Puslinch fire department taking proactive approach to barn fires

“If we can prevent the fires from happening, we can save a lot of money,” says Puslinch fire chief Steven Goode.

In the wake of January’s horse barn fire at Classy Lane Training Centre, Puslinch Fire and Rescue Services is taking a proactive approach in educating rural property owners in the hopes of preventing such fires in the future.

On March 2, both Goode and chief fire prevention officer Jason Benn updated Puslinch councillors on both the fire itself and the department’s prevention measures.

Benn stated the Classy Lane stables fire marked the largest fire loss in Puslinch.

“We’ve been working diligently with Classy Lane to come up with an education program, which we will provide to other rural residents in Puslinch and neighbouring areas,” said Benn.

It includes safety tips, how to keep areas clean, and how to lessen the chance of fire in the future.

Benn noted he has also been worked closely with the Ontario Racing Commission (ORC) to provided dollar value estimates regarding the horses lost in the Jan. 4 fire.

“For the horses there is an estimated loss of $2,121,000 plus $1-million for the loss of the building and contents. The amount is quite substantial,” Benn added.

“Working with Classy Lane, we have created safety banners, posters, check sheets … and we will be seeking out every farm and agricultural operation in Puslinch and dis cuss possible safety measures they can take to prevent fires in the future.”

Benn noted the department has already fielded numerous requests for property visits to provide assurances to those trying to make their farms safer.

“For the  most part, they are on the right track. There were just a few additional minor things which were needed,” said Benn.

He added the department was asked to attend Classy Lane to see what other recommendations could be offered.

He said one of the recommendations was to have mechanical and office space separated from the stall area, keeping appliances or machinery within the same area and to have smoke detectors and heat detectors throughout the building. Another recommendation was for the installation of a domestic sprinkler system for the office and service areas.

“In such an instance, the fire event would be compartmentalized and lessen the chance of it spreading,” said Benn said, adding if Classy Lanes implements those measures, “they will be leading the path of change.”

Goode, who noted Benn has represented the township well, told council, “Now, anytime there is a barn fire in southern Ontario, Puslinch is called … specifically Jason.”

Goode said there are many property owners across the province contacting their local fire service for advice.

“We want to assist in any way we can,” he said.

Councillor Susan Fielding said it is good that Puslinch is at the forefront, “but it seems every time you turn on the television now, it seems there is another serious barn fire.”

She said it might be because of the Classy Lane fire, “but this is certainly something the province should address.”

Fielding appreciated the department’s proactive approach, then asked if the cause of that fire had been determined.

Benn said he had been trying to contact the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office to see if the investigation has concluded.

“We have our speculations, but we can’t obviously say anything until the report is released,” said Benn.

“We are hoping that will come in a timely fashion so a media release can be issued to explain the cause and what Classy Lane is doing to better things.”

Fielding said Benn had given a lot of good suggestions “but it will really hit home when we find out exactly what (the cause) was … and it will make the message even more powerful.”

Councillor Ken Roth asked about the recommendation of the installation of domestic sprinklers – “Would a domestic water supply would be sufficient or is a booster needed?”

Benn said most home lines should have enough pressure.

While he agreed that for a large barn there would not be enough pressure, he explained the recommendation of sprinklers was only for the office space/service area, which is a considerably smaller space.

Roth noted that in large industrial buildings there are sometimes firewalls.

Benn agreed, saying there is the inconvenience of going through another door, but “it could help suppress the path of both smoke and fire.”

Councillor Wayne Stokley appreciated the local department taking the initiative.

Goode said a communique was sent out to all fire services from the Fire Marshal’s Office noting the resources available to municipal fire services.

He added “there is great debate now among departments whether sprinklers are the key or what other measures can be taken.

“The problem is, and Jason alluded to this, is that not every barn is the same.”

Goode said, “I’ve been to many barn fires … the height of the ceiling matters. If it is an open concept building … how are you going to generate enough heat to activate the alarm or sprinkler system? The key is prevention.”

Goode considered a lot of the current discussion and proposals as reactionary.

“Some of these farm operators simply cannot afford this, but for those willing to take these measures, we are happy to assist.”

However, Goode said “we have to be careful with our conversations around legislation.”

Benn agreed “with the costs of sprinkler systems … are we actually helping them, or helping to put them out of business?”

Goode added “we don’t have sprinklers in homes.”

He noted that in Cambridge, one of the largest dollar loss fires was a plant housing recycling materials “… and it had a robust sprinkler system.”

Mayor Dennis Lever asked if the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office will appear at the International Plowing Match in September with a booth.

“If not, can we offer the opportunity to participate as part of our booth,” said Lever.

“I am certain we are going to get questions, and I think if the Fire Marshal’s Office isn’t able to participate, it might be good to have someone from Puslinch Fire Services on hand with brochures and be able to answer questions.”

Goode said, “It’s a good idea.”

Benn added fire prevention officers from Wellington and Dufferin are putting a booth in “so we will be present during that time frame and have educational materials.”

Lever suggested there should still be some coordination, even if it is just to direct people to the other booth, adding, “the community we are trying to reach out to will be at the plowing match.”