Fire Fighting in Canada

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Ontario builders, developers push for change to building code

May 22, 2013, Toronto – A group of Ontario builders and developers wants the province to amend the building code to allow six-storey wood-frame buildings.

May 23, 2013
By Olivia D'Orazio

May 22, 2013, Toronto – A group of Ontario builders and developers wants the province to amend the building code to allow six-storey wood-frame buildings.

The Building Industry and Land Development Association, the Residential Construction Council of Ontario and the Canadian Wood Council released a report Wednesday morning that proposes changes to the Ontario Building Code to allow for the higher wood-frame buildings. Wood-frame buildings are permitted in Ontario now, but only up to four storeys.

The builders and developers say wood is less expensive than other materials such as concrete and steel, but opponents say that wood-frame buildings are more dangerous for firefighters if certain additional fire-safety measures are not included in the code amendments.

The Cement Association of Canada said in a news release later Wednesday that it is concerned that the proposed changes put cost savings ahead of safety.

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In 2011 in Ontario, committees of engineers, architects, firefighters and others rejected proposed changes to the maximum height allowance for wood-frame buildings. British Columbia changed its code in 2009 to permit six-storey wood-frame structures.

A private members bill to amend the code was introduced last year but it died when then legislature was prorogued in October. Nipissing MPP Victor Fedeli told the Ottawa Sun at the time that these buildings would reduce the carbon footprint, lower consumer costs and rejuvenate the northern economy, which relies heavily on forestry.

However, Carl Pearson, the past president of the Fire Fighters’ Association of Ontario, which represents 19,000 volunteer firefighters, said that changing the code could unnecessarily increase the risk to the public and to firefighters.

“Mistakes in this matter could cost lives,” he told the Sun.

Michael McSweeney, president and CEO of the cement association, agrees.

“We are disappointed with the requested changes. . . . ” McSweeny said in the release. “The code system was put in place to ensure the safety of our citizens, especially the most vulnerable ones, and should not be circumvented by any industry sector, especially if it could put the safety of Ontario residents at risk.”

Marianne Berube, executive director of Ontario Wood Works, part of the Canadian Wood Council, said safety considerations would be the same in both wood-framed and concrete-framed buildings.

“The National Fire Code and regulations in Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act contain many provisions for construction projects that address potential fire hazards and provide solutions to reduce risks,” she said in a press release.

“Wood-frame buildings have to meet the same standards as those built using other materials.”

Richard Lyall, president of the construction council, added, “The number of fire incidents does not increase just because buildings have more combustible material.

“Our study found that data collected by the National Fire Incident Reporting System doesn't show that fire incidents are related to the type of construction, rather to the use and occupancy of the building.”

McSweeney said he expects the CAC will work closely with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to ensure that any changes to the building code go through the proper channels.

“It is critical for the effectiveness, credibility and reputation of the Ontario Building Code process that any proposed changes to the [code] go through the proper code development process,” he said.

“Fundamentally, it should always be left to the licensed architects, engineers and building professionals to determine the safest and best building material for the job.”

For more information on wood-framed buildings, particularly those in British Columbia, see Peter Sells’ Flashpoint column in the November issue of Fire Fighting in Canada.