Perth-Wellington MPP, North Perth Fire Chief continue push for enhanced firefighter safety through Rea and Walter Act

·6 min read

NORTH PERTH – Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece said the reason he introduced Bill 33, the Rea and Walter Act, is because he does not want to see another fire take the lives of firefighters, the way it happened in Listowel 10 years ago. If the bill can save firefighters from injury or stop another fatality by identifying buildings with lightweight construction he believes it will be another positive tool for fire services across the province when they plan how to attack a fire.

The bill will amend the Building Code Act regarding the identification of truss and lightweight construction in specified buildings, requiring a truss identification emblem to be affixed to buildings.

In lightweight construction, there are wood products that are pressed together and bound with either glue or metal. The glue can melt and the metal gussets expand and contract differently than wood, so then they can pop off compromising the integrity of the truss or floor joist causing floors or roofs to collapse.

“It’s very strong – these type of systems have been used for years but when fire is involved you can see a failure rate on them,” said Pettapiece. “For firemen, it would certainly be another tool in their toolbox they can fight fires with if they know a building has lightweight construction. They can attack it differently and keep themselves out of trouble as much as possible.”

North Perth Fire Chief Ed Smith said it’s been almost 10 years since he started the process to get changes made to the Building Code Act with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs.

“I took a resolution to the floor with them on May 8, 2012, regarding going after the government to put this in place and then thank goodness our MPP picked it up,” he said. “The beginning of it was me and the Minto Fire Chief, Chris Harrow. He supported me on it and I took it to the floor with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs to have buildings placarded.”

Smith based his idea on information he learned about several states such as New Jersey, New York, Illinois and Florida that have adopted similar legislation.

“It passed our readings in our association to petition the government,” he said. “Of course we needed backing on this on the political side of it which our MPP did do and has carried it forward.”

The bill, which was originally introduced in March 2017, had to be re-introduced at Queen’s Park after the change from the Liberal to Progressive Conservative government in September 2018 because, although it had significant support from members of all parties, it had not reached its third reading.

Pettapiece pointed out a few other reasons why the bill is taking significant time to move through the government processes. The first thing he pointed out was that the bill involves several ministries and they all have input and ideas which need to be hashed through.

“I’m working through the house leader right now, and then it has to go to cabinet,” he said. “The bill has reached second reading. The next step is to go to committee where people can come in and give their thoughts on the pros and cons of the bill and at that point, we can decide if we want to make amendments to it or add to it.”

According to Pettapiece, Private Members Bills usually take a long time because the government has a priority of getting its business through the system first.

“This has taken a lot longer than I had hoped but it’s progressing,” he said. “Certainly the Rea and Walter families – I got a nice email the other day about how they are really glad I’m pursuing this.”

Both Smith and Pettapiece emphasized that the bill does not indicate that these buildings weren’t built properly or of good materials.

“That’s the way buildings are built today and they work quite well for what they are designed to do,” said Smith. “The only issue with them is under fire load they have a tendency to fail early compared to the old original type structures because these are a mechanically-built component with glues and metal strappings to help hold them together.”

The bill is a tool for the fire service to be able to quickly identify these buildings which were built using lightweight construction for roof trusses or floor joists.

“Then we’ll look at it a little different when we’re fighting the fire as to how we’re going to manage it,” he said. “It does not mean we’re not going to fight the fire. It’s just a different process that we may take to do the same job we would normally do… So it’s not to cause issues with the building industry.”

Smith said firefighters realize that this would not affect the way buildings are being constructed.

“A good example is two fire halls in North Perth, one here in Listowel and one in Monkton, both of them are not built the same way,” he said. “The one in Listowel is all steel construction and the one in Monkton is built with lightweight construction material. You can’t just say – I’m going into a fire hall and they are all built the same.”

With the amount of development that is going on across the province, or as Smith points out, just in North Perth, a system to identify what a lot of these structures are being built of will be useful for fire services.

“The other issue you run into is buildings that have been renovated and it could be a 100-year-old building which would have been made with traditional construction but because of renovations or additions it could have lightweight construction material in it,” he said. “So this would help identify that.”

Although the bill will not include most private dwellings, Smith used his house as an example because most of it is over 100 years old but the addition is all lightweight construction.

“Mind you we have no intention of placarding houses,” he said. “That’s not in the intentions of this bill but commercial, industrial and (larger multi-) residential were included in it.”

“The only thing I would like to say is I really, really hope – because in our society a lot of things change because something happens – I hope this bill moves forward for the fire service before another accident happens and there is loss of life again that maybe this bill could have been stopped. I hope that the parties see fit to approve this bill for our MPP and get it in place before there is ever another loss of life due to this.”

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times