The fact that 22 people are living in a four-bedroom house in his community was news to Nanoose Bay fire chief Doug Penny, and he has some concerns.
Penny first learned about the house, part of School District 69’s international students’ program, Tuesday night at the Nanoose Bay Fire Protection Society’s annual general meeting when a concerned resident brought the situation to the attention of the 40 people in attendance.
Penny admitted his focus in the past year has been mostly directed on the progress of the community’s soon-to-be-opened $3.2 million new fire hall, but he seemed perplexed he wasn’t notified by staff of the school district or the Regional District of Nanaimo about the Madrona Drive home that houses 18 Korean students and four adults.
“Even a daycare with 10 kids in it has to have a fire safety plan,” said the chief.
Penny, like most volunteer firefighters in communities such as Nanoose Bay, has a primary career or business. Penny does excavation work.
“I do septic fields and the septic (at this house on half an acre) couldn’t handle it,” he said. “It wouldn’t be designed to handle that load.”
“A four-bedroom home isn’t designed for 22 people.”
Sheila Bates, a neighbour of the house in question on Madrona, was the resident who raised the issue at the meeting Tuesday. She said the behaviour of the residents is not an issue for her, but she wondered how the Korean students —at least one of which is attending Nanoose elementary — are getting a Canadian-type experience in that kind of living situation.
She also expressed concerns about the safety of the children living in the house. “We have rules and building codes for good reason,” she said. “How is that safe? I don’t think it is.”
In a story about the house published in the Sept. 14 edition, school district officials suggested what might seem crowded to Canadians might not feel that way at all for these Korean students.
Fire chief Penny had another view of that assertion in regards to fire and safety regulations
“It doesn’t really matter if they call it Korean (lifestyle) or not, it’s sitting in the province of B.C.”
The regional district director for the area that includes Nanoose Bay, George Holme, was also at the fire protection society’s meeting Tuesday night and he was asked for comment about the Madrona Road house.
“It’s before our bylaw people right now,” Holme told the crowd. “I understand the home in question is owned by some school teachers but that’s all I can tell you right now.”
After the meeting, Holme was asked for more information about the house. He referred a reporter to regional district staff. He was asked if he thought 22 people living in a four-bedroom home was a reasonable arrangement.
“Personally, no I don’t,” said Holme.
Asked for comment Wednesday morning, School District 69 board chair Lynette Kershaw said from what she understands, a “dormitory” set-up is “the preference for that particular culture.” She also said the district’s entire international program is under review.
Kershaw also confirmed there’s a similar dormitory set-up in Bowser, but she couldn’t provide details about that home.
Tom Armet, the RD’s manager of building bylaws and emergency planning services, said Wednesday staff “continue to monitor the situation.” He said the house and its current use may fall into a “grey area” of the RD’s bylaws.
“We could provide enforcement if we had a strong enough issue to do so and at this point we don’t,” said Armet. “But I am not going to say they are fully in compliance.”