Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News
BRINSTON — A Quebec-based company which specializes in reducing the risk of costly, emotionally draining barn fires is making inroads into Ontario, including at five-barn Thurler Farms.
Operated by Nick Thurler and his two sons, along with eight hired hands, the dairy farm signed on with PrevTech Innovations Inc. about a year ago, an introductory $4,300 contract supplying seven Smart Sensor units that monitor for electrical malfunctions, along with providing troubleshooting support and guidance.
Insurers estimate that about 40 per cent of Ontario’s annual barn fires are caused by faulty electrical services. One of Eastern Ontario’s most recent barn blazes, at the Porteous dairy operation north of Winchester, which destroyed half of the herd, has been attributed to electrical issues.
PrevTech president and system developer Pierre-Andre Meunier , an urban engineer who saw a need in the agricultural industry, along with Nick Thurler, showed a visitor around the 24/7 surveillance system this week which offers detection, warning notifications, and diagnoses.
Launched only two years ago, Meunier said he now has 550 installations in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta; they’re mostly livestock barns with some related agricultural structures, but so far PrevTech hasn’t expanded into other industrial sectors.
A nondescript box that connects into an electrical panel, each monitor can be installed by a licensed electrician in about two hours. The larger and more widespread the electrical infrastructure, the more monitors are required. Each battery-backed unit costs $1,695 and $995 a year for service; as in the Thurlers situation, there’s a descending scale on volume pricing; equipment is guaranteed for five years.
As Meunier explained, the monitors provide illustrated readouts intended to deliver early signs of impending electrical failure. Also tracked is the telltale temperature of electrical panels, and power outages. All advisories are linked to owners’ mobile phones which receive texts or emails.
As if to prove the effectiveness, Meunier’s phone beeped while he was talking with the visitor to indicate power had been restored on the farm. Thurlers had lost hydro overnight and had relayed to backup generators; Nick and his sons were notified of the loss — and resumption — on their phones as well.
Located in St. Hyacinthe, Meunier explained the company’s thrust is to work closely with clients in a preventative way. With 12 employees, he likes to say he’s in the service business, not the equipment business.
While the average alarm company is geared to finding out what might have gone wrong after the fact, PrevTech wants to draw attention to potential hazards before disaster occurs, be it electrical fault, overheating panels, or non-conforming wiring, inadequate lighting or ventilation.
One thing the company persuaded the Thurlers to do was move compressors outside a tight room because they were generating too much heat. Nick said he simply didn’t register the high temperature because he was so used to the setup.
The company provides alarm management along with yearly quality and conformity visits. While he wouldn’t go so far as to say his service has prevented disastrous fires — because there’s no way of knowing possible outcomes — Meunier said it’s clear his company’s intervention has persuaded clients to change electrical setups that were accidents waiting to happen.
He emphasized that his company doesn’t chase down new customers who’ve recently experienced a major fire such as the Porteous family, which is now reviewing new barn designs and equipment. While this is the perfect time for the Porteous’ to consider his system, Meunier said there’s no way he would try to take advantage of their tragedy.
Although he doesn’t use it as a selling point, PrevTech customers are usually able to get a discount on their fire insurance once the monitoring system is in place. Nick said he got about 10 per cent off his yearly bill of $90,000, “enough to cover the PrevTech bill.”
PrevTech now has a director of Ontario operations, Dave Clipson based in Mitchell, and has begun searching for an Eastern Ontario rep.