Segment #5 – Meter Safety Jurisdiction – Office of the Fire Commissioner – Local Fire Departments

RESPONSE TO “BCUC’s Staff Report on Smart Meter Fire Safety Concerns

KEY:  Highlighted text is from Sharon Noble  Non-highlighted text is the draft report as written by BCUC staff.

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Segment #5

Below you will see the data from my investigations over the last 2 years, showing no one is tracking fires in the Fire Commissioner’s Office and, in many instances, the Fire Departments are not notifying the agency responsible for inspecting and reporting on electrical fires, the BC Safety Authority. Segment 6 will have details about the BC Safety Authority.  Truly, the system is broken. 

Sharon Noble

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Meter Safety Jurisdiction

In BC, multiple entities have safety mandates which are applicable to watthour meters or meter sockets and the investigation of related incidents.

Office of the Fire Commissioner

The Office of the Fire Commissioner maintains a fire reporting system and database for the province. Their Fire Incident Report form provides a standardized reporting system to assist the local fire departments to meet their reporting duties as required under the Fire Services Act.

Over the last 2 years I have requested over 100 fire and incident reports and have observed several problems with the reporting system in general and as it pertains to the smart meters specifically.

  • There is no code for smart meters so there is no way for the Fire Commissioner to track fires associated with or caused by this device.  Any fire that would be caused or exacerbated by a smart meter would be coded under “electrical distribution failure”.   Unfortunately the smart meters are flammable, unlike analogs that are made of metal and glass. Often the meters are so badly damaged/melted that no inspection is possible,  and even in cases where the firemen strongly suspect or witnesses observed the fire starting at the smart meter, the ignition source must be reported as “undetermined”. For example a fire in Coquitlam,  Dec. 20, 2013.
  • Fire reports are not put on the system as soon as they are received. A very high percentage of the reports I requested were put on the system only after I made my request, sometimes many months or even years after the report was completed by the local fire authority. As a result any statistics used in the annual report are incomplete and should not be used to draw any conclusions.   For example, a fire in Coldstream March 13, 2013. The fire department report was dated April 9,. 2013. I submitted my request Nov. 11, 2014, and the report was put on the Fire Commission system Nov. 24, 2014.
  • There is no annual counting of fires where the igniting object was “undetermined.” 30-35% of the reports that I received fit into this category. Has this number changed over the years? There is no way to know.  
  • Regulations are not being enforced.

–         According to the Fire Safety Standards Act,Sec. 36, nothing is to be removed from the scene of a fire. BC Hydro is removing meters and among the reports that I’ve received, this has happened 15  times or approximately 15% of the time.  This seems to be a systemic issue, because I have received statements from both the Fire Commissioner’s Office and BC Safety Authority that BC Hydro is allowed to remove smart meters before the fire inspectors are allowed to do their jobs because “it is their equipment.”   

–         Fire inspectors have confirmed that smart meters are often removed when they arrive at the scene, and, as a result, even when evidence seems to indicate that the smart meter was involved, they are, by law, required to indicate that that the igniting object was “undetermined.” 

This practice of utilities removing evidence is not limited to BC Hydro but rather seems to be a common one. Quebec firemen complained about this practice because, without the opportunity to investigate the smart meters, the true cause of fires may be escaping scrutiny.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-city-firefighters-ask-hydro-qu%C3%A9bec-to-leave-smart-meters-alone-1.2983309

–         Under the Fire Standards Act Sec. 9 the local assistant is to inspect the fire scene within 3 days and immediately after the investigation submit a written report to the fire commissioner. This is not happening in many cases, and there is no way for the fire commissioner to know or to follow up when this isn’t done.  In the relatively few reports that I requested, there were many where the reports were not completed for several months, even years. In some cases the report wasn’t completed until after my request.  In 6 cases no reports were ever submitted, even after the Fire Commissioner’s Office asked for them.  An example is a fire that occurred in Langley on April 3, 2013. I submitted a request for the report on Sept. 21, 2014, and no report has been received as of this date.

  • I was advised that only fires that cause “substantial” (undefined) damage must be reported to the Fire Commissioner. That means that fires that were caught early, and otherwise might have been serious, are not reported. In situations where smart meters overheated, melted or even caused minor fires they are not being reported to the Fire Commissioner or to BC Safety Authority.  An example was a smart meter catching fire at the Sparwood Post Office on Aug. 1, 2012.  This was caught before a fire department was called. BCSA was not informed for several days,  so no report was made because no investigation was possible.
  • Several fire chiefs with whom I spoke told me (in confidence)  that, because of budget cuts and reduced staff, they were not to spend time trying to determine the cause of a fire. Ruling out arson or a grow op is their prime concern. If they don’t have the time or resources to identify the cause of a fire, how can anyone say that smart meters are not involved?

Local Fire Departments

Local fire departments are required to investigate and provide reports on all fires as required under the Fire Services Act and to submit these reports to the Office of the Fire Commissioner. If the cause of a fire is suspected to involve electrical equipment, local fire departments are required to notify the BC Safety Authority.

Through my search for information I have found several problems within the reporting system required of and followed by the Local Fire Departments.

  • According to Fire Commissioner Anderson there are 2 reports that the local fire officials complete. First is the fire report that is submitted to the Fire Commission Office and which provides numbers for the annual report, as quoted from Mr. Anderson’s email:

      In order to produce that report the LAFC will have investigated “in a general way” the fire and the information gained from that process is reflected in the codes of the report and sometimes is also reflected in the narrative portion. 

The second type of report is a “fire investigation report”.  This type of report (note: one is not always compiled after an investigation) is done by the local authority and the information contained in such a report is retained by the local authority and is not sent to the OFC. “

Vital pieces of information that would provide evidence regarding causes of fires are not consistently documented, and when they are,  the report does not reach the agency responsible for the safety of the BC public.

  • The local fire departments in many instances are not completing and submitting the fire reports immediately after the fire.  Of the reports I received with the report completion dates, 57% were completed more than one month after the fire, ranging between 2 months to more than 1 year after the fires.   An example is a fire that occurred in Nelson on Jan. 22, 2013. The date on the report was April 1, 2014,
  • The BC Safety Authority is not being notified in all cases where the fire officials believe the fire might have been caused by an electrical device or problem.  I did not request BCSA reports for all fires identified as being “electrical”, but of those I did, 13 had no BCSA report.    An example is a fire on an exterior wall that occurred at Port Hardy on Feb. 11, 2013. The igniting object was “failed electrical distribution equipment.”  BCSA had no report on this incident.