Territory commits to regulate oil furnaces

The Yukon government is promising to make tougher rules about who is allowed to tinker with the territory's oil-burning furnaces. That was the most significant recommendation in a report the government received Wednesday.

The Yukon government is promising to make tougher rules about who is allowed to tinker with the territory’s oil-burning furnaces.

That was the most significant recommendation in a report the government received Wednesday. Both Elaine Taylor, minister of Community Services, and Scott Kent, the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, assured the government will accept and adopt all 11 recommendations included in a nine-page report penned by a working group of bureaucrats, city workers and industry representatives.

The group took on the task after a family of four and their renter suffocated to death in their Porter Creek home in January. Toxic carbon monoxide began flowing back into their home after the chimney became blocked with ice and debris, according to the fire marshal’s report.

But this wasn’t the first tragedy like this in the territory, nor is this the first report suggesting the government change the way it regulates the oil-burner industry.

The Yukon Housing Corporation commissioned a series of reports by Rod Corea of NRG Resources that concluded the territory needed to do more to regulate the industry, because the industry wasn’t doing it themselves. But little was done.

The territory’s latest recommendations focus on sharing the responsibility for safety across industry, government and the public.

Homeowners should ask service and repair people to show their licences before hiring them to work on furnaces, the report says. It also suggests homeowners acquaint themselves with the manuals of their oil-fired appliances and check online resources to make sure that work is done properly.

Education for the industry is also a big part, the report says.

Improving apprenticeship options in the Yukon and bringing back a course that used to be offered at Yukon College are both recommended.

And the report calls on the government to create laws specific to the industry, as well as ensure the Landlord and Tenant Act clearly outlines responsibilities when it comes to oil-fired appliances.

Permits to install or upgrade oil-burning furnaces should only be granted to certified, red-seal mechanics, said Marc Perrault of the Yukon Housing Corporation. He chaired the working group that wrote the report.

Yukoners can expect the legislation by the fall of 2013, said Taylor and Kent.

“It’s great that all this is coming out and that they’re taking all these baby steps, but nothing is ever going to happen to fix this problem until you get people in power that actually know something about oil,” said John Matheson, a local red-seal oil-burner mechanic who has become an outspoken critic of the industry since January’s tragedy. “These guys have no clue. They just don’t.”

Matheson, who questions the qualifications of even the industry representatives on the working group, completed his apprenticeship here in Yukon, but went out East to complete his schooling.

The oil-furnace course previously offered at Yukon College was hampered, said Matheson, by too many students who “had never seen a furnace before.”

Graduates left with inadequate training, he said.

So demanding certification may not be enough to ensure safe work is done on the territory’s oil-burning furnaces.

Matheson said he wouldn’t allow many of the territory’s certified mechanics to work on his own family’s furnaces.

Annual exams and training may be a way to ensure the industry is kept up to snuff, said Matheson.

But the biggest thing missing from Wednesday’s report is the inclusion of furnace inspectors, he said.

“When you do electrical work, it gets checked by an electrician. When you work with gas, a gasfitter inspects it,” said Matheson. “It should be the same for oil.”

Although inspectors aren’t mentioned in the report, they are part of the plan, Perreault assures.

But it’s a tall task to expect inspectors to shoulder all the responsibility, said Perrault, who says the installers or servicemen working on the appliances should shoulder the brunt of the burden.

A final round of community consultations on the report will start next week.

And while Kent assured the meetings won’t “be long or drawn out by any means,” this process has already taken too long, said Matheson.

“I’m actually disgusted that it’s taken them this long to do anything,” he said. “We had a tragic accident in Watson Lake where a little girl lost her life. The next day, YTG pulled every single soccer net off every field in the Yukon, but yet you have a family of five die and not do a damn thing for almost a year? It’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.”

A coroner’s inquest has been called into the deaths of the Rusk family and Donald McNamee, but no date has been scheduled yet.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at