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Fire department adjusts prevention work amid COVID-19 pandemic

Inspectors’ visits to individual units are not being done at this time
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(Meghan Groff/HalifaxToday.ca)

The municipality’s fire department has had to make adjustments to its fire-prevention work in the Halifax region because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A division chief said Friday the fire-prevention section is fully operational.

But Matt Covey added that due to the presence of COVID-19, inspectors’ visits to individual units in such structures as apartment buildings and condominium towers are not being done at this time.

And he said the banning of gatherings in Halifax Regional Municipality, in the name of public health and safety, means the educational component of fire prevention has to be an online-only endeavour.

Covey said that generally, inspectors visiting apartments and condo units would check such things as smoke alarms, electrical panels and sprinkler heads.

“We wouldn’t do that right now, but aside from that we’re business as usual,” said Covey, division chief for fire prevention with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency.

Challenges for fire-prevention staff presented by the COVID-19 crisis have necessitated changes to the way inspectors interact with building superintendents, property managers or property owners.

Inspectors make a pre-screening phone call before they show up for scheduled visits on site, Covey said. The person who’ll be accompanying a fire-prevention staffer is asked a series of questions.

Covey said if the Halifax Fire inspector receives answers that are troubling, with respect to health and/or proper social-distancing, “then we postpone the inspection for 14 or more days.”

He said inspectors can wear masks and gloves, if they choose, and are mindful of the need to control the distance between people throughout the inspection.

“If, for whatever reason, (inspectors) felt like it wasn’t possible or that the other person wasn’t respecting the distance, . . . we would certainly give the inspector the support to walk away from that inspection and then come back later,” Covey said.

He said Halifax Fire works with testing companies – firms that regularly check such crucial things as fire alarms, fire extinguishers and emergency lights – to verify safety equipment in buildings is in good working order.

Covey said the inspections of about 15,000 buildings – sites like apartment complexes, condo buildings, commercial structures and public and private schools – are covered by 15 fire-prevention staffers.

He said that number of staff represents the municipality’s normal complement of inspectors, though there are “a few vacancies.”

Apartment and condo building inspections are priorities for Halifax Regional Municipality’s fire-prevention personnel, CBC News reported last year. Slightly more than 5,900 fire code violations were issued in the municipality between Jan. 1,
2018 and early last October, CBC said.

Fire investigation summaries available on the municipality’s website total 232 from Jan. 2, 2017 to April 25, 2020, and cover residential and commercial properties.

The summaries show lots of causes were undetermined, 33 fires were as a result of careless smoking and 26 were deliberately set.

Covey said the aforementioned summaries were a small subset of fires. He acknowledged many causes during any given year are unknown. Of all fires in the Halifax region in 2018, said Covey, about 26 per cent remain undetermined.

The provincial government has announced it’s extending the state of emergency here, hooked to the coronavirus, at least until May 17.

Regarding public awareness about fire prevention, virus-related protocols have reduced the fire service’s presence in the community.

“We’re not attending events or holding any kind of educational sessions,” said Covey. “So that’s been an adjustment for us.”

Meanwhile, the flip of the calendar page to May means many barbecue owners might be at home thinking about firing up their grills to cook outdoors, or have already been doing so.

Covey told HalifaxToday.ca local fire-prevention officials were preparing social media content about barbecue safety for such platforms as Facebook and Twitter.

He said those messages should be posted soon, perhaps as early as Friday afternoon.

Michael Lightstone is a freelance reporter living in Dartmouth




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