Barn wedding celebrations could be prohibited – but not if fire chiefs have a say

The Ontario Fire Marshal’s office has instructed fire chiefs to be on the lookout for barn parties – in particular stag and does and wedding receptions – and ensure they do not take place.

That’s not great News for prospective brides and grooms, particularly in places like Wellington County, where many couples with strong rural roots and a limited budget decide to host events in a large barn or drive shed.

But Rick Richardson said until an official announcement is made, most fire chiefs in the province have no interest in enforcing the Fire Marshal’s request, first unveiled at a fall chief’s meeting.

“Every fire chief in that room said we’ll quit before we do that,” said Richardson, fire chief in Mapleton Township.

According to the Fire Marshal’s office, barns and drive sheds are built for animals and farm equipment and not intended to host large assemblies.

Richardson said the argument is that those agricultural buildings do not conform to fire code requirements – including proper insulation, exit signs, emergency lighting, fire alarms, sprinklers, extinguishers and exits – depending on the  number of guests in attendance.

In the fall, Jeffrey Dick, acting operations manager for the southwest region of the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office, told Better Farming, “If we become aware of a potential public safety issue we’re going let the authority having jurisdiction know about it.”

Dick added it is up to the local municipality, as the jurisdiction in charge, to enforce the provisions of the Ontario Fire Code.

At the time, he told Better Farming, the Fire Marshal’s Office is working on a communiqué to tell all Ontario municipal fire services it is aware barns are being used as assembly occupancy buildings.

But Richardson said he thinks the Fire Marshal’s office has since backed off in the face of opposition from fire departments and municipalities.

Central Huron, for example, has circulated a resolution to all Ontario municipalities, MPPs and the Fire Marshal’s Office saying it “strongly objects to the direction from the Fire Marshal’s Office restricting” the use of farm buildings for parties.

Richardson said fire chiefs in Wellington County agree.

“We’re not interested in doing this,” he said. “This is rural Ontario.”

Richardson did agree with Dick on one issue. Both have said they are not aware of any deaths or injuries that have occurred in farm building gatherings.

“It’s not an issue,” Richardson said, noting barn and drive shed parties are common in Wellington County, several of which he has himself attended.

He lamented that the province, with insurance, security, liquor and other regulations, has made it increasingly difficult and costly for people to host wedding celebrations in public buildings.

“You’re forcing people out into drive sheds with your rules, then you’re telling them you can’t do that,” he said.

Richardson said the Mapleton department, as others in the county, will not be enforcing anything until something official comes down from the Fire Marshal’s office.

Even if that direction does come, Richardson said he would still bring the matter to Mapleton council to see if the township actually wants to enforce such rules.

And if the reaction in other rural municipalities is any indication, farm wedding celebrations will likely remain a suitable choice for brides and grooms in rural Wellington.