Burning questions posed of Fire Chief at open house

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By Nick Seebruch
Burning questions posed of Fire Chief at open house
Fire Chief Pierre Voisine at an open house explaining proposed changes to the Open Air Burning by-law on Tuesday, October 10, 2019 (Nick Seebruch/ Seaway News).

CORNWALL, Ontario – The City of Cornwall held two open houses at the Benson Centre on Tuesday, Oct. 8 to address the public’s concern surrounding proposed changes to Cornwall’s outdoor burn by-law.

At the beginning of September, Cornwall City Council voted in favour of a recommendation from the Fire Chief that outdoor wood fires be prohibited in the city.

RELATED: Council votes to ban outdoor wood fires

The first open house began at 10:30 a.m. in the MacEwen Room at the Benson Centre, with the second scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. that same day in the Automotive Room.

Cornwall Fire Chief Pierre Voisine began by introducing the public to the feedback process and clearing up some misconceptions.

“Cooking food is by no means a loophole for burning and open air wood fire,” he said. “It is like any other law, if you get caught doing it, you will get charged under The Act. It is no different than someone thinking you can have a bonfire on Bank St. in Ottawa because you have a pack of hot dogs with you.”

Chief Voisine presented a survey for the public gathered at the morning meeting, which numbered roughly two dozen. The survey asked several questions such as “Should residents be permitted to burn wood-based fires in the City of Cornwall?”, “There are approximately 260 valid permits currently in place. Do you believe there are Cornwall residents burning without valid permits?” and “Currently the penalty for not adhering to the open air burn by-law is $195. Should this penalty be… A) Increased, B) Decreased, C) No Change,” and more.

The survey is available online at the City of Cornwall website.

The public however, had questions of their own for the Chief.

“Why wasn’t this survey done before they voted on the by-law,” asked one resident, Harold Lalonde. “And how many city by-law officers are there?”

“I brought this to Council,” Voisine explained, admitting that he did not do a formal consultation, but did gather and research data about the by-law before presenting his motion to council.

For example, Chief Voisine informed Council that there are 260 permits given out annually, and that the Fire Services responded to 77 complaints this year. In response to a question from the audience, Voisine clarified that only one of those 77 complaints involved a repeat offender.

He also said that the majority of complaints, around 60 per cent were against non-permit holders, he also stated that in five occasions, permits were suspended as the result of a complaint.

“My main issue to bringing this by-law to Councils because it is broken,” Voisine said, pointing to one example, of how the by-law requires people not to have an outdoor fire if the wind speed is greater than 16 km/h, something he believes is not strictly followed.

“Often times, my firefighters wind up caught in the middle of neighbour to neighbour disputes that at their root are unrelated to the fire,” he explained. “I don’t like putting our firefighters in the middle of those disputes.”

One member of the public at the open house voiced their concern over smoke coming over onto their property.

“My house is full of smoke, and the bottom line is that you can’t control the wind,” said a resident who identified himself as Gary.

Bill McGimpsey raised the point that this was ultimately a by-law enforcement issue.

“There are plenty of by-laws that need to be enforced after hours,” he said. “We need to look at someone being on in By-Law after hours.”

“Are you willing to put that in writing,” joked Voisine.

Voisine expressed however, that he ultimately was opposed to outdoor fires.

“I’m the Fire Chief, I don’t like fires and I will always err on the side of caution,” he said. “I don’t think there should be open air burning.”

Councillor Elaine MacDonald, who was in attendance for the morning meeting praised the Chief’s ability to moderate the discussion.

“He kept zeroing in on the questions and he responded factually,” she said.

Councillor Syd Gardiner, who was also in attendance at the morning’s open house, said that he was in favour of getting more by-law officers.

“We need to look at by-law working after hours,” he said. “I have been saying this for years, we need at least two more by-law officers.”

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