VANCOUVER CITY ELECTRICIAN AND CHIEF ELECTRICAL INSPECTOR ARKADY TSISSEREV'S DISMISSAL REVEALED TO BE POLITICALLY MOTIVATED! VANCOUVER'S CITIZENS ARE IN DANGER. THE MAYOR & CITY COUNCIL IGNORE WARNINGS!
March 8th, 2010
Vancouver - by Frank Kurz
Sir Walter Scott said it best: "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
The City of Vancouver has stayed almost all of the lay-off notices affecting their inspections branches. The only exception is Bob Cornwell - Quality Control Coordinator in the Electrical Inspections Department (and the man who happened to be former department head Ark Tsisserev's assistant and training co-ordinator). Bob's close association with Ark is also no doubt the reason that he will be joining the ranks of the unemployed at the end of this month.
Sources within the City have told this writer that moral in the Department is at an all-time low with the leadership, professionalism, and knowledge which Ark Tsisserev brought to the position of City Electrician and Chief Electrical Inspector noticeably absent. As previously reported, Will Johnston (a structural engineer) has been appointed to fill the void. This leaves the City with an electrical department head who has no formal knowledge of the Canadian Electrical Code and whose ability is severely handicapped when it comes to making informed judgements on applications for variances, deviations and formal acceptances. So much so that any such decisions made by Mr. Johnston would, in opinions expressed by concerned industry stake holders and the engineering community put the public at grave risk. His appointment would also seem to conflict directly with APEGBC's code of ethics and professional conduct. While he may not appear to be signing off in a professional capacity (in other words misusing his professional seal), the fact remains that as a member in good standing he has sworn to protect the safety of the public. How, you might ask, can he do so when he has no formal electrical training and wouldn’t know a three-phase converter from a GFI breaker if he saw both on the counter side-by-side?
Arkady Tsisserev, the foremost expert in the fields of electrical and life safety in Canada was dismissed for reasons other than were given him in Dave McLellan's office that fateful morning; this much is obvious. It had previously been announced by the City that any individual affected by their efforts to reduce expenditures would receive sixty days’ notice (ample opportunity to find alternative employment within the City). Mr. Tsisserev was not afforded this privilege. He was instead escorted from the building on the very same day he was terminated.
Ark's department garnered praise and a touch of envy from his fellow managers for its efficient running and for the dedicated and professional conduct of its staff. To top it all off, the electrical inspections branch has recorded stunning profits from revenue generated from permit applications and inspection fees over the last several years. In fact, it's enjoyed a margin in the range of 40% to 50% over its cost to run (this includes staff salaries and overheads). Why would the head of a PROFIT CENTRE in something that you could characterize as a large corporate conglomerate, get the axe so unceremoniously and with such stunning ruthlessness? To what sub-level of moronic idiocy does such an action belong? Perhaps on the same level as Council appointing a structural engineer to the position of City Electrician? Why not appoint a street sweeper or dog catcher and save even more money? It is quite apparent to this writer (if not to everyone else) that the Council's definition of fitness and merit stipulated in the Vancouver Charter doesn't involve specific knowledge of the subject.
Ark Tsisserev's dismissal had nothing to do with budgetary restructuring and everything to do with removing an individual who had demonstrated he was not going to be dazzled or pressured by political imperatives related to Olympic venues where there was a risk to public (or athlete) safety. He didn't receive the benefit of sixty days’ notice because that would have left him in a position in which he may have continued to block (or delay) VANOC's (and the Mayor's) objectives. They simply couldn't run the risk of having their Olympic Party held up by something as insignificant as electrical safety. His replacement, Will Johnston, who is obviously far more politically astute, understood this and apparently provided the path of lesser resistance (for Mr. Johnston's benefit, that's also electrical terminology). Projects were finalized with what amounted to nothing more than a cursory review (did he cross his fingers too?), and (I was reminded just today) without benefit of any inspection process because VANOC refused to issue the security credentials required to access the venues. It is termed fast tracking in a building permitting policy statement Mr. Johnston authored and for which he has now been suitably rewarded at a cost that may eventually (and unfortunately) be paid in blood if allowed to continue.
(One stunning example has recently been revealed on Alex Tsakumis' Blog although, thankfully, no one was hurt.)
Are you aware that the "CE" label has never been formally accepted by ANY North American authority before Mr. Johnston did so in early February of this year? That equipment bearing this label has to undergo the most rigourous of testing by either CSA or ULC (two Canadian agencies I'm sure you ARE aware of) and that, historically, none so marked has ever passed without requiring significant design modifications? Did you know that there are two distinct interpretations of the "CE" designation? One happens to be Conformité Européenne, a European standard similar to CSA, and the other being China Export. To cap this all, the two symbols are strikingly similar, yet here we have Mr. Johnston, a STRUCTURAL engineer, accepting "CE" marked ELECTRICAL equipment for use at #1 Robson's Live Event. What is this city coming to - or more alarmingly - where is it going?
I'm publicly raising the alarm here in support of the hundreds of letters and emails addressed to the Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, in the last few weeks in the wake of Ark Tsisserev's dismissal! Feel free to show your support in our General Forum or email the Mayor directly. If enough voices are raised, perhaps the Mayor and Council will be able to see (they quite obviously can’t hear through the VANOC issued Olympic head gear they've forgotten to remove).
We pay tribute to Ark in February's EDITORIAL.
Update - An Open Message to the Mayor and Council ...
APARTMENT EXPLOSION CAUSED BY ANTIFREEZE IN THE SPRINKLER SYSTEM!
Truckee, California - An explosion in an apartment which killed a young mother and injured the four other members of her family in this small community last year has been blamed on the glycerine-based antifreeze used in the sprinkler system. A fire apparently started on the kitchen stove which triggered an overhead sprinkler head. The resulting explosion blew out the windows of the ground floor apartment, sending shards of glass "more than 86 feet across the adjacent parking area of the complex", according to a report released by Stephen Hart, an independent fire investigator. You can review his report here.
AND "THE GAMES" CONTINUE... AN OPEN LETTER TO ASTTBC AND CFAA
(OR KNOCK-KNOCK - IS ANYBODY HOME?)
Vancouver - Let me begin this letter by reminding everyone that's reading this of the raison d'être for this website (for you rabid English speaking Westerners, that's French for reason for being). I beg your indulgence while I repeat three sentences you will find in the first two paragraphs of our Home Page:
This is the Fire Protection Technicians Network; the place to find a wealth of information to make YOUR job simpler, more effective and ultimately, more rewarding. We are not affiliated with ASTTBC, CFAA, CANASA, NFPA or NICET (although we will continue to promote their efforts). We are committed to public safety, awareness and professional practice through Government, industry and peer liaison.
The recent termination of Arkady Tsisserev (see the story above) started me wondering about the deafening silence on the subject coming from both CFAA and ASTTBC. You are the two agencies responsible for the certification of fire protection technicians engaged in life safety equipment inspection and testing in Canada. It is the writer's understanding that CFAA did address a letter expressing "concern" to the Mayor of Vancouver, but no formal public pronouncement has been forthcoming (by either of you). I find this strange considering your long standing relationships with Ark. Strange and troubling. So much so that it actually prompted me to re-examine a question put to CFAA's webmaster concerning the testing and inspection of fire alarm systems in Vancouver which (on the surface) CFAA appears to answer incorrectly. During the course of that re-examination I started thinking that there's much more here than actually meets the eye.
Bear with me for a moment while I provide a little background for those readers of this letter not familiar with either one of your organizations.
CFAA and ASTTBC are rival certification agencies - that's a fact. About fourteen years ago, ASTTBC stepped up to the plate and extended resources to respond to the concerns expressed by the City of Vancouver's Fire Department surrounding inadequate technician training which resulted in some substandard testing of life safety equipment - that's another fact. At the time, CFAA didn't have a presence in BC - fact. Today however, CFAA has a "BC Chapter" which happens to be headed by Gord Morrison at Mircom Technologies (at the time of this writing) - fact. Gord's mandate (as BC Chapter President) is to promote CFAA's goal of becoming THE national technician certification agency in Canada - fact.
Question: Should CFAA acknowledge ASTTBC's existence when doing so might seem to undermine this mandate?
It's only when you put all the facts together that an even more grim and troubling question emerges: Would an agency, engaged in the business of national LIFE SAFETY promotion and certification, deliberately phrase an answer to a question in such a manner so as to avoid acknowledging (and perhaps even linking to) a rival agency (even to the point of providing a wrong answer)?
I had informed CFAA's webmaster of the errors in their response to the question from an HVAC technician working in Vancouver, BC on June 27th, 2009 (the same day I took it upon myself to post the correct answer on our FAQ's page). That prompted a "flurry" of emails culminating in one from Gord Morrison (CFAA's BC Chapter President) that demanded to know what my "qualifications" were. But I digress.
Here's what I'm writing about -
“I work for a national company as an HVAC technician in Vancouver, B.C.
We do work for a cellular communications provider that has numerous cell sites on the tops of apartment buildings across the city.
Along with the HVAC work, we are also to test the fire alarm systems in these shelters which are monitored by a central control centre in Ontario. I have three questions for you :
1) What kind of personal liability would I take on by performing this work without proper certification?
2) What kind of personal liability would I take on by performing this work with proper certification?
3) What courses are required to do this kind of inspection work in Vancouver?
Your clarification would be greatly appreciated.”
And CFAA's answer:
“The annual maintenance of fire alarm systems is required by the National and Provincial Fire Codes. In BC, at this time I am not aware of there being any requirement in the Fire Code for individuals doing maintenance on fire alarm systems to have completed any special training or to be certified under some program. The Fire Code likely requires the work to be performed in accordance with ULC S 536 which indicates in the Appendix that individuals performing annual test and inspections have suitable training or experience acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction. The course materials provided by the CFAA or the Electrical trades updating course in Ontario are considered acceptable.
Unless there are local requirements in the City of Vancouver or the Province of which I am not aware, there is no requirement for formal certification. Fire alarm servicing affects the potential reliability of life safety equipment in a building which if it fails could lead to the loss of life or large dollar loss. By portraying yourself as an individual who is competent to service the equipment you assume responsibility for appropriate and proper testing of the equipment. If the system fails in an emergency, and it can be determined that the quality of service or lack thereof contributed to the loss the courts and the lawyers would likely look at some form of action to recover the losses or charges if there was a death.
Where requirements for certification exist such as in Ontario, legally you may not perform and maintenance or repairs if you are not certified and any work performed will not be considered as even done.”
1. One of the slickest parts of this answer involves the reference to the BC Fire Code because you're right - the BC Fire Code doesn't mention any requirement for formal certification. The question was from a technician in BC, and more specifically about fire alarm inspection and testing in Vancouver. So why, might one ask, is it that Vancouver isn't even mentioned until the second paragraph? In BC, several municipalities have adopted By-laws requiring ASTTBC certified technicians be involved in the testing of fire alarm systems. Vancouver happens to be but one of those that have done so. For a complete list, you may wish to check here. I find it inconceivable for anyone associated with an organization like CFAA to state in a public forum that they were unaware of any formal certification requirement in Vancouver considering it's been mandated for fourteen years! Moreover, I should think it grossly irresponsible if they knew the answer was wrong and continued to allow it to be displayed. (For me to speculate that they knew even before I advised them is too disturbing to contemplate but if you consider the BC Chapter has been in existence for over a year.)
2. Neither the “course materials provided by the CFAA or the Electrical trades updating course in Ontario” are considered acceptable alternatives to ASTTBC certification within the municipalities that have adopted those By-Laws (in British Columbia). I don't believe the “electrical trades updating course in Ontario” is even recognized by BC's Electrical Safety Authority (actually, I'm actually pretty sure that it isn't). On closer examination however, this happens to be the other slick part of the answer because it falls right after the reference to the CAN/ULC-S536 Appendix, so, taken in that context (while avoiding any reference to Vancouver), they're actually right. Yep. Real slick. Right now, I'd go so far as to recommend that the guy that wrote this would be better suited for a Cabinet position in Government.
3. Certification by ANY AGENCY is not a guarantee of "quality of service". "Manufacturer's training" doesn't even guarantee "quality of service". Membership in the Fire Protection Technicians Network doesn't guarantee "quality of service". It's only when a technician can demonstrate unwavering dedication, vigilance, knowledge, and integrity over a long period of time that you're guaranteed any sort of "quality of service".
4. Should the system fail in an emergency, it would be extremely difficult for the courts to determine that the level of service was responsible for that failure. There would have to be extenuating circumstances that pointed directly to negligent (and deliberate) actions of the individual performing the testing or maintenance. In fact, some of the examples we’ve provided here would fall into this category.
But hey, hang on a minute! I'm not going to let ASTTBC off the hook (you will recall I mentioned earlier that there was much more here than meets the eye)... CFAA maintains a website with some extremely useful information but ASTTBC website's links page doesn't mention CFAA. Neither agency acknowledges the other on their websites, but let's "dig" a little deeper. ASTTBC has recently appointed a new Manager for Fire Protection, Brian Stegavig. Brian has the drive and the knowledge to move ASTTBC to the next level, but while they've got the right man for the job, ASTTBC has also quite effectively tied his hands. To oversee the practice and training of 800 plus registered technicians (mostly in the Lower Mainland), add in his responsibilities to review and investigate complaints, and then also require him to participate in the meetings of the Certification Board and the Practice Review Board, are all the makings for a full-time permanent job (and then some). Yet ASTTBC has seen fit to contract Brian on a part-time basis (and when I say "part time", it's for less than twenty hours a week!). Then to cap it all off, they also want him to lobby the various municipalities and promote their certification program to the rest of the Province! ASTTBC has to realign (and re-evaluate) their fiscal responsibilities with their mandated obligations before they can really move forward.
But what all this really boils down to is this, gentlemen! We should all be working together to ensure the standard of practice for technicians engaged in the maintenance and testing of life safety systems across this great nation is second to none. Set aside your selfish, egocentric, petty agendas and get down to the business of helping each other support the people who pay your dues!
Oh, and Mr. CFAA Webmaster... Fix the answer!
UPDATE! - The answer (and the entire question) was removed from CFAA's website on September 2, 2010. That's 432 days from when they were originally informed of the error and almost ten (10) full years from when it was first published to their site.