Calgary

Fire protection company accused of threatening employees to break safety laws

A disturbing picture emerged in court Thursday of a company that is accused of bullying its employees into breaking Fire Safety Code laws under threat they'd be fired for refusing assignments.

Premium Fire Protection alleges fire department didn't ask for proof of certification

Premium Fire Protection Ltd., a fire safety systems company, has an office in Okotoks, Alta. (Google)

A disturbing picture emerged in court Thursday of a company that is accused of bullying its employees into breaking Fire Safety Code laws under threat they'd be fired for refusing assignments.

Premium Fire Protection Ltd. and several employees and clients were charged in July with dozens of Fire Safety Code violations.

In total, 65 charges were laid against 18 people and companies. 

On Thursday, two former employees of Premium pleaded guilty to several Fire Safety Code violations for doing work they were not qualified to perform.

Both men told Calgary Fire Department investigators that there were "repercussions for refusing to do work they were assigned to."

Dustan Kurz said he was told by Steve Butler, the general manager of Premium, that "if I don't like it, f--k off and work somewhere else."

Kurz is a journeyman fitter, qualified to work on sprinkler systems but did maintenance on fire extinguishers and fire suppression systems.

Court heard Kurz is "extremely remorseful" for his involvement and was "very honest" in his dealings with investigators and prosecutor Paul Frank. In fact, he contacted fire investigators himself and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, said defence lawyer Beverly Broadhurst.

"Mr Kurz, I appreciate your co-operation and taking responsibility and I wish you good luck going forward," said provincial court Judge Paul Mason.

'Numerous verbal threats'

Clint Maton said he witnessed "numerous verbal threats" from Butler toward other employees who pushed back when they were told to do work they weren't qualified to do. 

Maton said he was told by Premium that he was allowed to perform certain duties and only learned after the fact that he was not.

"[Butler] would either fire you or make so you want to leave," said Maton. "A lot of staff stayed on and took the abuse because of the economy and the need to work to feed themselves and, in some cases, their families."

The two men were fined about $5,000 each.

In a written statement, the fire department said this is the first time charges of this nature were laid under the provincial fire code.

"Our goal is to ensure compliance and public safety at all times. We want to remind business owners that it is their responsibility to comply with all requirements of the Fire Code, including verifying that life safety system installers are qualified and certified."

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.

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