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A new online course offered by the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) teaches building managers and owners how to take a leadership role in fire-safety planning in their buildings.

April 20, 2015 
By Len Garis

A self-paced A new online course aims to teach building owners and managers how to take a leadership role in fire-safety planning. By Len Garis

The course, called Fire Safety Planning for Building Owners and Managers, was developed in partnership with the Surrey Fire Service to teach those in charge of commercial and multi-residential buildings – typically laypeople with little to no fire-prevention experience – how to meet their fire-code responsibilities and legal requirements for fire-safety planning. The course is offered online and open to anyone in Canada.

Alexander Ku, BCIT’s associate dean of the laboratory and allied health program, said there is a demonstrated need for managers to learn the fire-safety skills taught in the course.

“In growing areas in Canada,” Ku said, “we’re seeing denser development, taller buildings and more people living in multi-unit buildings. We’re pleased to play a role in increasing public safety in our province by adding this new course to our existing complement of fire-prevention and protection courses.”

Fatalities in several nursing-home fires that have happened in Canada over the past few decades demonstrate the importance of fire-safety planning, and the tragic consequences of overlooking maintenance and best practices.


The self-paced, eight-week course for owners and managers explores topics such as fire hazards in buildings, fire inspections, fire-protection systems and maintenance, and how to develop and maintain a fire-safety plan that meets code requirements.

The first course was held in March, and a new course is offered each month. Fire departments are encouraged to bring the course to the attention of their municipal governments and local building managers.

Improved fire prevention through education
Research suggests that behavioural changes could lead to improved fire safety in multi-unit buildings.

The 2013 report called U.S. Experience with Sprinklers, written by John Hall for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), points to human action as the leading cause for the failure of automatic sprinkler systems during structure fires.

The most common reason for sprinkler system failure (64 per cent) in structure fires reported between 2007 and 2011 was that the system had been shut off before the fire began – something that may occur during inspection or maintenance. The other primary reasons were manual intervention that defeated the system (17 per cent) and lack of maintenance (six per cent). Only seven per cent of the failures were attributed to component damage, and five per cent to the building having an inappropriate system for the type of fire.

Surrey Fire Service investigated the concept of human error further in 2014 when it commissioned a report on the risks associated with suppression-system failures in highrises. Although there is typically greater regulatory compliance in highrises, the report predicts that risk could be reduced even further by a combination of
education and code changes that recognize the specific requirements of highrises.

Lack of awareness of fire-safety requirements is also cited as a reason for non-compliance in the 2014 University of the Fraser Valley study A Dynamic Risk-Based Framework for Redesigning the Scheduling of Fire Safety Inspections that I wrote with Joseph Clare.

The UFV study indicates that education and collaboration could remedy this situation – in particular, conveying to owners/operators a sense of responsibility for complying, and encouraging them to do so through education. “It is possible that building owners are philosophically in favour of voluntarily meeting all requirements laid out in the fire code, but are unaware of all their responsibilities and as such, are technically acting non-compliantly,” the study report says.

The president of the Fire Prevention Officers’ Association of British Columbia, Mark Smitton, welcomed news of a BCIT course that targets building managers.

“Many building managers would like to comply, but find the regulations daunting or hard to understand,” Smitton said. “I have no doubt we will see greater compliance among those who complete the course. And because of the online format, this could help improve the safety of building occupants across the country.”

Course details
BCIT’s Fire Safety Planning for Building Owners and Managers is the only comprehensive course in the country designed specifically to teach building owners and managers what they need to know to meet the fire-safety planning requirements of the national and provincial fire codes.

The course’s seven modules cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • Introduction to fire-safety planning – the reasons for fire-safety planning and training, the history of fire-prevention standards and the leading causes of fire and need for occupant training.
  • Building owner/manager responsibilities – legal requirements (provincial and local), roles and responsibilities, fire inspections, correction of non-compliance issues, consequences for non-compliance and administration and record keeping.
  • Fire hazards of a building – dynamics of fire, fire risks, identifying hazards and flammable material handling and storage.
  • Inspection techniques and assessing life safety – the need for inspections, the fire department’s role, building manager responsibilities for inspections and occupant management.
  • The fire-safety plan – the need for and process for fire safety plans, evacuation plans, occupant responsibilities, fire-code requirements and fire safety plan components.
  • Fire-protection systems – Fire-code requirements, components and functions, fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, detection systems, emergency generators and fire doors and separators.
  • Ongoing maintenance of fire-protection systems and fire-safety plan – building manager responsibility for system maintenance, identifying a qualified contractor, occupant fire drills and refresher training and fire protection system maintenance, inspection and testing requirements.

The course takes an average of 14 to 18 hours to complete. Participants can work at their own pace, but are required log in each week to review course materials and complete activities.

The intent is that by the end of the course, participants will fully understand their responsibilities and all elements of the fire-safety planning process so that they can confidently develop their own fire-safety plan, safely manage and maintain their building’s fire-protection systems, properly educate the building occupants and keep their plan in compliance with legal requirements.

Students may register for Fire Safety Planning for Building Owners and Managers (OCHS 0560) through

For more information, visit

Len Garis is fire chief for the City of Surrey, B.C. He is the past president of the B.C. Fire Chiefs Association, an adjunct professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of the Fraser Valley and an affiliated research faculty member at the Christian Regenhard Center for Emergency Response Studies, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and a member of the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies, Simon Fraser University. Contact him at

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