that means one in every 233 people in that community died because of a fire over that 18-month time period. Prior to this, they also had a fire in 2011 that sadly took the lives of two-year-old twin girls.
In making the comparison with the population of larger centres, proportionally those 6 fire fatalities over an 18-month period would equate to this:
Swift Current: population 18,000
77 fire fatalities
Moose Jaw: population 34,000 145 fire fatalities
population 215,000 921 fire fatalities
population 2,800,000 12,000 fire fatalities
Those are staggering numbers, and it is a sobering comparison.
What would happen if any one of these cities experienced the same number of fire fatalities relative to Hudson Bay’s population over an 18-month period? I think there would be a public outcry followed by swift and significant changes to fire prevention practices and fire code enforcement at the municipal level, and perhaps even at the provincial level. However, I don’t think this number of fire fatalities would ever occur in these cities, for a number of reasons.
One might argue that what happened in Hudson Bay is an anomaly, and not likely to happen again to that degree in a small community. Perhaps… but what if it’s not? Should any number of fire fatalities in a community be acceptable before preventative actions are taken?
The tragedy here is heart-wrenching. I reflect on the emotional toll this has on small town fire fighters. In a small community, those lives lost are often their neighbors, their friends, or are the loved ones of people they know.
“Something needs to be done”
In this article interviewing the Hudson Bay Fire Chief, it says this:
“Unlike Saskatoon and Regina, Hudson Bay has no bylaw requiring homes to have working smoke alarms. Pilon said he knows some don’t. He says he heard alarms ringing at just two of the five fatal fires his men responded to in the last 18 months. He’s not convinced a bylaw is the answer — after all, who would enforce it? — but says something needs to be done.”
I agree with this frustrated fire chief – something certainly needs to be done. And he’s not alone. I know there are other small-town fire chiefs that share his frustration.
The thing is this, though – something can be done. The tools are there, they just need to be utilized.
In my next article, I’ll explore why it is not getting done. It’s complicated. Or is it?
Further Reading – Stories of fires in small town Saskatchewan:
- Slow burn: How Saskatchewan’s historic hotels are falling to flames
- Firefighters battle huge blaze in Davidson, Sask., autobody shop
- Elfros blaze latest in series of rural Saskatchewan hotel fires
- Damage said to be extensive after fire ravages Saskatchewan hotel
- Sask. community suffers huge loss after fire destroys rink
- Fire destroys arena in Leroy
- ‘It’s a pretty big shocker’: Sask. small town loses pharmacy to fire
- Rosetown Co-op Agro Centre ‘a total loss’ after Saturday fire
- Community comes together to build rink after devastating fire