Sending uncertified workers to check and maintain fire alarm systems, portable fire extinguishers and special fire suppression systems at Calgary businesses will cost an Okotoks company and its owners $300,000 in total.
Premium Fire Protection has to pay a $270,000 fine and the company’s president, Kurt Bertrand will pay $30,000. Of that, $250,000 will be paid to the City of Calgary, whose fire department spent months investigating whistleblower complaints of Premium using uncertified workers. The remaining $50,000 are victim fine surcharges and will be paid to the Province.
The maximum fines under the Safety Code are $100,000 for a first offence and $500,000 for subsequent offences. Crown prosecutor Jenna Graham said a maximum penalty would likely only be in place in the case of an offence that led to a death.
Premium Fire Protection was found guilty of 15 counts of violating the safety code following a two-week trial earlier this year. On June 23, Bertrand pled guilty to four counts of not ensuring certified workers were checking and maintaining fire systems at Calgary grocery stores and a car dealership.
In an emailed statement, Bertrand said he has made changes to ensure these infractions never happen again.
“It is important to note that the safety of the equipment inspected was never called into question, and none of the charges involved quality of work," Bertrand wrote. "Safety was not compromised. The concerns were around who conducted certification and supervision of apprentices.
"Premium Fire Protection has put in place new protocols, procedures, and mandatory training to ensure this will never happen again. We have learned from these charges and acknowledge we should have done more in ensuring apprentices only completed work they were certified for."
Judge Allan Fradsham agreed to impose the fines, which were jointly agreed on by the City of Calgary’s Crown prosecutors and defence lawyer for Premium Fire Protection and Bertrand.
Graham said there is always a concern that there could be a default on the fine.
“There is a concern the company will go through an insolvency and do something to try to get out of paying,” she told the court.
If Bertrand defaults on his fine, he could face up to 164 days in jail. However, there is no jail time in relation to the company’s fine. The City of Calgary would have to pursue collection of the fine through civil court if the company defaults on its fine payments.
Defence lawyer Brent Cooper represented Premium Fire Protection and said his client will be able to make a $30,000 good faith payment by the end of October and is able to pay $30,000 every four months. Kurt Bertrand’s lawyer said Bertrand will make a $5,000 payment on his fine within three days.
The judge gave Bertrand one year to pay his fine and Premium Fire was put on payment schedule to pay the fine quarterly until February 2024.
Kurt Bertrand, and his wife, who testified as the company’s representative at trial, declined to speak during their sentencing hearing.
Premium Fire, whose head office is located in Okotoks, continues to operate in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The Town of Okotoks has issued an advisory to businesses to have measures in place to ensure they are getting certified workers when hiring Premium Fire Protection to do work on their fire systems.
Premium Fire has had other problems, including a recall on a number of certification tags placed on portable fire extinguishers. Underwriters Laboratories of Canada Inc. put out a public advisory that Premium had used the tags when not certified to do so. Okotoks businesses were asked to check the tags on their fire extinguishers and have them re-certified if they contained the improperly used tags.
Bertrand admitted to doing uncertified work in a 2015 letter to Municipal Affairs and paid a $6,000 donation to the Calgary Firefighters Burn Treatment Society.