Tips for Sustainable Fire Safety & Fire Code Compliance
From the CCI Huronia Summer 2021 Newsletter
Fire Safety has always been an important topic for me. Now, with more people being home because of COVID we are seeing a significant increase in home fires and home fire fatalities. This makes this topic even more important than ever for corporations, Board of Directors and individual unit owners! So how do you keep your buildings and your people safe? I have compiled some of our most asked questions and answered them to help you maintain sustainable Fire Code Compliance.
Who is Responsible?
We are all responsible for our own life safety! But in the world of condominium there is required to be a defined line of responsibility for fire code compliance. This includes the checking and maintenance of life safety systems and fire safety planning. Do you know what the condo corporation is responsible for versus what the contractors are responsible for versus what the unit owners are responsible for in your building? Whether you are a resident, a Property Manager, or a Board Member, you should know this. You should be able to find fire safety responsibility information in corporation communications, the fine print of rules and responsibilities or in your declaration.
There are three primary areas of fire safety responsibility 1) what each individual unit owner is responsible for 2) what the corporation has care and control over and is responsible for and 3) what responsibility is downloaded to your contractors for inspecting, testing, and maintaining your life safety systems. In principle this seems easily defined. In reality, implementation is not always as clear and, in some cases, there may be shared responsibility.
Ultimately, the responsibility is on the corporation to maintain Fire Code Compliance! To have rules, to communicate what owners are responsible for, to ensure regular inspections are completed and to maintain records. However, as defined by our courts, life safety is a shared responsibility.
Evaluate your fire code compliance obligations, know your duties as a corporation, train your staff on their responsibilities, know what your contractors are responsible for and what they are not, communicate residents’ responsibilities to them clearly, and remind them frequently.
What do you do if the fire alarm or the smoke alarm goes off in your unit?
What to do in a fire alarm is one of the leading questions that arises from condominium owners and managers that I speak with frequently.
What amazes me is that when I ask people if they know someone or if they themselves have ever been in a fire situation, almost everyone has a story. But when I ask what they would do if they had a fire in their building or complex the same people often are not sure. Let’s talk about why.
How to react in a fire scenario is a very broad question. What if the fire is in your unit, the corridor is full of smoke, or you think it is just another nuisance alarm? What if you have the flu, had recent surgery or are looking after someone who can’t easily leave? All great questions. That means the answers to your questions of what to do when the alarm goes off may vary.
The Fire Marshal of Ontario has a stay or go policy that basically states if you can go, go. If you have to stay, there are steps to take to ensure your safety. You can find the Stay or Go Policy Here.
Not all buildings are the same and not all occupancies are created equally. For example, a building with a high percentage of seniors may be advised or have in their fire safety plan for residents to stay in place. Circumstances vary, staying or leaving may depend on the fire event, your ability to leave, the life safety equipment or staff in your building or townhome. The clear answer is to be prepared. Find out what is in your fire safety plan for your building and for residents. Then be prepared to stay to go.
What is Part 7 – Smoke Control?
Part 7 of the Ontario Fire Code refers to integrated checking, inspection, testing, notification, and maintenance of Fire Emergency Systems in High Rise buildings. Buildings over 18 metres (approx. 7 stories + up) require quarterly integrated operational testing of Emergency Voice Communication, Elevator (emergency operations) and Smoke Control Systems including Automatic doors, Dampers, Pressurization fans. This testing is typically outside the scope of service companies and requires an integrated test specialist. A test procedure must be developed and stamped by a professional engineer.
How do you know where to find your buildings compliance obligations?
It's all in your Fire Safety Plan (FSP)! Each area of your building and systems to be maintained are outlined in your fire safety plan. The FSP is not always clearly understood, responsibilities have to be effectively assigned to staff and contractors and building specific training conducted to ensure the actions are completed and recorded properly. Residents must be informed of their obligations and should be informed of building fire safety features. The Ontario Fire Code also requires your fire safety plan to be reviewed at a minimum of once per year and at intervals where updating is required.
Quick Q & A of some fire safety questions that you have raised during recent CCI-Huronia webinars:
Q: Who is responsible to check dryer vents and at what interval?
A: In general, the homeowner is responsible to check dryer vents; in the dryer and behind the dryer or in remote unit lint traps. The building is generally required to check common laundry rooms and all systemic flues and venting systems. Some buildings mandate or offer in unit dryer cleaning and include in maintenance fees or charge back.
Q: Who should maintain Smoke Alarms?
A: Depending on the age of the unit some smoke alarms are battery operated while others are hardwired into the building electrical system. If the smoke alarm has a test button it should be checked by the unit owner monthly and at any intervals where there is no one in the suite for two weeks. Most individual condo townhomes are responsible to check their own smoke alarms. Most stacked or multi- story condos smoke alarms are tested annually by staff or the fire alarm service provider.
Q: What fire safety records are to be maintained by the Corporation?
A: The fire code and fire safety plan depict maintenance records are to be kept for two years and fire drill records for one year. This includes all fire code safety system periodic testing, inspections and maintenance records by contractors and staff for fire extinguishers and hoses, sprinkler, hydrants, exit signs, means of egress fire doors, suite doors, and emergency lighting, generators, fire alarm, emergency voice, fire elevators, smoke control, part 7 integrated testing, flues, fire dampers, fire drills and training. These records can be assembled in one location, or a record kept of which service rooms they are held in for maintenance and fire department review. Some systems, such as sprinkler systems, have periodic testing over the years and records should be retained permanently of these incremental tests.
You are not expected to be Fire Code experts. When in doubt ask questions and rely on your experts.
Michele Farley, FCS Fire Consulting Services Ltd.
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