Fire Prevention Week 2017 for High-Rise Buildings

Fire offence convictions by the numbers:

300: Number of Toronto building owners charged with fire code violations in 2016

$1,550,297: Fire code fines imposed on Toronto building owners in 2015

3: Years in jail for criminal negligence causing death handed to a Toronto landlord who failed to heed fire safety orders before a 2011 fatal rooming house fire.

The numbers don’t lie, and the high-profile media coverage of many recent fires causing casualties and billions in financial losses are now top of mind with the public and government regulators who are looking to send a clear message to landlords that have failed to meet their legal obligations.

On July 13, a Toronto landlord pled guilty, after admitting they failed to implement an approved fire safety plan, a fatal mistake that tragically contributed to the death of four building residents in a 2016 fire. The building owner was fined the maximum allowable of $100,000, sending a clear message to the industry and beyond.

Another landlord was also fined $71,000 after a fatal 3-alarm blaze in a Toronto apartment, where a stairwell door that did not latch properly allowed smoke to fill a stairwell, claiming the life of a woman in her 30’s. Her toddler son lost his mother that day, and it was entirely preventable.

Fire life safety programs are designed to provide the required checks and inspections of stairwell doors, to prevent such tragedies from occurring. Stairwells are safe, yet if one door is not working, smoke has an opportunity to fill the stairwell and preventing the safe evacuation of residents.

These devastating lessons both here and similar tragedies in the UK, demonstrate the crucial need for professionally developed and executed fire safety programs. It is a matter of life and death.

Fire safety plans are required for most buildings and occupancies, yet sadly, many buildings either lack a plan, they are badly outdated, are inaccessible, or are not properly implemented.

There are three (3) key benefits to maintaining a professional, updated and accessible building fire safety plan that every property owner and manager should thoroughly understand: 

  1. Building Owner / Property Manager Benefits

It’s the law. Fire safety plans are required by law, and must be reviewed and updated at least annually. Once properly developed and implemented, they provide valuable building fire safety information for occupants, property managers, and owners – and provide the foundation of any due diligence program.

A professional fire safety plan provides detailed instructions on the many requirements of the fire code, which owners need to comply with in respect to daily, weekly, monthly and annual test and inspections of building life safety systems and equipment. It’s important to note that out of 100 buildings reviewed in the last six months, only eight percent were found to have accurately documented daily inspection requirements. This is alarming.

Every morning at the start of your building’s Security / Concierge / operator’s shift, you should be confident, through a brief inspection, that my fire alarm system for the building is trouble free and functioning. (Just one of the daily checks required.)

Another direct benefit to building owners is the opportunity to have an approved fire safety plan, for building staff training. It is the training of staff, on the roles and procedures outlined in the approved plan that provides the building owner confidence that both their staff can effectively respond, and that they have given the tools to their staff to implement the plan in the event of an emergency. Every building owner should be able to provide proof that their building staff have been trained on the approved fire safety plan.

It is this training of supervisory staff that must be completed before being assigned any building safety duties, such as a concierge, security, property manager or superintendent.  The training should be site specific based on their building’s approved fire safety plan. Upon completion, this training must be documented and serve as an integral part of the due diligence program for the building.

  1. Benefits to Building Occupants / Tenants

Fire safety plans also provide tenants and residents detailed instructions on fire and emergency procedures, including actions to take in the event of a fire, evacuation and shelter in place requirements.  This is a direct benefit to occupants, because each building has different life safety features and procedures.

The Fire Safety Plan should come with a resident / tenant handout, that describes that the decision to leave a suite during a fire alarm is that of the resident, only after reviewing evacuation procedures found within the buildings approved fire safety plan, including discussing human behavior in fires, challenges to the fire department response in high-rises, as well as emergency preparedness for Persons Requiring Assistance during evacuations. These resident / tenant procedures allow residents to make informed decisions at time of a fire alarm, and should be provided to both residents, tenants and building trades every year.

  1. Benefits to First Responders and Municipal Emergency Services

Building fire safety plans must be approved by the authority having jurisdiction, in most cases this would be local fire services. Approved fire safety plans provide tactical reference tools to effectively respond in a timely manner to building emergencies.

Clear and concise tools such as use of life safety systems, smoke control, floor plan drawings, isolation points for sprinklers, HVAC, gas and electrical can decrease response times and contribute to firefighter safety and enhanced occupant safety.

In addition to the fire response, fire safety plans have also been widely utilized as a tactical tool for specialty response teams such as the municipal police services and Emergency Task Forces. Certain building information and detailed floor plans may be used to provide rapid support to first responders in the event of active violent incidents, suspicious packages and criminal acts in both workplace facilities and residential buildings. This type of proactive planning significantly enhances the safety of building occupants.

If your plan is outdated, if the information is incorrect and not easily accessible, it will delay emergency operations that could cost lives and expose your organization to significant risk and liabilities. Be prepared.

jasonreidJason Reid

Jason is Senior Advisor for National Life Safety Group, an industry leading consulting firm specializing in infrastructure protection, fire safety and emergency management across Canada and around the world. www.nationallifesafetygroup.ca