Brantford City Council unanimously approved a report presented by Fire Chief Todd Binkley regarding North West Rubber’s second large scale fire incident during their Committee of the Whole, Planning and Administration meeting on Tuesday, August 15, 2023.
The Brantford Fire Department was dispatched to a fire in the rear storage yard of North West Rubber (NWR) located on 321 Henry Street at 10:30 p.m. on October 18, 2022,
This was NWR’s second large scale fire since 2019 after a similar fire occurred on June 9, 2019 due to an issue related to the stacking of hot rubber mats.
According to the manufacturer’s website, they are the leading manufacturer of recycled rubber flooring solutions throughout North America and globally.
As part of the manufacturing process, mats are formed from superheated pressed crumb rubber. Once formed, the temperature of the mat is taken and based on the reading received, either moved to an exterior storage yard, or into a quarantined area for monitoring until the temperature has decreased.
Binkley’s report noted that during the investigation conducted by the Office of the Marshal (OFM) and the BFD Fire Prevention Division, it was discovered through video footage from inside the plant, as well as infrared technology, that the fire was caused by human error.
Video evidence showed that during the manufacturing process, an employee missed the critical temperature check, and that the material was then moved to the outdoor storage area rather than going into quarantine to be monitored.
In January of this year, Mayor Kevin Davis requested a full report on the incident to determine the cause and the estimated costs of fighting the blaze, as well as what will be done in the future to avoid any similar incidents.
During Tuesday’s meeting Mayor Davis asked Binkley several questions about the incident, including if NWR had any systems in place that relied on AI or computer software that would automatically monitor the yard for issues such as this, as well as what systems have been put in place since then.
Binkley noted that the company “had installed some technology to monitor the yard including infrared technology but it wasn’t fully operational at the time of the fire.”
Binkley also mentioned that since the incident, the Fire Prevention division has worked with the company to implement a number of factors to help mitigate the risk of another fire.
“The company has bolstered its internal process for monitoring the product. They’ve installed technology including video and infrared technology with alarm monitoring for outside in the storage yard,” he said. “We limited the amount of storage they can store in the yard. We’ve increased the clearances to the building to pile the pile separations including increasing clearances between their quarantine and their general storage. As well, we have implemented this into an approved fire safety plan, so what that means is that they now have a document that says they have to continue to keep all these clearances, and to keep the minimal storage and if not, they can be charged on the Ontario Fire Code.”
Binkley said that the Fire Prevention division will continue to inspect the property to mitigate another fire incident.
Mayor Davis asked the Chief if the City can address this through a change in the zoning by-laws by limiting the areas where businesses like this can have this type of production process.
Michael Bradley, Commissioner of Community Development, said that it would be a risky move.
“The use of zoning by-law as a prohibitive tool is risky for council,” said Bradley. “It can be done, the zoning by-law has a section called “uses prohibited in all zones” and that is something that we can explore in that area or under a specific zoning, so it’s something we will probably take away and come back to council with.”
Councillors John Sless and Gino Caputo asked Binkley about the monetary implications of the incident.
Binkley noted that City invoiced NWR for costs totaling $666,468 associated with the response in accordance with the Fees and Charge by-law 34-2022. The company also received a fine of $12,505 after pleading guilty before the court on May 15, 2023.
Coun. Linda Hunt asked about the costs associated with the environmental impacts.
Selvi Kongara, Director of Environmental Services said that those costs were covered by NWR.
“For the pump out charges, the city retained a contractor and NWR agreed to assume the charges and they managed that contractor, but we looked after it to make sure the water was directed to either the storm pond or to the waste water plant so it didn’t go to a creek or the Grand River and affect the environment,” she said.
Mayor Davis later extended an invite to the company to attend a council meeting to publicly address what they intend to do to prevent a similar incident.
“I suspect I can say that this council is united in not wanting to see a fire like this happen again in our community. I have confidence in our department staff and the fire inspection staff and working with provincial authorities, that we have now in place the measures that will make another fire extremely unlikely,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence in our fire department staff and other city staff but I will say this to the company. I’m sure the company would like to be seen as a good corporate citizen and I think I would say to them that perhaps it may be useful for them to speak to our community as well. Delegating this when it comes to council so we can hear directly from the company what it intends to do to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. I think that would inspire greater degree of confidence in the community. They don’t have to do it, but I think that would be helpful for them and for the community.”