It was whistle-blowers that alerted the Calgary fire department to the alleged use of uncertified workers servicing and maintaining sprinkler systems, fire alarms special fire suppression systems and fire extinguishers by an Okotoks business.
In July 2019, the City of Calgary laid over 60 charges against Premium Fire Protection, the directors of the business, employees and businesses, such as certain Superstore and Sobeys locations, Chuck E Cheese, movie theatres and car dealerships that hired Premium Fire Protection to service and maintain their fire protection equipment.
Since then, two Premium Fire Protection employees from Okotoks pleaded guilty to charges under the fire code of doing work they were not certified to do and were fined. A Calgary restaurant group that owned a Denny’s restaurant also pleaded guilty to a charge under the Safety Codes Act and was fined. Charges against some employees and businesses have also been dropped.
Premium Fire Protection is charged with 24 offences under the fire code.
A three-week trial into the allegations against the company began April 19 in Calgary Provincial Court. Charges against the business owner, Kurt Bertrand, have been separated and his trial has been scheduled in July. However, Bertrand is in the courtroom as an advisor to the lawyer in the Premium Fire case and is expected to testify.
Crown prosecutor, Jenna Graham, said the case is serious, even though there were no malfunctions of the equipment or loss of life due to the alleged use of uncertified workers.
“Premium Fire intentionally sent unequipped, uncertified and unqualified technicians to numerous commercial buildings in Calgary and elsewhere,” Graham said in her opening statement to the judge. “We expect the witnesses will establish the Crown’s theory that Premium put profit before people, profit before employee safety and profit before the general safety and wellbeing of the public.”
On the first day of the trial, Calgary district fire inspector, Frank Schroder, testified that two past employees tipped the Calgary Fire department off in 2018 to the alleged use of uncertified workers maintaining and servicing life safety systems, such as fire alarms, sprinklers, fire suppression systems used in kitchens and other high-risk areas and fire extinguishers.
However, it wasn’t until he was asked to review the file in 2019 by the fire enforcement compliance team that an investigation began. He said thousands of documents were obtained to review the work done by Premium Fire Protection and that the certifying bodies in Canada were contacted to determine what certifications were held by Premium employees.
“We found that at the onset of this investigation was that there were multiple people that were not certified or qualified to do work on life safety systems within the city of Calgary or Alberta, for that matter,” Schroder said.
However, defence lawyer Brent Cooper, questioned the validity of the information the Calgary Fire Department relied on in their investigation. Cooper pointed out that names on reports, which were stored on an external system operated by Building Reports Canada (BRC), have one technician listed on the front of an inspection certificate, but each report can include multiple visits with different technicians.
At the Premium Fire trial, Schroder testified he had not laid charges like this previously.
“This is the first time ever at this scale,” he said. “We’ve never seen this happen."
He added that it is necessary that fire protection employees are certified because the systems they are checking protect lives.
“The life safety equipment that is designed and installed in every building is there to protect the public and the buildings,” he said. “At the front end when life safety equipment is installed, it is installed by engineers. To ensure that equipment is at its peak and workings its best, that is why we have certified and qualified technicians doing that work.”