Early last year, the Ontario Building Code changed to allow for construction of five and six storey wood residential and office buildings. This week officials in Ontario released guidelines outlining best practices for fire safety during construction of mid-rise wood buildings. Fire Safety During Construction for Five and Six Storey Wood Buildings in Ontario: a Best Practices Guide has been created for developers and builders, as well as architects and engineers, so that they can factor in construction fire safety as they design properties, identify building specifications, and perform onsite work.
Canada's first official summary was created by Ontario's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), the Ministry of Labour (MOL), and the office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management (OFMEM), under the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, to encourage a "culture of safety" on construction sites that goes beyond building, health and safety regulations. Designers, builders and tradesmen are encouraged to read the 116-page guide to minimize risk and reduce loss if a fire breaks out during the building of a wood mid-rise structure.
In recent years, wood building construction has been on the rise due to economic benefits and sustainability. The University of British Columbia in Vancouver is currently building an 18-story residential skyscraper for students that will be finished in the fall of 2017. Additional wood hi-rise construction is underway in Japan, Australia, and Europe, partly due to the fact that there are less greenhouse gas emissions created during wood construction, as compared with concrete construction. As wood hi-rise construction continues to surge, it is important for the building community to be fire-safe during construction to avoid catastrophic wood construction fires like the blaze in downtown Kingston, Ontario which resulted in a crane operator being rescued by a helicopter and the 7-story apartment inferno in Los Angeles that occurred during the wood-frame aspect of construction.
The new wood mid-rise fire safety guidelines reference three NFPA codes:
- NFPA 30, the Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, provides safeguards to reduce the hazards associated with the storage, handling, and use of flammable and combustible liquids
- NFPA 1001: Standard for Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications, identifies the minimum job performance requirements (JPRs) for career and volunteer fire fighters whose duties are primarily structural in nature
- NFPA 241 Standard for Standardizing Construction, Alteration and Demolition Operations addresses temporary construction equipment; hot work; waste disposal; explosive materials; utilities; fire protection; safeguarding construction and alteration; roofing; demolition; and underground operations
Although the new best practices document reads like a code in some instances, it is not a regulation. The objective of the resource is to protect designed elements that will be part of a finished building and to address the safety challenges that exist when the building's fire protection systems are not finished. Guideline creators acknowledge that many builders already follow fire-safety protocol on the job based on their own site-specific considerations, but are hopeful that these best practices will resonate with those that are less-fire-safety-focused. "These new guidelines will help architects and contractors to look at the job site with fire safety in mind," Shayne Mintz, NFPA's Canadian regional director said. "Any time that we can proactively reinforce fire-safety measures on the job and inform building stakeholders about the importance of smart planning, good housekeeping, proper disposal of flammable materials,and safeguarding against fire incidents is a win for NFPA and the audiences that we serve."