Fire protection for new construction – By Ray Hudson

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A construction site safety plan is key

Assistant Chief, Steve Robinson stands by an Engine at Firehall. Photo: Ray Hudson
Assistant Chief, Steve Robinson stands by an Engine at Firehall. Photo: Ray Hudson

Eight years ago a spectacular fire destroyed a section of the Quattro Development in North Surrey, which was at the framed stage. This underscored the vulnerability of wood frame buildings at the framing stages of construction.

With condominium construction booming, in response to the growing demand for housing by people moving to Surrey, families are moving in as soon as the buildings are completed.  When more phases of a development are planned or under construction, they may be adjacent to now occupied structures. This poses the question: what protects the new residents from the risk of fire from adjacent incomplete structures during the construction phase?

To provide an answer, the Asian Journal spoke with Steve Robinson, Assistant Fire Chief  for Prevention, with the Surrey Fire Department.

“The city has a program called the Construction Site Safety Plan,” said Robinson, “and we make sure that when new developments are in progress, the builder submits plans for what he is going to do for fire protection while the building is being built.  It’s a layered process with the documents having to be submitted through us to be approved by the Fire Prevention Division in Surrey, in order to ensure that their measures for fire protection are going to be adequate, particularly if there are occupied buildings in the surrounding areas.”

Robinson said the solution is to install a sprinkler system as the building is going up.  He said that as each floor has the ceiling membranes put in, fire protection systems such as the sprinklers are activated, particularly when there is no one on site.

“While it’s under construction we allow some variance if they’re going to damage the fire protection systems while working or whatever,” said Robinson, “but only when people are on site. Once they’re off site, we want all those systems activated.”

A section of the uncompleted Quattro condo complex in North Surrey burned in October 2008, damaging one end of a completed but unoccupied adjacent section. Photo: Ray Hudson
A section of the uncompleted Quattro condo complex in North Surrey burned in October 2008, damaging one end of a completed but unoccupied adjacent section. Photo: Ray Hudson

“We have a bulletin that we put out which covers a number of aspects including training,” he continued. “It covers the minimum requirements of the fire safety plan and emergency procedures for the site, how to notify the fire department, fire fighting procedures, and ways to control fire hazards in and around the buildings.”

“A lot of it is awareness,” Robinson added, “making people aware of what the fire protection requirements are, because we know that a building in the framing stages is very vulnerable to fire. Getting the people onsite to understand what the hazards are, and to be aware of that education component is a large part of it.”

Robinson was asked, if a resident is concerned about fire precautions on the part of the builder, what should they do?

“As a citizen, you can always ask (the builder) the question.” Robinson said. “and you can call the Fire Department and talk to us about your concerns. We can look into the site and make sure they do have a Construction Fire Safety Plan. In fact, as our inspectors drive throughout the city, they will make routine stops and have a look around and make sure that everything is as it should be, make suggestions and corrections if necessary. There may be special measures in the fire safety plan that we ask for, especially if there are occupied buildings in proximity.”

Across Surrey and the south coast, the dry and warm season has already started. We asked what precautions property owners should be taking to reduce the fire hazard around their homes and yards.

“I can tell you right now that from May first to now, we’ve had 40 brush fires in the city compared to the same time last year when we had just 23. Watch particularly for broken glass,  Robinson said. “It can concentrate sunlight to the point of starting a fire, so it should be picked up.”

“Still, the biggest issue is the disposal of smoking materials. If everyone would use an ash tray, or an empty pop can, or better yet one with water in it, instead of just throwing the cigarette butts on the ground, or out the car window, we’d go a long way to reducing the number of wildfires we have to deal with.”

Robinson also added that with the nicer weather, more people are barbequing, and he wanted to remind those cooks to make sure the BBQ is well away from the wall of the building, don’t leave the cooker unattended, and when done, turn off both the BBQ and the propane fuel tank. Finally, he recommends that people should have a fire extinguisher on hand, suggesting it’s cheap insurance ($20 to $40) against the alternative.

For more information check out the Surrey Website at http://surrey.ca/city-services/674.aspx