Pubdate: Mon, 22 Sep 2008
Source: Barrie Advance, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2008 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Janis Ramsay
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Firefighters must be on alert for drug labs whenever they are called a
fire, according to a member of the Ontario Fire Marshal's office, who
was in Barrie last week to talk about drug lab dangers.

Before getting to the nitty gritty of his message, Ernie Yakiwchuk
showed a quick video of a stoned firefighter who was at a house fire
that had contained a marijuana grow-op. It brought some humour to a
situation that is becoming more common in Ontario.

Yakiwchuk, a fire protection advisor, said he trains firefighters
about the dangers they can face when going to a drug lab fire.

He used the example of firefighters in Pickering, who went to a
'woodshop' fire Nov. 20, 2006. It was actually a clandestine lab for

"They showed up and put water on it, but it kept burning," said
Yakiwchuk. They went into the job thinking it was a woodshop fire and
didn't take a moment to assess the situation. Pink smoke coming from
the industrial building should have tipped them off at the scene.

"We like to see white or grey smoke. That was the red phosphorous

Yakiwchuk said 75 per cent of the department was there and photographs
showed their equipment had discoloured from chemical exposure while
battling the blaze.

"There is a WSIB file open on them and I just hope they're all OK in
five years."

Yakiwchuk said there's nothing good about going to a fire at a
marijuana grow-op or drug lab.

Toxins can be inhaled or absorbed through eyes, nose or mouth -from
mould, drug-making products, or pesticides or fungicides used on
plants. Electrocution can happen from tampered hydro wires or a
building could collapse because of home modifications.

Explosions can destroy a building too, thanks to cans of propane or
butane in the home. That has happened in Barrie, where an extrication
lab in the basement blew out the walls. Local firefighters have seen
that first-hand.

Booby traps are another problem in drug labs.

"Professionals want everything to burn up, so there's no evidence. And
if they injure a firefighter, it ties up everyone trying to get him

Yakiwchuk has seen trip wires, nails in wooden boards, animal traps,
pipe bombs and blocked windows, or secret doors that can trap
firefighters behind a wall.

Electrical wiring used to power marijuana grow lights can get stuck on
a firefighter's oxygen tank, trapping him inside. A hole drilled in
the floor for venting can also trap a firefighter's foot or leg.

"What can you see when you're in a building? Nothing, because of the
smoke. You have to use universal precautions while doing a primary
search and rescue."

That means, until a firefighter knows it isn't a drug lab, it should
be entered with caution because dangers may exist inside the home.

"If you enter a lab, exit the same way you came in. Touch nothing,
move nothing and request police backup. Evacuate the area," he said.

He told firefighters to be suspicious about pans on the stove that
started the fire, or the garbage thrown into the backyard because it
could be clues for a drug lab.

Along with personal protection, Yakiwchuk said a fire department has a
duty to protect the public. Municipal fire services must have a
zero-tolerance approach for violations to the fire code, and lay fines
to homeowners who aren't complying.

"I always pick a grandfather and ask what happens if he takes his
grandchildren to the mall, and, because he's in a hurry, he doesn't
put seatbelts on. He gets T-boned and four kids die and one is
critically injured."

The audience says he should go to jail, said Yakiwchuk.

"OK, what if he tucks them in at night, says 'I love you', then takes
the battery out of the smoke alarm for his alarm clock because he has
a game of golf in the morning? There's a fire and four of them die and
one is critically injured."

That man is treated more like a victim than a criminal, he

Fire departments must enforce the fire code equally for everyone -
landlords, homeowners, tenants and business owners.

"If you don't do the right thing, you will be sued. Poor fire code
enforcement could cost a fire chief his job."

Or, even worse, it could cost someone's life.

Barrie Fire Department's Deputy Chief Dave Forfar said the number of
local grow-ops is increasing, and the presentation was to make
everyone more aware of the situation.

"Everybody has a role to play. We want to shut the labs down and don't
want them starting back up," said Forfar. "That is our goal."

He plans to meet with city staff before the end of the year to talk
about laying fire code charges to anyone caught breaking the law.

"We need to have a template for this, nobody escapes (breaking the
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MAP posted-by: Steve Heath