FINAL CHAPTER(?): The Ark Tsisserev Firing and Olympic Village Electrical Safety

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After breaking the story last week about how there was a great coincidence between the firing of a long-standing and highly respected City of Vancouver employee and his freshly lodged observations about a potential for fire alarm safety issues at the Olympic Village, much has transpired.

Firstly, I received a package of some twenty plus pages of verification results and reports from the City of Vancouver through the office of Wendy Stewart in ‘Public Relations’. My calls to Dr. Penny Ballem, City Manager and Mr. Will Johnston also with the City, remain unreturned.

Secondly, I received the following note from Ms. Michelle May of General Electric last week. She was traveling through Michigan, but took the time to offer her comments, and for this we are most grateful.

Mr. Tsakumis:
Thank you for your trust in GE products. GE Security is very concerned about safety at the Olympics and would like to clarify the information reported about the EST3 product.

Late last year, there was a question raised by an engineering consulting firm related to our EST3 fire panels and their immunity to radio frequency interference. The EST3 panels use a proven technology and are installed in many venues around the world. These panels meet and/or exceed industry fire equipment standards, such as UL, ULC, EN54, CCCF and CSIRO.

The question raised related to radio frequency interference such as a walkie-talkie being in close proximity to the panel. GE Security immediately conducted new tests and found the EST3 panels continue to meet or exceed the industry standards for fire alarm systems.

Underwriters Laboratory of Canada (ULC) also investigated this issue. In letters to Ark Tsisserev, ULC confirmed that the EST3 ”met the applicable requirements of the standard for fire control systems.” ULC also stated that there were issues in the method of testing by the consultant. ULC closed their investigation of this matter on December 8, 2009, and Mr. Tsisserev accepted ULC’s conclusion. (Michelle May, GE Security, 2010/02/11)

Thirdly, I had no less than a dozen emails and eventually phones calls from electrical contractors, former inspectors and city workers, all offering perspective.

Rather than to muddy the various interpretations of what one party stated over another, I’m offering my conclusions below on the technical aspects of this matter–straight and to the point, as you’ve come to expect here. They are not coloured one way or another. Simply, they are a collection of opinions that mirror the vast majority of statements I received from the people actually dealing with these panels.

The short of it: A problem can surely occur if you are not being extra careful.

So…

1) I do not disagree with Ms. May or General Electric, that their EST 3 fire alarm panels may indeed meet code. However, from discussions with no less than five professional engineers that have either had something to do with these panels in the past or present, it’s clear that this particular model has been, at the very least, “problematic” from time to time. This might not make the product or model inferior or a safety concern, but extra precautions need be taken to ensure safety at all times. This is NOT necessary with the only other fire alarm panel used at the Olympic Village:  The one manufactured by MIRCOM, which did not malfunction under even the strictest conditions.

2) When tests were conducted of the GE EPT 3 panel last fall, they failed. Ark Tsisserev, in his then capacity as Chief Electrical Inspector for the City of Vancouver blew the whistle on the failed tests and demanded a report from the manufacturer and underwriter. This he received in the form of a letter (provided to me by the City of Vancouver).

Ms. Stewart of the City’s PR department makes the statement to me that Mr. Tsisserev, “totally signed off on this”: Meaning he approved the report and that was the end of it.

Not so fast.

The following, from the letter by Mr. Tsisserev in reply to the report addressing his concerns:

“I’m also encouraged that despite the fact of determining by the follow up report that the referenced product meets applicable provisions of ULC S524, it was recommended by the investigating certification organization that the technical committee responsible….should review current requirements of this standard so as to mitigate any future design, construction and performance problems…for the benefit of fire safety” (Ark Tsisserev, former Chief Electrical Safety Inspector, City of Vancouver, December 8th., 2009)

There is a clear message here…

3) While the GE EST3 panel is an approved product, two different first responders explained the possible problem. First from a cop:

“Alex, thanks for your email. The problem as I understand it is that this particular panel cannot be approached inside a certain distance. That presents a bit of a problem for us when we get to the site and if we got anywhere near a panel like this. I’ve been told by Xxxx that his fire station guys were briefed that they couldn’t go near those panels with the doors open and inside about a foot and a half. The problem is that that’s tough for everybody to remember when alarms are going off and people are running around you. Somebody might forget”

And then from a fireman:

“I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but the guys who do the tests for the City of Vancouver do not have their two-ways tuned the way we do. Ours are what you might call a higher frequency. That’s the reason Burnaby and Surrey have rewritten manuals and put stickers on this type of panel to make sure you don’t go inside a certain distance. It’s always going to be a worry but you just have to be extra careful and follow the instructions. Can they become a problem? They sure can if you don’t follow the instructions”

And now for the non-technical, purely political, unmistakable conclusion.

Late last year, one of the City of Vancouver’s most-respected senior employees, Ark Tsisserev, called for a review of a fire safety issue that had specifically to do with a life safety issue at the controversial Olympic Village. This didn’t please Team Ballem, who are trying desperately to makeover the entire civic staff in her image. In a city hall where intimidation reigns, Mr. Tsisserev was deemed a relic, regardless of his national stature or his renowned expertise. He was warned to lay off code issues. As one staffer puts it, “they told him to lay off life safety issues, but that was right after the panel problems came to light. It was obvious what was happening. In a few months we were expecting the world and here was a guy making noise about something. But it turns out he was right on the mark and if there was a more serious issue the stuff they consider noise might have saved some athlete’s life”.

January rolls around and Mr. Tsisserev, with writing thickly on the wall, walks into his office on the 21st, has his cell phone and laptop taken from him and is escorted out of his office, and out of Silly Hall for good. After the sympathy of all his surrounding co-workers and loyal staff, he sits, thinks about his predicament and hires legal genius Russ Chamberlain to settle issues with the City. Although Mr. Tsisserev’s plan was to leave, as scheduled, in July of 2011, he was canned in advance. Several employees leak this story to various members of the media as the disgust with Vision Vancouver’s reign and Ballem’s hiring starts to seep out from 12th and Cambie. Ace reporter, Lisa Rossington from CTV, started poking around and the Mayor blew her off by muttering some inanities about the Olympics having monopolized his time (the safety of athletes isn’t an Olympic issue?..oh, I forgot, he knew “nothing” about this issue he told Lisa). Then, I picked up the story after I was leaked the emails no one else had, and City Hall goes into full shut down mode with no one speaking except a PR staffer.

Think about this for a minute: On such a technical, life safety matter, that Mayor is absent (minded), his assistant claims to have only asked Ms. Ballem about it on the day I interviewed him (even though letters to the Mayor started arriving several weeks earlier) and we finally get a response from public relations, with the spin incongruent to the facts.

Only yesterday after top-notch CKNW reporter Janet Brown corners Dr. Ballem, does she manage to offer comment. Mr. Tsisserev was fired because of “restructuring”. Stop here again: A man who gave the City almost 20 years of service is canned in a most unceremonious manner, in front of his stunned staff and co-workers while others fired got sixty-days notice. Mr. Tsisserev is shown less quarter than would be extended to a vagrant found urinating on the front steps…and the City Manager, Penny Ballem refers to this as “restructuring”.

Meanwhile Frances Bula’s writing about something “really interesting…”, I’m sure, like the chain-link surrounding the Olympic cauldron and having espresso with Bob Rennie. Oh, and the boys at City Caucus are reviewing the best places to have sushi, while insisting that Sam Sullivan is the real face of the Games… (too much sake, can apparently induce delirium)

In the final analysis, the integrity of Gregor Robertson’s City Hall passes scrutiny like cheese through a grater: It can’t remain whole. Since the election of Vision Vancouver, City Hall has become an unparalleled secret garden of unprecedented obfuscation, story-making and, invariably, school-house frivolity and high-handed, elitist ridicule of any critic by ‘Salon Socialists’ and their parlour masters. They have set the gold standard for cynicism and haste.

When Gregor Robertson hid behind Olympic commitments on this issue, it illustrated, once more, that Vision Vancouver don’t care about anybody except how they manipulate the electorate in 2011, to give them another term in office.

Mayor Robertson began as an impassive, impressive, earnest Visionary, with realistic, sometimes lofty initiatives, but has revealed himself as the waterboy to a mostly incoherent team of lack-luster, disingenuous, often dishonest, players that will stop at nothing to institute their extremist agenda under the smooth patina of fitted, tailored suits and slick sloganeering.

The safety of the approved panels is a side-issue.

Everything they are telling the public about why Ark Tsisserev was fired, is a bald-face lie.

Comments

17 Responses to “FINAL CHAPTER(?): The Ark Tsisserev Firing and Olympic Village Electrical Safety”
  1. Pedro says:

    Hi Alex, You always supply lots of facts to support what you say and I really appreciate that. City Hall needs a complete overhaul and I don’t mean the building.

    • AGT says:

      Hi Pedro: Thx for your kind comments. This was not an easy story. No co-operation from the Mayor’s Office and no return phone calls from Dr. Ballem, just ducking and weaving. The real co-operation came from Michelle May of General Electric who was traveling through the midwest and still found the time to sit for an interview, send three emails and was generally terrific. Her observations were simple:
      1) The fire alarm panels I referred to were indeed GE product, that came out 12 years ago. the product works but interference can occur. Compare that to Wendy Stewart who tried to tell me that “there are no problems whatsoever with the panels”
      2) Anomalies in testing are beyond what standards require. So, the original testing being done in the City of Surrey were more stringent than what is required. Well, great, but the same result was realized initially in Vancouver.
      3) Except for the 30 sec reboot, the alarm process still works.

      But what impressed me more than anything else about Ms. May from GE was here “surprise at the response from the Mayor’s Office in Vancouver”. Verbatim…

      And that, my darlings, tells the whole story.

  2. Seymour Forest says:

    Alex. Very intriguing. The reference made by the Fireman relates to the system used by the Vancouver Fire Department. it has recently been upgraded, but essentially operates within the 800Mhz frequency.scheme.

    Without getting into the boring details, it’s not one frequency that is used but rather about 25, all within the 800Mhz area. It originates
    from E-Comm (Reginal Dispatch Centre Hastings and Cassiar across from what used to be Empire Stadium) but this reference should turn the focus ring a little sharper for you.

    Burnaby’s dispatch and tactical (fireground) frequency pairs (transmit and receive) operate around 153 to 154 Mhz with one being around 400 Mhz. As a benchmark, aircraft control is usually from 118 Mhz
    to 139 Mhz, and most marine (ships) are around 156Mhz.

    Surrey uses a bit of a mix of old and is now part of the 800Mhz scheme used by E-Comm.

    I’m not a radio technician and not wanting to get that deep (it’s enough having to fix computers and write webpages all day), but follow emergency services radio communications.

    Hope this provides a little prespective.

    Back to the nauseating world of politics and watching political hacks continue being fools. Some the antics seen recently would make
    good use of a barf bag.

    • AGT says:

      I really appreciate this. It’s almost exactly what I received from my buddy in a more detailed email. So, the issue remains, if you’re a first responder you have to treat those panels differently from others because with the equipment you have, you’re likely to trip the panel into malfunction if you get too close. Still a cause for concern.

      • Tim says:

        Funny thing that, but aren’t these EST panels in use in more and more buildings in the city?

        • AGT says:

          No, they’re not used, more and more. In fact, if you bother to read the story, they’re are problematic enough that both the City of Burnaby and City of Surrey have changed their user manuals and applied stickers to the panels, noting that holding a two-way radio within a certain range will cause them to malfunction.

  3. Glen Hall says:

    Thank you Alex for doing all of this investigative work.

    I keep thinking that Gregor, Ballum and Team Vision can’t sink any lower, and then low and behold they find a way.

    Well it’s only been a little more than 1 year since they took office and it’s already time for them to go – NOW.

  4. Observer says:

    Thank you Alex.

    You and CTV are the only ones to scrape away the curtain of lies put up by Ballem and Co. They have created a toxic atmosphere at the City.

    How bad was this mistake? Ask yourself this: How many times do you recall the departure of a mid-level government employee resulting in hundreds of calls, letters and emails to the mayor + two lead stories on CTV + of course investigative blogs?

    This whole affair is a disgrace and leaves an ugly stain on the City of Vancouver. Any competent person thinking of working here should examine their options carefully.

    • AGT says:

      Very kind of you Observer. Most grateful, thank you. And, yes, the entire affair is indeed a disgrace. Under Dr. Ballem, the municipal bureaucracy, with its new hierarchy, has turned into a cauldron of toxicity. A most unhealthy working environment, to be sure… Appreciate you stopping by. Be well.

  5. Tsakuminator Strikes a Bullseye! says:

    I used to think of you as just an opinion journalist, Then you did these three pieces on the firing of the chief electrician in Vancouver by Gregor and Penny Ballem. This is really good stuff Mr. Tsakuminator! It is as good or better than anything in the papers I tell you. Then I also found some other stuff you did on Insite and you know what, you sir are a damn fine writer and researcher of the facts.

  6. Crankypants says:

    Residents of Vancouver, beware. It looks as if your city council has suffered a coup and Gregor Robertson has been replaced by a non-elected acting mayor.

    On Tuesday night a barrier collapsed at one of the concert sites where Alexisonfire was performing and several people were injured including a couple of broken legs by the attendees. Lo and behold, on the news next day who is front and centre in front of the cameras, Penny Ballem. No mayor. No councillor. What’s wrong with this picture?

    As far as Mr. Tsisserev is concerned, may he extract as much as he can possibly get and still retain the rights to tell his story. As long as his pension remains intact, I hope that he doesn’t sell his silence for a pocket full of gold.

    His tenure, through various regimes, suggests that he was a very competent and revered employee of the city of Vancouver. His abrupt dismissal suggests that he was rocking the olympic boat. After all, nothing can/could stand in the way of the 5-ring circus.

    It would be curious as to who made the decision. Ms. Bellam was the executioner, but who called the shot. Did she act on her own, or did Gregor Robertson, Vanoc or the provincial government give the command? So many questions, so little answers.

    • AGT says:

      Great questions, to which there are no answers. Dr. Ballem refuses to saying anything beyond it was a matter of “restructuring”. And the Mayor is busy on the floor of his office spinning his propeller-beanie, playing with his blocks and riding his tricycle around Mike Magee and Geoff Meggs hard at “work”…

  7. Gassy Jack's Ghost says:

    As someone who suffered through a leaky condo back in the 90’s that ended up in an emotionally and financially draining 3 year lawsuit, I remember clearly that the City’s and developer’s defence always boiled down to, “but it was within the building code.”

    However legal, it is a lame, shitty, pathetic defence they hide behind even when they know full well that it can result in people’s lives and livelihoods being put into jeopardy. To hear that the City is still using this as an excuse after the disasters they foisted upon thousands of people in the 90s is disappointing, to say the least.

    The other story seems to be that Ballem is starting to look a lot like the iron maiden who she replaced. Like Rogers, she appears to be making unilateral moves behind the scenes without even consulting council. Whatever you think about Vision’s handling of the PR damage control, she clearly blindsided them with this one, and that doesn’t bode well….

    Anyway, good investigative work on this one, AGT. Compelling facts on their own that probably didn’t need the Rush Limbaugh imitation at the end to get the point across. But that’s why we love reading you, eh?

    GJG

  8. Standards are not necessarily comprehensive.

    A provider who wants to succeed in a free marketplace will not rest on standards.

    This matter should be investigated by APEGBC due to the public safety concern and allegations that a P.Eng. was fired for expressing safety concerns.

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