Orangeville backyard fire program misses the mark: councillors

May 11, 2023   ·   0 Comments


Orangeville needs a means of following up on people or locations registered as part of its Sensitive Receptor Program.

Councillor Andy Macintosh suggested during town council’s May 1 meeting that staff should reach out to people identifying themselves as sensitive receptors to determine if the designation is still required.

The Sensitive Receptor Program was created in 2016 for residential and standing sensitive receptors to govern where backyard fires may be lit.

A standing sensitive receptor is defined as a healthcare facility, senior citizens’ residence, long-term care facility, or other places where smoke may be a greater risk to the health of a group or individual.

Residential sensitive receptors are people living in Orangeville who say they are vulnerable to smoke due to lung issues or another reason. 

When residents apply for their annual burn permit for backyard fires, they will be denied if their backyard is within 45 metres of a sensitive receptor.

The town receives as many as 25 sensitive receptor registrations each year. 

And as long as the registration is in effect, a burn permit will not be approved for a fire pit within 90 metres of the receptor. 

Macintosh, the town’s former fire chief, said he’s never liked the program but understands why it’s in place.

He said the program lacks any means of a follow-up on those people registered as a sensitive receptors.

“If a sensitive receptor moves, passes away, or is cured, there is no follow-up,” he said. “I just wondered if there could be follow-up. With 20 to 25 sensitive receptors, maybe we could take the lead and phone those people.”

Heather Savage, the town’s community services general manager, said each sensitive receptor has to apply annually for the designation. If they don’t apply, it’s assumed the designation isn’t required for that address.

There are challenges with the way the program is administered.

The bylaw states that the fire must be 45 metres away from the residential applicant’s property line, even if the burn unit is 65 metres away from the property line.

It is problematic to base eligibility on the sensitive receptor applicant’s property line to the burn permit applicant’s property line. Often, the location of the fire is not at the property line and, therefore, more than 45 metres away from any sensitive receptor. The generic application of measurement excludes many from receiving a permit.

New geographic information technologies enable staff to assess the location of the burn unit in comparison to the 45-metre radius from the sensitive receptor’s property line.

Deputy Mayor Todd Taylor said a report to council discussed at the May 1 meeting was lacking in detail. There’s no audit about whether the program accomplished what was intended, he said.

“My feeling is it’s not doing what we thought it would do,” he said. “I think it causes controversy.

“It allows neighbours who don’t like each other to cause havoc for others.”

Quite simply, Taylor said the program is easily abused. As such, the program is not a worthwhile endeavour, he said.

Savage said the program is accomplishing what, on paper, were the reasons it was launched. Staff could devise a more detailed intake process, she said.

“If we were granted the ability to evaluate whether or not we felt (a designation) was warranted, then that may be helpful in (determining) who is eligible for the program,” Savage said.

Coun. Debbie Sherwood suggested staff include wider criteria to apply for sensitive receptor status.

“I, too, have a real problem with this,” she said.

Taylor said input on any decision to quash the program or update it requires input from the Orangeville Fire Department.

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