A recent ad campaign from the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association linked infrequent instances of failed city water infrastructure to the risk of fire spread in buildings in general, and to life safety in mid- and tall-wood buildings in particular.
Aside from the fact that the combination of water-main failure and instances of fire are insignificant, CCMPA’s ad misses the obvious point. That is, that mid-rise and tall buildings, irrespective of building material used (concrete, steel or wood), depend on sprinklers and other important fire protection and fire suppression measures to ensure life safety during a fire.
Most fire-related injuries or fatalities are caused by burns or smoke inhalation, resulting from the combustion of today’s large quantities of furnishings and fixtures. This is why the majority of new mid-rise and high-rise building types have active suppression systems such as sprinklers to manage the effects of fire.
The ad also mentions “balanced design” and that concrete block should be a starting consideration. Like fire-resistant designs that can be prescribed using wood construction, concrete block can be one option for controlling fire by construction, but it is not the only one accepted. The availability of multiple options for fire safe building design is now more clearly reflected by the fact that since 2005 the Model National Building Code of Canada supports any form of building design using objective-based solutions. This means that once a functional requirement is identified, any innovative product or building system solution that can be independently verified as meeting the stated objective(s) can also be used. This is why, for example, the NBCC has been changed to no longer require firewalls to be of masonry or concrete – so long as the acceptable solution is non-combustible construction (e.g. gypsum board on steel framing) and the wall achieves the required structural and fire resistance performance objective (i.e. 2 hours) stated in the building code.
In balanced design, especially for taller buildings, there are other forms of passive and active fire-related requirements intended to help manage the fire, as well as the people who may be exposed to danger including, but not limited to, the installation of fire alarm systems, standpipe and hoses for firefighting, structural fire resistance to ensure buildings do not collapse and allow time for people to evacuate, sufficient exits that are protected from fire as safe routes for escape, and the list goes on…
When it comes to wood mid-rise construction, the Canadian Wood Council encourages you to get the facts! Visit www.woodfacts.cwc.ca to learn more.