New fire bylaw to improve safety in Nanaimo

The city has a new bylaw that is intended to improve fire safety by hitting building owners harder in the pocketbook for fire and life safety issues.

Residents of an apartment building on Beaconsfield Crescent wait outside as Lieut. Ross Angelucci

Residents of an apartment building on Beaconsfield Crescent wait outside as Lieut. Ross Angelucci

The city has a new bylaw that is intended to improve fire safety by hitting building owners harder in the pocketbook for fire and life safety issues.

The Fire Protection and Life Safety Regulation Bylaw No. 7108 was passed by city council last week.

Doug Bell, captain of fire prevention and loss with Nanaimo Fire Rescue, has worked on the new bylaw for the past five years. The previous bylaw, which was established in the early 1990s, was not effective at enforcing B.C. Fire Code regulations, he said.

Changes include moving the Fire Code into the municipal bylaw so the city deals with infractions directly instead of going through the provincial fire commissioner’s office, and new fee and fine structures for non-compliance.

Previously, people could be fined for non-compliance. Now they could face fees for service as well, said Bell.

“Fire departments are doing this across the province,” he said. “The whole purpose of this bylaw is to gain compliance without having to cost the city and the taxpayers a whole bunch of money. The biggest thing is that this is to keep the city safe.”

The department will now charge fees for certain inspections and if fees are not paid, they will be added to the owner’s property taxes.

For example, fire inspectors will now charge people $100 if they have to return for a third inspection of a property that received an order to comply with regulations.

While 95 per cent of businesses fix identified problems after the initial inspection, the remaining ones can take months and repeated visits from inspectors, said Bell.

There are also charges for file searches, special property inspections, fire extinguisher training and multiple false alarms due to lack of repairs or maintenance to fire alarm systems.

“The RCMP have had a false alarm fee-for-service for quite some time,” said Bell. “We have some properties that we go back to 10 times a year.”

In some apartment buildings, false alarms are so frequent, people don’t even get out of bed when the alarm goes off anymore, he added.

Building owners are now required to do fire drills, ensure fire and life safety equipment is serviced properly, and ensure fire doors, egress from structures and storage of flammables are completed to Fire Code requirements or a municipal fine could be imposed.

Fines could also apply to strata corporations that fail to maintain private fire hydrants or post a site plan at the main entry and buildings that don’t have city addresses displayed on each unit.

Fines will start at $200 instead of the $100 charge for fees.

“We’re not going to fight with people,” said Bell. “We have the tools now – you do it or it will cost you.”

The bylaw also enables the fire chief to modify the frequency of inspections in public buildings so that hazardous buildings will receive more and safer buildings less.

The new bylaw can be viewed at www.nanaimo.ca.