Nova Scotia

Fire inspections ramp up

The fire marshal's office has inspected half of Nova Scotia's hospitals and schools since the auditor general noted deficiencies last summer.

The fire marshal's office has inspected half of Nova Scotia's hospitals and schools since the auditor general noted a number of deficiencies last spring.

A group of MLAs got an update on Wednesday from Anne Partridge, who was hired to ensure every provincial building is in the database.

The buildings include everything from salt sheds and outhouses to Access Nova Scotia centres, Partridge told the public accounts committee.

"Rather than set a standard and say we're going to be in there every three years or every five years, we want to really look at those buildings, take each building through that risk assessment so that we could more appropriately deploy resources to those buildings at the greatest risk more frequently," she said.

The provincial auditor general raised the alarm about the fire marshal's office in May, saying the office had no inventory of buildings that require safety inspections and managers didn't know if required safety inspections had been done.

The report from Jacques Lapointe said 47 per cent of the inspections required weren't completed by the fall of 2010, and his audit couldn't determine whether safety deficiencies found during inspections were addressed.

50 per cent of elementary schools inspected

Harold Pothier, the acting fire marshal, said Wednesday that his inspectors have been busy since the report was released.

"There are over 450 schools in the province of Nova Scotia. We're dealing with the elementary schools at this juncture and there's 131 elementary schools and we're well over 50 per cent of having those inspected in this time frame," he told reporters.

"The process is continuing as we speak and we anticipate having them done within that year that we've committed to."

Senior officials received $330,000 — in addition to its $2-million budget — to try to rectify the problems.

Pothier said his inspectors are now completing about 120 inspections per month and said his staff are working on a plan that will set priorities for buildings that require more frequent inspections. The so-called risk framework should be completed by the end of March.

Jeff Conrad, the provincial Labour Department's acting deputy minister, said the department has dealt with six of the 25 recommendations in Lapointe's report. He said it would take up to two years to respond to the rest of the recommendations.

"We really are in the process of overhauling all of our systems in terms of the processes that we follow, the way we report, the way we manage people," Conrad told CBC News.

"It really is a very significant overhaul."

Auditor general impressed

On Wednesday, Lapointe said he was impressed with the response from the fire marshal's office.

"From what I can seem they've taken this very seriously. I know they did when we were talking to them at the time and I'm quite heartened by the extent of their response," he told CBC News.

"They're taking action to overhaul the whole system and I really couldn't ask right now for any more of a response from them."

The Labour Department said the number of buildings that require inspection by the Office of the Fire Marshal is about 4,500. But a spokesman stressed that some buildings on the list will eventually be removed, including Transport Department salt sheds.

The list does not include buildings that would normally be inspected by municipalities.

With files from The Canadian Press