Written by: Karen Dallimore

After losing 43 horses in a barn fire last year, the owners of Classy Lane Stables say safety is their number one priority.

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Karen Dallimore

On the outside of the horse barn, high up near the heels of the gable end is a red siren and strobe light box that is hooked up to sensors in the shedrow. Surprisingly, during a recent system test, not one of the horses even cocked an ear to the sirens.

Inside the barn there are fire extinguishers at each of the four doors. No electrical appliances are allowed to remain plugged in if unattended. In the laundry room, dryers are placed on timers so they can’t be left on, ventilation fans placed in the aisles must be commercially rated and no ‘permanent’ extension cords are allowed.

These are just a few of the fire prevention strategies that have been implemented at Classy Lane Stables in Puslinch, Ontario, where 43 Standardbred racehorses lost their lives in a barn fire that grabbed world-wide attention last year.

On January 4, 2016, Jamie and Barb Millier got the call that one of their six training barns and all of its horses had been lost to the fire. While the official cause has still not been released, the barn owners have already re-built, becoming advocates of fire safety so that no one else has to go through such an ordeal. “We’ve been fire conscious from the start,” said Jamie, “but we’ve learned.”

Everything they do at the farm now has an undercurrent of adaptability for fire prevention. “We feel pretty confident that we’re doing all we can,” he said. For example, they recently purchased a 5,000-gallon water tanker to water the race training track, and have ordered a two-inch hose to be attached and mounted on the side, ready to use to douse a fire.

Classy Lane’s fire prevention strategy also includes undergoing regular inspection by the Puslinch Fire Department, where they have filed a pre-plan so that emergency responders will know details such as the layout of the barns, where to access electrical panels, and that the decorative windows in the barn gables don’t indicate upstairs residences, saving time and manpower during an emergency. In addition, all staff at the barns receive fire response training.

The facility’s hard-wired smoke alarm system is tested annually; all wiring is encased in conduit and all electrical outlets are on arc-fault breakers. The aisles are kept clean and clear; cobwebs are removed regularly. Hay and straw are only kept in small supply in the barns, with regular delivery so that on-farm storage isn’t required. Shavings and manure are kept in bins at an appropriate distance from the barns and manure is emptied daily. All of this reduces the amount of combustible fuel that may feed a fire.

Parking areas are kept away from barn doors so that emergency crews have ready access and flammable materials such as fuel, as well as small tools like chainsaws and weed eaters are not allowed in the barn. Even solvents like hoof dressing must be kept in storage containers.

At one point, Jamie was considering sprinklers, but has learned that these systems, whether wet or dry, are impractical for most facilities, as they are hard to maintain and cost restrictive.

As part of the process of retrofitting the other 14-year-old barns on the property with all of the fire prevention ideas that have been incorporated into the re-built barn, Jamie has now installed a Haven Fire Suppression Safety Device in every office and any room with electrical appliances in all of the barns.

The unit looks like a typical fire extinguisher at first glance, but it’s fitted with a heat sensor that will activate the unit at 135°F (54°C), releasing a stream of non-toxic powder that will douse the fire. It isn’t an alarm, nor is it a smoke detector; it will put out a fire before most people realize one has even started. A barn owner could come home from a horse show and find a room full of powder dust instead of a burned down barn. Clean up means pulling out a vacuum instead of fixing expensive water damage.

It’s a lot faster response to a fire than an alarm system or more typically a person driving by and noticing smoke and flames, without the extra minutes needed to summon help or for firefighters to reach the scene. It’s that time that could be the difference between a small fire and a major tragedy.