NRD | “Does your insurance cover that?”

This post is the first in a Natural Resource Development series undertaken to raise awareness of the importance of fire safety management and risk mitigation. This post has been submitted by Greg Bartlett, a member of the NRD Theme Team. Greg is a safety-focused professional with cross-functional expertise in emergency management. His area of expertise is industrial emergency mitigation strategies, with an emphasis on municipal fire safety and rural-urban fringe communities.
The “folklore” and devastation continues to haunt us. Many lessons have been learned since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 in which Patrick O’Leary’s cow knocked over a lamp, causing his barn to catch fire and leading to one of the greatest civic conflagrations known to man. The debate amongst Fire & Life Safety professionals should address the special circumstances pertaining to farm properties, however it’s too often that fire prevention on farms gets relegated to the back 40.
Recently barn fires have been making headlines across the province of Ontario, impacting our agriculture and equestrian sectors in excess of 25 million dollars over the past 2 years. This highlights the importance of a comprehensive approach to dealing with the risks that fires pose to farmland and associated infrastructure.
As with any risk, identification of the process, systems, and controls are often top of mind. These include behavioral and structural. Prior to writing this blog post, I walked through a barn and as I walked I realized that barns are cultural and historic factories and that one approach to risk-reduction may not work for every barn. The first reason for this is the structural composition. This is often dictated by the age and occupancy of the building. It may be a chicken farm, a 300 head milking operation, or possibly a place to store cash crops or agricultural vehicles.
Mechanical and electrical systems also impact the level of risk. As industries evolve, their equipment changes. Routine maintenance and repair can be thought of as a form of disaster prevention whereas patchwork repairs with commonly found items such as bailing wire or a coin in the fuse box increase the risk of a disaster.
With the recent fires across Ontario, I find myself thinking of my own experiences as a rural firefighter. Too often our fire service would respond to a barn fire and have to wait for the utility company to disconnect the power at the pole for the barn. While waiting we listened to the dying livestock and wondered if this fire could have been prevented. Given the immense pressure on agriculture industries, I often wonder if cleaning an exhaust fan or upgrading a barn to meet Class 2 division 1 type electrical hazard protection would be a way to stay competitive and mitigate risk.
Should we change farming codes and standards and make the agriculture industry retrofit places of employment? As a member of the National Fire Protection Association, these types of questions are often asked in other natural resources sectors.
Add your thoughts in the combox below and help us in bridging academics and communities of practice in an effort to create meaningful dialogue around rural safety issues. The author, Greg Bartlett, can be reached at New to the RPLC? Learn more about this initiative for ongoing learning and resource-sharing here. For further reading material on risk mitigation surrounding barn fires, check out the following resources:

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