Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 13:47 EDT

Ontario seniors deserve better fire protection

February 1, 2013

Ontario Government needs to focus on fire containment as well as
sprinklers in proposed Fire Code and Building Code changes

TORONTO, Feb. 1, 2013 /CNW/ – Mandatory sprinklers in Ontario retirement
homes are a big step in the right direction but seniors also need the
protection of more fire-resistant building material such as concrete
block. This statement from construction and fire-safety representatives
comes in response to proposed changes put forward by an Ontario
Government task force reviewing the province’s Fire and Building Code.

“Sprinklers are only the first step,” says Paul Hargest, President of
the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association (CCMPA). “This is
especially true in newer building areas where septic and well systems
may rely on pumps — pumps that will stop functioning if the power goes
out, a likely possibility not only in the event of a fire but also as a
result of the extreme weather we’re experiencing due to climate

Studies conducted by the U.S.-based National Concrete Masonry
Association (NCMA) show that the best fire protection is provided
through “balanced design”, which is a combination of:

        --  Education -- i.e. providing instruction on fire
            prevention, safety and rapid exits
        --  Detection -- i.e. smoke and heat alarms and other active
        --  Suppression -- i.e. sprinklers,
        --  Containment -- i.e. fire-resistant, non-combustible
            masonry walls that contain and prevent the spread of fire

All four methods should be applied in all building construction, but
especially in places where age and frailty can make escaping a fire
especially difficult. The challenges and tragic consequences of fires
in retirement homes were made particularly evident in January 2009
when, within days of each other, two fires in large retirement homes in
Orillia, Ontario and Saguenay, Quebec killed several residents and
forced hundreds of others out into bitter temperatures in bare feet and
pajamas. Saguenay’s mayor commented that, “The whole building burned;
the walls fell in.”

This structural collapse — a common occurrence when fire strikes newer
buildings constructed with combustible building materials — can render
sprinkler systems useless and pose enormous additional risk, not only
for people trying to exit the building but for fire fighters entering

“The widespread use of lightweight construction and contents made from
oil- based/synthetic materials throughout buildings today means that
when they catch fire, they burn with more intensity than ever before,”
says Carl G. Pearson, Immediate Past President, Fire Fighters’
Association of Ontario. “A material like concrete masonry as a
partitioning wall can significantly slow the spread of the blaze and
maintain structural integrity, both critical to helping save lives.”

Commonly used drywall and wood frame currently receive acceptable ‘fire
resistance’ ratings in industry laboratory testing; however, as
real-life situations like Orillia and Saguenay show, these materials
burn quickly — much faster than the times suggested by laboratory
testing — and are fully ablaze well before staff are able to move
dozens or even hundreds of residents out of a nursing home.

“We need to be realistic about the time it takes for such residents,
many using walkers or wheelchairs, to exit a burning building,” says
CCMPA’s Paul Hargest. “Their chances of escape are considerably reduced
in a structure built only with wood and drywall.”

Concrete masonry, in comparison, remains standing and has proven to be
an effective barrier in fires where half a structure has been razed and
the other half — divided by a concrete block wall — has remained
structurally intact.

“Stepping up our building codes is vital for the safety of seniors — but
it’s important for the safety of all Canadians,” says Paul Hargest.
“The risks of fire. The increasing incidence of severe storms. The
spread of termites. The improper use of firearms. The annoyance and
ill-effects of noise. All of these are reasons why we need to build
better, stronger buildings that will not only house us, but protect us.
If the Ontario government is serious about protecting seniors or other
vulnerable individuals, they need to review and support balanced

Public comments on the proposed changes to the code can be made until
Feb. 28, 2013: http://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/FireMarshal/PublicConsultationTAC/Overview/OFM_TAC_Overview.htm?SSContributor=true

The Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association operates as Region 6
of the National Concrete Masonry Association, and is the representative
voice for the Canadian concrete block manufacturing industry. The
Association supports concrete masonry producers and suppliers in a
number of areas including standards, training, technological research,
government relations, and marketing and communications. Through these
areas, the Association works to ensure the highest standards of quality
and maintain the industry’s strong market presence.

SOURCE Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association

Source: PR Newswire