Chelsea, Quebec fire officials rate emergency accessibility on private roads

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by Mark Burgess on May 20, 2010

A new provincial fire safety plan is forcing municipalities to identify difficult-to-access private roads and place them on a list that could raise residents’ insurance rates by half.

Chelsea Fire Chief Andre Hamelin said the new plan attempts to impose Ministry of Public Safety norms across the province’s fire departments. Municipal fire departments were required to identify roads that could not be accessed in a given time and to send the list to the ministry, via the MRC, in order to exonerate themselves.

“We found some places we couldn’t go as recommended by Quebec,” Hamelin said.

Hamelin classified Chelsea’s private roads into three categories. Municipal roads, meanwhile, are all accessible to firefighters.

Twenty-five roads fell under Category 1, which means they’re inaccessible to fire vehicles. Hamelin said his crew would still respond to calls and get as close to the fire as possible, but it could mean parking on a major road and involve firemen on foot dragging hoses to the fire.

Category 2 roads (86 were identified) are ones that don’t “allow for most emergency vehicles from the fire department to get to or carry out an effective intervention.” Hamelin said these are roads one truck could negotiate, but there’s not enough room to a vehicle around. That would mean sending in only one truck at a time, waiting for it to back out, and then allowing the second truck to move in, compromising fire-fighting effectiveness.

Operations on Category 3 roads would only be affected if the road were obstructed in some way.

Jean-Pierre Mallette of Assurance Mallette-McLennan in Wakefield said some roads could go from semi-protected status to non-protected, based on the response time – a downgrade that would raise insurance rates by at least 50 per cent.

While there are “10,000 criteria” that go into assessing rates, he said if the response time goes from 15 minutes to 30 minutes the house will already be gone.

“How the insurance industry is going to react to this, I really don’t know. And how long it’s going to take, I really don’t know,” he said.

Valerie McLaughlin-Wiggins, an agent at Promutuel l’Outaouais in Low, said roads that fire trucks can’t access would be deemed non-protected.

“Even if you’re only two kilometres from the fire department but the truck can’t get in there, you’re non-protected,” she said.

McLaughlin-Wiggins said insurance agents would always make their own assessment, though, and that sending a list to the ministry wouldn’t send rates skyrocketing all on its own.

“Just because they change the category, I wouldn’t let that scare anybody,” she said.

Hamelin and Chelsea Assistant Director-general, Bruce Devine said they are developing a plan with property owners to try to make private roads more accessible.

Hamelin said the Category 1 and 2 roads are older ones, and that the municipality over the past six or seven years has been active in ensuring new roads conform to firefighters’ needs. He said new roads now go through the municipal road and fire committees before they’re approved by the planning committee.

Devine said the municipality would post a list of the fire department ratings on its website this week.