Research
Written by Maria Church
The year is 2025. 

An elevated heat signature is picked up in a Collingwood, Ont., home and an emergency alert for a structure fire is sent to the communications centre in nearby Barrie. Dispatch notifies the local fire department members through their cell phones, transferring the co-ordinates and fastest route to the scene to their GPSs.
Written by Len Garis, Paul Maxim and Karin Mark
September 2015 - As wood becomes an increasingly popular building material in Canada, there is a corresponding need for fire-safety resources for both the construction industry and emergency responders.

To meet this need, the Canadian Wood Council, working with the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, has produced an in-depth guide and research papers with the goal of reducing the risk and losses from construction-site fires. The project was funded through a grant from Natural Resources Canada.

“We know from research that once fire-safety systems are in place, wood-based buildings are as safe as any other type of building,” said Michael Giroux, president of the Canadian Wood Council. “However, like all buildings, they are vulnerable to fire during the construction stage, before those systems are installed. As representatives of Canada’s wood industry, we want to help ensure that construction sites across Canada that use wood are as safe as possible.”

The guide and research papers can be downloaded for free at cjr.ufv.ca or www.cwc.ca and include:
  • Construction Site Fire Safety: A Guide for Construction of Large Buildings – practical tools and information for the construction industry (also available in French).
  • Construction Site Fire Response: Preventing and Suppressing Fires During Construction of Large Buildings – analysis and response information for the fire service (also available in French).
  • Firefighter Wood Project and Systems Awareness: A Resource Guide – sources of information on fire-safety topics related to wood-based construction.
Information for the project was gleaned from best practice, legislation, regulation and standards from Canada, the United States and Europe.



While the materials focus on the design, planning and construction phases of new buildings, the content is also relevant to projects involving existing buildings, such as demolition, alteration or repairs.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 building projects in Canada each year involve wood-based construction (e.g. light wood-frame, heavy/massive timber post-and-beam, cross-laminated timber). These numbers may mushroom in the future following changes to the 2015 National Building Code and National Fire Code that allow the construction of wood buildings of up to six storeys.

With this widespread and growing use of wood comes the need for a greater focus on construction fire safety, both from the perspective of builders and emergency responders.  

Regardless of the building materials used, construction sites present fire departments with a different set of challenges than those associated with completed buildings. The construction stage is the most dangerous point in the lifespan of any building, due to a number of risks, including proximity of combustible materials as ignitions sources (e.g. electric equipment and hot work such as welding and roofing); lack of completion of any built-in fire-safety systems such as sprinklers; absence of doors, finished walls and other separations that may slow fire spread; and potential site security issues.

The widespread use of combustible products such as wood on a construction site, along with the introduction of taller wood buildings, can add a further level of risk and complexity to both fire prevention and response. There have been numerous examples of large-scale construction fires in Canada, including those in Calgary in March 2015, Kingston, Ont., in December 2013, and Richmond, B.C., in 2011. Typical hazards at construction sites include:
  • Temporary heating equipment
  • Smoking
  • Waste disposal
  • Open burning
  • Spontaneous ignition
  • Cutting and welding
  • Electrical malfunction
  • Flammable and combustible liquids
  • Flammable gases
  • Explosives
The leading causes of fires in buildings under construction or demolition are incendiary or suspicious events, open flames and embers and heating equipment.

Fire safety is the responsibility of everyone involved in construction projects, including the construction industry, employers, workers, site visitors, and provincial and local authorities. Some of these responsibilities are laid out in standards, codes or legislation, such as provincial occupational health and safety regulations.

Construction companies also have a vested interest in promoting fire safety at their sites from a business standpoint. Financial losses can be significant because fire departments in general take defensive approaches to construction-site fires as there is typically no need for occupant rescue. As a result, the focus at construction fires is firefighter safety and to prevent the fire from spreading to adjacent buildings.

Despite extensive property damages and financial losses typical of construction fires, many Canadian fire departments have limited experience preventing and suppressing fires at large construction sites. And construction-company managers may not fully understand the risks of inadequate on-site fire-prevention procedures and equipment, or know how to implement the appropriate measures.   

These factors are a recipe for catastrophic losses, and is the focus of the new Canadian Wood Council publications that specifically tailor information to people who play roles in preventing and responding to construction-site fires.

The 52-page Construction Site Fire Safety: A Guide for Construction of Large Buildings targets construction professionals and assumes readers have varying levels of awareness of either the regulatory requirements or best practices regarding fire prevention. Topics covered include:
  • An introduction to construction fire safety
  • Legislation, regulation and other guidelines
  • Fire basics, including theory and extinguisher types and use
  • Construction site dangers and risk management
  • Development of fire-safety plans
  • Site security
  • Fire prevention and protection best practices on more than 20 topics
  • Advice for working with the fire department
  • Working close to occupied buildings
  • Knowledge, skills and abilities checklists for construction fires and hot work
The 24-page Construction Site Fire Response: Preventing and Suppressing Fires During Construction of Large Buildings is aimed at fire-service professionals and provides analysis and practical information on fire response for construction sites involving wood. Topics covered include:
  • Construction site hazards and trends
  • Fire department role
  • Risk management
  • Standards, codes and regulation
  • The construction process and typical milestones
  • Fire-prevention planning
  • Pre-incident planning
  • Suppression approaches and tactics
The 34-page Firefighter Wood Project and Systems Awareness: A Resource Guide provides links and information about a wide variety of sources of fire-safety information related to wood-based construction. The contents may interest both the construction industry and fire service. Topics covered include:
  • Building construction and construction sites
  • Fire protection and statistics
  • Building and fire codes
  • Structural design
  • Fire safety elements in wood construction
  • Fire protection products and systems
  • Developments and studies in wood construction
  • Additional resources such as videos, media releases, news articles and presentations
  • Training resources and programs
  • Websites for wood industry, building and fire codes, and fire organizations
Download the Canadian Wood Council publications for free at cjr.ufv.ca or www.cwc.ca


Len Garis is the fire chief for the City of Surrey, B.C., and an adjunct professor at the University of the Fraser Valley. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Paul Maxim is a professor in the Department of Economics and the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.
Karin Mark, based in Metro Vancouver, is a former award-winning newspaper reporter who writes for publications and corporate clients.


Written by Chris Davison-Vanderburg
June 1, 2015 - We all value our time and get frustrated when it is wasted. How often have you left a class or conference room and thought, “That is three hours of my life that I will never get back”?
Written by Chris Davison-Vanderburg
You love amplifiers. Even if you don’t rock out, you love amplifiers. Now before the jazz, classical music and easy-listening aficionados move on to the next article, allow me a moment to explain. As you know, a sound amplifier essentially takes noise and increases its strength to make it louder. As a firefighter, you love amplification because increasing strength with equipment is something that we do daily: fire pumps increase the discharge pressure of our water, hydraulics move extrication tools or monstrous ladders, and compressors jam a bunch of breathable air into a tiny cylinder. See . . . you love amplifiers!
Written by Karin Mark
As a professional in the fire service, you make crucial decisions every day that balance need with available resources. How should you approach these decisions, and how can you justify the decisions you make?
Written by Irwin Cohen and Len Garis
As budgets grow leaner and public expectations continue to rise, decision makers in the public service are increasingly seeking hard data to make sound and justifiable decisions.

This trend toward evidence-based decision making is turning administrators into researchers. Those delving into public-safety topics can now access an extensive database of information about fire, police, drugs, and public safety through a new search portal created by the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in British Columbia.

Available on the UFV’s Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research new website, http://cjr.ufv.ca, the portal provides access to thousands of reports, articles, books, legislation, and other data from Canada and around the world collected by the centre’s public-safety search database.

The concept for the project was born at a meeting of Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (CSS) about two years ago. At that time, the Canadian public-safety experts and administrators involved in the CSS identified a lack of public access to the public-safety data needed to support evidence-based decision making.

This gap had also been noted by British Columbia’s Fire Services Liaison Group, which represents all British Columbia fire-service agencies, in its 2009 report to the provincial government entitled Public Safety in British Columbia: Transforming the Fire/Rescue Service. The report had called on the provincial government to establish a mechanism for the collection of data, trends and best practices in order to support effective decision making and improved service delivery by fire departments.  

The UFV’s Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research took on the challenge of developing the database and portal, which went live Aug. 1.

The project dovetails with the centre’s commitment to increase the knowledge of those working in public safety and to sharing best practices and research. The centre regularly provides its research and consulting expertise to criminal-justice agencies, governments, public-safety agencies, and community organizations on issues related to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public-safety operations and proposed initiatives.

According to the authors of a recent manual on the subject, it is worth expending the effort to collect the evidence needed for sound decisions – particularly difficult ones that may need to be justified with taxpayers or superiors.

“Evidence-based decision making is one of the more effective tools you can use to rationalize why a particular approach or program option was chosen,” says The Right Decision: Evidence-based Decision Making for Fire Service Professionals, published in 2013 by Paul Maxim, Len Garis and Darryl Plecas and available on the centre website.

The authors say that policies and strategies based on evidence often produce better results, which can increase decision makers’ creditability and support for their departments. On the other hand, policies and programs not guided by sound evidence frequently cost too much, waste resources or simply yield poor or unknown results. Additionally, a lack of compelling evidence may result in a funding request being turned down.

Good decision making, the authors say, needs to be informed as much as possible by evidence, research, and sound information.

“We make and justify evidence-based decisions by referencing independently supported and verifiable facts,” the authors say. “This approach helps ensure the decisions we make are sound and defensible. Used effectively, evidence-based approaches can help you produce the results for which you are searching.”

With this in mind, the new search portal is an essential tool for decision makers seeking independent, verifiable evidence on which to base decisions related to public safety.

Searches of the Public Safety Search Database can be initiated through the link in the top navigation bar on the website.

The portal’s user-friendly search functions offer a variety of filters to allow users to quickly hone in on the information they require.

Basic searches can be conducted by keyword, title, or author, or by using advanced options, such as Boolean searches – e.g. using “and” between words to combine all terms (house and fire), using “or” between words to view results with at least one of the terms (college or university), and using “not” in front of a word you wish to exclude from the search (fires not house).

All entries include author and publisher details, and some can be read online for free. Users of the portal can filter their search results by publication date, source type (electronic resources, academic journals, books, reports and ebooks), subject, publisher, publication, language, location, and content provider.

As an example, a basic keyword search for “house fire” on the portal brings up 271 entries, including 210 electronic resources, four academic journals, two books, two reports and one ebook.

Digging deeper into one of the entries – Experimental Results of a Residential House Tire Test on Tenability: Temperature, Smoke and Gas Analyses – leads to a summary page including publisher and author information, the document type, index terms, a link to the web address to obtain the study, and other details.

In another example, a basic keyword search for “marijuana” finds 932 entries. From there, an advanced search can be conducted using various search terms or phrases, or by limiting the results by publication date, author, language, availability and peer review.  

Clicking the peer-reviewed option reduces the results to 208, for example, while adding the search term “Alberta” narrows the results to three entries.

Alternatively, limiting the source types to academic journals brings up 236 results.

The database will continue to grow over time as new research becomes available.

In addition to using the portal, visitors to http://cjr.ufv.ca can peruse dozens of research reports that have been produced by the centre on a wide range of fire, police, drugs, and public safety topics. Recent reports address topics as varied as the safety of smart-meter installations, a risk-based framework for scheduling fire-safety inspections, intermodal shipping-container safety, police-based crime reduction, and the nature and extent of marijuana possession in British Columbia.

Plans are in the works to add reports from other agencies, institutions, and organizations to the website, and to allow other researchers to submit their reports to be published by the centre and available to the public on the website.


Len Garis is the Fire Chief for the City of Surrey, B.C., past president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC, an adjunct professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of the Fraser Valley, research professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice / The Regenhard Centre for Emergency Response Studies New York and a member of the Institute of Canadian Urban Research Studies, Simon Fraser University. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Dr. Irwin M. Cohen is an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of the Fraser Valley, the holder of the University Senior Research Chair, RCMP for Crime Reduction, and the director of the Centre for Public Safety and Criminal Justice Research. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or follow him on Twitter @irwinMcohen.


Written by Len Garis and Joseph Clare
A building is never more vulnerable to fire than during its construction – particularly when exposed wood is present.
Written by Len Garis
Much has been reported across Canada and around the world about the fire safety of smart meters, but how much has been based on evidence?
Written by Len Garis, Joe Clare and Karin Mark
Fire prevention efforts often focus on interior hazards, but new research from the University of the Fraser Valley suggests the exterior of multi-family buildings deserves equal attention.
Written by Joseph Scanlon and Jelle Groenendaal
When a tornado tore through a trailer park in northeast Edmonton on July 31, 1987, the first responders were not Edmonton firefighters or Edmonton police or ambulance or even volunteer firefighters from the neighbouring forensic psychiatric hospital.
Written by Laura King
For Brampton Fire and Emergency Services, the information highway was the solution to the city’s traffic and response problems.
Written by Len Garis
The Surrey Fire Service in British Columbia has used a data-driven, research-based approach to reduce residential fires.
Written by en Garis, Joseph Clare and Karin Mark
Sprinkler systems appear to mitigate the risks associated with constructing taller wood-frame buildings, according to a new study.
Written by Len Garis, Joseph Clare and Raj Nagaraj
It’s Thursday morning in Surrey, B.C., and three Surrey Fire Services (SFS) units are responding to a residential structure fire in the city’s northwest.
Written by Len Garis and Karin Mark
Fire-service agencies and stakeholders across Canada will be consulted in the spring as part of research for the country’s first national fire statistics database.
Written by Science Daily
Feb. 14, 2011 - Imagine this: Firefighters enter a several football field-sized, 60-foot high, pitch-black warehouse and they can't see inside -- they don't know if there is an inferno or a small fire with a lot of smoke. It's a very dangerous situation, making choices hard. Science Daily reports.
Written by Laura King
In September, we asked you to help us help the fire service make its case for more funding for training, apparatus, personal protective equipment and public education.
Written by Len Garis, Darryl Plecas, Patrick Neal and Niki Huitson
A recent study in Surrey, British Columbia, has contradicted national research on vehicle fires, demonstrating the need for further research and investigation on this topic.

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