Massive Kingston Student Housing Building Fire Stresses Wood Construction Safety Risks

OTTAWA, Dec. 18, 2013 /CNW/ - The Cement Association of Canada (CAC) is relieved that no one was seriously injured in Kingston's massive fire yesterday. The fire, which razed a student housing building under construction and threatened the safety of nearby residents, was still smoldering this morning. In light of this most recent fire, the CAC reiterates its call for greater fire safety provisions in the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC). 

"This fire is yet another example of the risks inherent to wood construction, especially during the construction phase," said Michael McSweeney, the CAC's President and CEO.  "We are very concerned about the fire safety risks to Canadians - including our first responders. Our building codes shouldn't set just the bare minimum standard, but strive to achieve the gold standard. Canadians should expect nothing less."

McSweeney also expressed concern that safety provisions are not being taken seriously. "While some are so focused on pushing forward with changes to increase the height of wood buildings in the building code, the real focus should be on whether current safety provisions for four storey wood buildings are in fact sufficient. This wood building in Kingston required additional fire fighting support, a helicopter rescue, resulted in evacuations in the community and caused fires in other buildings. How much worse could this have been had this wood structure been any higher?"

Carl Pearson, a First Captain with the Thorold Fire and Emergency Services and the Past President of the Fire Fighters' Association of Ontario is also extremely concerned. "The proposed changes to the building code have potentially life and death implications. For firefighters, our number one concern is to safely rescue people, without casualties. If these proposed changes to the NBCC are implemented, Canadians lives could be at risk, as we saw with the Kingston fire. We don't want that to happen." 

Last week, the CAC announced the start of a national advocacy campaign to urge that Canadians' safety be the top priority before adopting proposed changes to the 2010 National Building Code of Canada that would permit the construction of five and six storey wood frame buildings. The CAC has recommended several provisions to help address the deficiencies of the proposed changes, including: 

  • non-combustible stairwells and elevator shafts  to provide a safe areas of refuge for firefighters and building occupants;
  • non-combustible exterior cladding and roofing to protect occupants and reduce the risk to adjacent buildings;
  • the installation of automatic sprinkler systems as construction progresses to mitigate the spread of fire;
  • a minimum level of non combustible fire separation to prevent fire from spreading between adjoining wood frame buildings; and
  • that the safety of firefighters be recognized and addressed in building codes. 

The Cement Association of Canada (CAC) represents the Canadian cement industry, and strives to maintain a sustainable industry as well as promote and advance the economic, environmental and societal benefits of building with cement and concrete. The CAC advocates for legislative and regulatory environments at all levels of government and it advises on technical matters important to the cement and concrete industries, such as codes, standards, specifications and best practice guides.

SOURCE: Cement Association of Canada

For further information:

Lyse Teasdale
Cement Association of Canada
T: 613-236-9471 ext 211


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