by SUSAN MANN
The Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office plans to send a communiqué to all provincial municipalities telling them it has become aware barns and other structures not designed to hold large gatherings are being used for parties.
It will be up to the municipalities’ fire services to inspect buildings if they become aware of potential Ontario Fire Code violations and take steps to stop functions if necessary.
The direction from the Fire Marshal’s Office isn’t sitting well with one rural municipality. Central Huron Mayor Jim Ginn says it’s a generally accepted practice in rural Ontario for people to have parties in barns and the province should “leave us alone.”
Ginn says last month he attended his neighbour’s 25th wedding anniversary celebration held in the drive shed. “We see members of parliament making announcements in drive sheds.”
“If a farm building isn’t suitable for a public gathering, why is a farm house suitable?” he asks.
The municipality is circulating a resolution to all Ontario municipalities, all MPPs and the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office saying it “strongly objects to the direction from the Fire Marshal’s Office restricting” the use of farm buildings for parties.
Parties and family functions held in barns are an important part of rural culture, it says in the resolution. Private buildings and property should be the responsibility of the owners.
In addition, the direction from the Fire Marshal’s Office infringes on property rights.
Jeffrey Dick, acting operations manager for the southwest region of the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office, says he will take a look at the resolution. But “if we become aware of a potential public safety issue we’re going let the authority having jurisdiction know about it.”
Dick says barns are designed to be used as barns. But the Fire Marshal’s Office became aware in August that barns are being used as public assembly buildings to hold parties like wedding receptions and family reunions. “That’s not what a barn is intended for,” he explains, noting that using a barn as an assembly occupancy structure is not the correct use of the building.
Assembly buildings, including structures that look like barns, that are designed to be used for parties, meetings, dances and other functions must have the proper fire and life safety systems in place, such as fire alarms, sprinklers, fire separations, proper exiting requirements and emergency lighting. “Barns don’t have that,” he says, noting they should never be used as assembly buildings.
Dick says the Fire Marshal’s Office is working on a communiqué to tell all Ontario municipalities’ fire services that it has become aware of barns being used as assembly occupancy buildings.
Once the fire service becomes aware of potential violations of the Ontario Fire Code, it must inspect those buildings, he explains. The Ontario Fire Code is the regulation under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act that governs fire safety standards for equipment, systems, buildings, structures, and premises in Ontario. The Fire Code is in place to protect the occupants of a building.
If a building that’s not designed for use as an assembly building, such as a barn, is being used to hold a get together, the fire service has a number of options, including putting orders on the building or using other provisions of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, he explains.
Dick says its up to the local municipality as the authority having jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the Ontario Fire Code and the act.
This isn’t a new regulation, he says. In the past, parties may have been held in barns and drive sheds, but “now that we’re aware of it that’s an incorrect use of the building.”
Dick says he isn’t aware of any deaths or injuries that have occurred in farm building gatherings.
The Fire Marshal’s Office is a branch of the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Service’s community safety division. The office is the principal adviser to government on fire prevention policy and fire safety matters. BF