The Gabriola Volunteer Fire Department will no longer be issuing exemptions for contractors and developers to continue doing work when the island is in shutdown conditions.
Paul Giffin, Chair of the Gabriola Fire Protection Improvement District confirmed this on Friday, Aug. 19. A special meeting of the Fire Board had been called for Aug 19, but with only three Trustees present, a quorum was not achieved, and Giffin held an informal discussion with those present.
Giffin said that under the advice of the fire prevention office of the BC Wildfire Service, the decision comes as a liability issue for the Fire District.
Giffin said that as of Aug. 18, “I learned that if a Fire Permit is issued to a contractor, whoever, and as a result of that work, or work being done by the contractor/developer, a fire starts, not only is the contractor/developer whoever liable for that fire, but so is the Fire Department.”
He said he has been trying to get clarification on the issue, but the persons able to do that are currently engaged in fighting wildfires. Giffin said the issue is expected to be an agenda item for the Aug 31 meeting of the Fire Board, for the Trustees to be able to decide on what action to take. “My concern is that now that we know of this liability, and even though we have liability insurance, it’s been my experience, if you have liability insurance, and you blatantly do something that you know is a liability, the insurance company can not cover you. As Chair of the Board, I am not prepared to take that risk. Not at this time.”
Fire Chief Will Sprogis said the Department would not be issuing any exemption permits.
When asked what liability the District was concered with, Giffin said the understanding he has so far is the District would be just as liable as the permit holder if a fire were to cause damage.
Sprogis said he had been doing a series of inspections recently, some of those sites were found to be in non-compliance with the permit requirements. But he, as Fire Chief, couldn’t keep up with non-compliance and issuing permits – due to being called out on emergency calls. “If I can’t keep up with violations, I can’t issue permits, I can’t follow up on permits to make sure they are following them. I have a track of violations, machines that were non-compliant, and have a record to follow that up.”
Trustee John Moeler said, “any time there’s an issue of public safety, in this case, catching the island on fire, the safest course of action is to do what is done. That seems like a no-brainer to me. There’s no harm in stopping…some contractors won’t get to work for a while, which is unfortunate. Until we have a better idea of the liability. Maybe [we need to] revisit the whole shutdown thing all together. Till we have a better view of that, this is a prudent course of action.”
Sprogis was asked if people can still apply directly to the province for exemption permits. He said people can go through the province to potentially still get an exemption permit to be able to continue work.
At the provincial level, the Coastal Fire District for BC Wildfire currently has a complete ban on any Category 2 or Category 3 burns. When there is no ban on those burns, anyone lighting a Category 3 fire must first obtain a burn registration number by calling BC Wildfire.
Mike Phillips was at the discussion on Aug 18, and said in his experience, someone comes out and mentions liability, “everybody gets spooked. One of the things that could be for this, what I would ask you to do if you go down this path, is determine how many fire departments have been sued for these reasons; and if any have been sued, what the outcomes were.
“I think that’s important. To see if there is a problem there, or not.”
Giffin said, “BC Wildfire’s patience has run thin with the number of fires…over the last number of years. They’ve taken a stronger position. Those are things we have to find out.”
Bob Rooks was present on Aug 18 as well, and asked to be a speaker at the Aug 31 meeting. Giffin confirmed Rooks would be on the agenda as a speaker. Rooks said the decision to stop issuing exemption permits, “looks like this is a setup for there to be a request for staff.”
Giffin did not reply to this comment, and the discussion ended.