Thursday, February 9, 2017

Langley City Council passes motion calling for sprinklers on balconies of new 4-storey wood-frame apartments

The BC Building Code has different requirements when it comes to the inclusion of fire sprinklers in new construction. Generally, the following applies:

  • Residential Buildings:
    • Three storeys and under: sprinklers are not required.
    • Four storeys and higher: sprinklers are required.
  • Office Buildings: sprinklers required if more than six storeys.
  • Care Facilities: sprinklers required.

For new wood-frame residential buildings five-storeys of higher, sprinklers on balconies and in attic space is also required. The Paddington Station fire started on a balcony, and spread into that building's attic space. The building was four-storeys.

City of Langley Fire Chief Rory Thompson, in a report presented to council stated, “in the Paddington Station fire, firefighters had the balcony fire knocked down from the exterior within 5 minutes of arrival. However, the first attack team into the apartment of origin reported heavy fire conditions already in the attic space. Sprinklers on the balconies would have prevented this tragedy.”

Since 2007, Langley City Fire-Rescue Service has responded to 80 apartment fires. Collectively, there has been one fatality and 11 injuries because of these fires. Of these 80 apartment fires, 11 started on balconies.

According to Thompson, Burnaby, Coquitlam, North Vancouver, Surrey, and White Rock have all had large multi-residential fires last year.

The Minister Responsible for Housing has announced that the province will include the requirement for sprinklers on the balconies of 4-storey wood-frame apartments when the BC Building Code is next updated. This could take a year or two.

The BC Building Code should be changed immediately to require sprinklers on balconies to prevent another building from being constructed with the same design that allowed fire to spread at Paddington Station.

This is why Langley City council passed the following motion at the February 6th council meeting to be considered at UBCM. If endorsed at UBCM, the resolution will be forwarded to the province to consider:

WHEREAS in 2016 the Province of British Columbia has suffered numerous large loss fires in 4-storey wood frame multi-residential buildings that could have been mitigated by the installation of sprinklers on balconies;

AND WHEREAS the British Columbia Building Code is based on the National Building Code with modifications specific to BC and that the National Building Code (2015) requires the installation of sprinklers on balconies of 4-storey buildings;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Minister Responsible for Housing immediately issue a Ministerial Order requiring the installation of sprinklers on the balconies of all new wood frame 4-storey multi-residential buildings.

If we can design buildings to reduce fire risk, we should. I hope the provincial government will move forward on the recommendation made in this resolution.

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