Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 1 - Evidence - March 18, 2010
OTTAWA, Thursday, March 18, 2010
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at
8:01 a.m. to study the current state and future of Canada's forest sector.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, good morning. I welcome you to the
first meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry for
2010. My name is Senator Percy Mockler from New Brunswick. I am the chair of the
committee. I would like senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Mercer: I am Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.
Senator Raine: I am Senator Nancy Greene Raine from British Columbia.
Senator Finley: I am Senator Doug Finley from Ontario.
Senator Plett: I am Senator Don Plett from Manitoba.
Senator Ogilvie: I am Senator Kelvin Ogilvie from Nova Scotia.
Senator Robichaud: Fernand Robichaud, from New Brunswick.
The Chair: Thank you. The committee is continuing its study of the
current state and the future of Canada's forest sector. The goal of today's
meeting is to look at the use of wood in non-residential construction.
We are specifically looking at fire hazards related to wood construction.
Today, we welcome Mr. Brian Maltby, Division Chief from the Canadian Association
of Fire Chiefs. Thank you, Mr. Maltby, for accepting our invitation to appear on
behalf of your association. I invite you to make your presentation. We will then
follow with a question and answer session.
Brian Maltby, Division Chief, Fire Prevention, Brampton Fire and Emergency
Services, Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs:
Thank you. Good morning Mr. Chair and members of the committee. I am Division
Chief of Fire Prevention and the chief fire official for the City of Brampton,
Ontario. I have been in the fire service for 26 years and I am a director of the
International Association of Fire Chiefs' Fire and Life Safety Section and have
been appointed to the International Fire Code Council. I am past chair of the
Ontario Fire Marshal's Technical Review Committee for the Ontario Fire Code and
sit on the National Research Council's Standing Committee on Housing and Small
Buildings. I am here today representing the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear.
It is my understanding that others have appeared before the committee and
provided testimony relating to fire hazards regarding wood construction. You
deemed that information to be inconsistent and have sought to hear from the
Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs on this matter.
The procedural clerk was kind enough to provide me with background
information and included a number of questions that provide me with some context
of the committee's task. I intend to provide you with our position relating to
those questions in a minute. However, I hope to share with you two significant
issue relating to fire safety and the construction of buildings.
First, the model National Building Code of Canada, the model National Fire
Code and many of the provincial building and fire codes are objective based and
the requirements for fire safety are not necessarily prescriptive in nature.
Instead, they are based on how the building's components perform under fire
conditions. Rather than mandating the specific construction requirements of
components such as wood, concrete drywall, et cetera, the codes set out how a
building shall perform under fire conditions. In other words, rather than
mandating that a building be constructed with wood or steel columns, the
objective-based code requires that the building be constructed to satisfy a
For example, one objective of the National Building Code is to limit the
probability that, as a result of the design or construction of the building, a
person in or adjacent to the building will be exposed to an unacceptable risk of
injury due to fire. The risks addressed in the code are: those caused by a fire
or explosion; fire or explosion impacting areas beyond the point of origin;
collapse of physical elements due to fire or explosion; fire safety systems
failing to function as expected; or persons being delayed or impeded from moving
to a safe place during a fire emergency.
It is important to note that, in general, Canadian codes are a minimum
standard. There is always more that can be done to make people, including the
responding firefighters, safer.
Second, it is important to know what is burning inside the building,
particularly at the onset of the fire. The fire inside the building poses the
greatest risk to occupants of the building and responding firefighters.
Therefore, how a building is constructed is important, but it is what is burning
inside that poses the greatest risk.
The components of buildings are more complex than in days gone by. They are
often made of synthetic materials, plastics, resins, et cetera that produce
toxins and gases that affect people's ability to evacuate in a timely fashion
and allow an unchecked fire to propagate at rates never seen before.
For example, at one time, it was universally thought that a residential
occupancy would reach flashover, a non- survivable event where the contents in a
room reaches ignition temperature, after a fire burned unchecked for more than
10 minutes. The Ontario Fire Marshal has now demonstrated that flashover can
occur as soon as three minutes after a first starts. Much of this decrease in
safe evacuation time can be attributed to how quickly and deadly the contents of
the building burn.
I will now respond to the questions we were specifically asked to address.
First, what are the issues related to wood construction in commercial and
industrial buildings? For the most part, as long as wood construction is done in
conformance with the adopted codes and standards, there are usually no
significant fire safety issues. In some cases, buildings constructed of wood may
be as safe as or safer than building constructed of other materials. For
example, buildings constructed of steel have collapsed significantly earlier
than those made of wood because the unprotected steel supporting elements have
absorbed heat from the fire and have expanded, deflected and lost their
stability, thereby failing. Further, elements that are often seen as
incombustible such as concrete have spalled or deteriorated when exposed to high
temperatures thereby failing as structural elements.
The second question was: What are the ways to protect wood buildings against
fire hazards? There are several ways, including, but not limited to, the
provision of fire retardant treatment and adding additional protective measures
such as gypsum wallboard to protect the wooden structural elements. However, we
believe the best way to protect a building and, more importantly the people
inside, is by the provision of fire sprinklers in combination with early warning
devices such as fire alarm systems in larger buildings and smoke alarms in
The third question asked of us was whether firefighters run greater risk when
working in wooden buildings. The short answer is that it depends. The long
answer is that, for the most part, if the building is constructed in conformance
with the adopted codes and standards, working in a building constructed of wood
should pose no greater risk than any other building.
However, there are some situations where fighting a fire in a wood building
may increase the risk to firefighters. The general convention is that a fire
grows exponentially and doubles in size every minute it is allowed to burn
unchecked. To minimize the risk and limit the fire damage, time is of the
Typically, those members of the fire service who provide fire protection in
rural areas take a greater time to muster at the fire scene because of inherent
travel times and distances, and because they are often part-time or volunteer
firefighters. These firefighters may also find themselves with limited access to
a reliable water supply with which to suppress the fire. As such, firefighters
operating in rural areas may be at greater risk than their counterparts in an
A grave concern the fire service has about wood structural elements in a
building relates to lightweight engineered construction assemblies when they are
involved in a fire. Lightweight engineered construction is a term generally used
to describe a wood structural member fabricated using bonded fibres and
materials including glues and resins, and is usually put together as a composite
joist for beams.
In some cases, engineered lumber can provide a greater structural platform
for the support of floors and roofs than traditional dimensional lumber. Such
composite beams and joists allow builders to implement the long spans and open
rooms that are prevalent in modern era home construction, and some small- and
mid-sized commercial and industrial buildings.
However, in separate studies done by Underwriters Laboratories in the United
States and here in Canada by the National Research Council, findings confirm
what the fire service has long suspected about what happens to lightweight
engineered construction material when exposed to fire. In repeated tests by both
groups, under carefully controlled conditions, lightweight engineered
construction materials were found to be burn faster. They were found and to lose
their structural integrity quicker, and in some cases much quicker, than those
built of dimensional lumber.
This has obvious ramifications for the fire service and anyone who resides in
homes constructed with lightweight materials. Fire sprinklers can offset the
increased dangers posed by lightweight-engineered construction and create a
safer fire environment for firefighters and the public in general.
I hope I have answered the questions raised by the committee. In closing, I
would like to suggest that it is generally understood that there is no such
thing as a fire safe building. Fires can and do occur in any type of building,
no matter how it is constructed. However, the impact of fire is contingent upon
the ability of the building construction to confine the fire to the area of
origin, to minimize the effects of the fire on the supporting members, and to
control the spread of smoke and gases.
The members of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs believe the best way
to do that is through the installation of sprinklers. Fire sprinklers allow the
occupants sufficient time to escape and the firefighters sufficient time to
reach the seat of the fire.
Thank you for listening and I would be pleased to answer any questions that
committee members may have.
Senator Robichaud: You have mentioned that the spread of fire, when it
first starts, is usually due to the contents of the building or the room. Are
there any fire standards or codes that apply to the furniture and furnishings
one would find in a building?
Mr. Maltby: In most jurisdictions, the building code sets out how the
building is to be constructed. The fire code focuses on how the building is to
be maintained after construction.
There are some limitations in the fire code as to what can go into the
building. Much depends on the type of building. For example, a typical home is
somewhat unregulated but factories or commercial buildings have more regulation
in terms of what can go in them. For the most part, hazardous material such as
flammable liquids and flammable or poisonous gases are regulated. In terms of
the finishings, there are very few limitations as to what can go into a
Senator Robichaud: In a building like this, can anything be brought
in, or do objects need a code for fire safety?
Mr. Maltby: The furnishings have to meet a certain fire protection
rating. The fabric material has to reach a certain fire protection rating. The
carpeting and wall treatments must also. They are also regulated in terms of how
much smoke they can generate, but it is very minimal.
Senator Robichaud: How closely is that monitored? When erecting a
building, one has inspectors come in and look at the structure. When one brings
in the furniture, it seems the inspection is not as frequent or meticulous as it
is when you are in the process of building.
Mr. Maltby: You are correct. As a person responsible for the
inspections in my City of Brampton, I would like to have more staff to do those
inspections. Unfortunately, with the economic times, that has not happened.
Typically, the building is inspected when occupancy is granted and it first
becomes occupied. Then, hopefully, there are periodic inspections on a regular
basis. It is during those periodic inspections that inspectors check for
flame-proofing and smoke generation.
Senator Plett: Thank you for your excellent presentation. You have
already answered a number of questions that I have, or did have. However, I do
want to touch a bit on the building code. In the United Kingdom, the building
code allows for wood frame construction up to seven storeys in non-residential
buildings. In Canada, we are only allowed wood buildings up to four storeys.
There is one in Quebec City that we looked at which I think is five storeys.
Why does the 2005 National Building Code not allow more leeway for wood frame
construction, and do you believe that there is a warranted safety risk?
I think you have already answered part of this question; namely, the
warranted safety risk for wood frame buildings between four and seven storeys
compared to concrete or steel framed buildings of the same heights. That is one
of my questions.
Mr. Maltby: I am fairly newly involved with the National Building
Code. I am more familiar with the Ontario Building Code.
In 2006 when the building code changed, I believe they moved from a
prescriptive code to an objective-based code. The objective-based code, as I
tried to explain in my presentation, says it no longer matters how the building
is built as long as it performs in a certain manner under fire conditions. If an
architect, engineer or designer could demonstrate that the performance of the
building, no matter what it was constructed of or how high or how big it was,
was in accordance with the objectives of the code, he or she could build it.
Although there are prescriptive requirements which say "thou shalt build a
building this way," a designer, architect or engineer has the ability to say "I
will build it slightly different, but I will still ensure it meets the
objectives of the code."
Senator Plett: Thank you. As a supplementary question, you alluded
that you were more familiar with the Ontario Building Code as opposed to the
National Building Code. Would it be your suggestion, or do you believe, that
maybe we should have one building code in Canada instead of 12 buildings codes
Mr. Maltby: From a fire safety perspective, I do not think so. In my
personal opinion, I think the local jurisdictions should have autonomy, based on
the local conditions.
Here is an example: Most building codes require that in a high-rise building,
between the residential suite where people live and the common corridor that
people use to evacuate, there is a requirement for a door that provides a fire
protection rating for 20 minutes. That means that the fire must be contained
within the area of origin, without spreading to the common areas, for 20
In my jurisdiction 20 minutes is a lot of time because our firefighters can
be on the scene, ready to go, hoses in place, water supply secured and ready to
fight the fire in five minutes. However, in some municipalities that rely on
volunteer firefighters, it may take 30 minutes, 40 minutes, or 50 minutes to
muster the firefighters to the scene. That 20-minute fire protection rating will
be insufficient in that case.
I think, where practical, it is probably a good idea to harmonize all codes
so that everybody understands — from builders to designers to owners to fire
service — what to expect in a building. There should be some autonomy for each
municipality, based on the local conditions.
Senator Plett: I thank you for that answer, which makes a lot of
sense. One of our witnesses suggested that one of the reasons our building codes
are what they are insofar as us going up four storeys is that firefighters in
Canada do not have ladders that can go beyond four storeys. Another witness
refuted that statement. What is your comment? Do we have the equipment to go up
as high as we need?
Mr. Maltby: I have been in the fire service coming up to 27 years, and
I have never seen, in our municipality, a rescue from a ladder truck. Most
rescues are done by interior attack. I would say that the limitation on building
heights should have nothing to do with a fire service to get an aerial ladder
there to help with evacuation.
Senator Mercer: We talked about occupancy inspections that are
conducted after an occupancy permit is granted. When those inspections occur,
are they building inspections? Does the inspection include the contents of the
building? I refer to such items as the furnishings and wall coverings, et
Mr. Maltby: The inspections typically include all components of a
building. In all honesty, if I were an inspector doing an inspection of this
building, for example, I would ask to see documentation that the furnishings
complied with the standards. I would not necessarily conduct a destructive test
on the materials to ensure that they satisfy the provisions of the fire code.
I would not take samples from the wall, for example, to ensure that the flame
spread rating satisfied the provisions of the code. I would rely upon existing
documentation from when the building was constructed.
Senator Mercer: You were critical of lightweight-engineered
construction and how it contributes to the spread of fire. I want to follow up
on a discussion we have had a number of times before on cross-laminated lumber,
which is a new product that provides the strength to build buildings higher.
According to certain people, it also is much better in a fire situation.
Have you had any experience with cross-laminated lumber as it pertains to
Mr. Maltby: I am not sure of the term that you are using. If it is an
engineered lumber, I have had experience with it. The organization I am involved
with, through the International Association of Fire Chiefs, witnessed some tests
in Illinois that UL, Underwriters Laboratories, conducted there. It was quite
evident that — although the product may serve well in terms of construction in
allowing greater spans and is cheaper in construction and lighter weight in
terms of being able to construct it — under a fire condition it is obvious that
it is unsatisfactory. It does fail.
Senator Mercer: I am not sure we are comparing apples and apples, with
my terminology and your terminology. I am not an expert either, and I am not
certain the we understand each other.
Mr. Maltby: If it is glued together then that is classified as an
engineered product. Glue is very flammable. Under normal conditions it probably
serves well but, when exposed to fire, a number of studies — both here in Canada
and in the United States — have shown that it rapidly fails.
Senator Mercer: A number of jurisdictions have sprinkler regulations,
including my province of Nova Scotia, but do not extend to smaller residential
buildings. I was involved in the provincial government at the time when the
first regulations came in, so I am supportive of them.
Are you suggesting that we try to bring in the use of sprinklers? In how
small a residential complex do you think a sprinkler system is practical? It is
always practical from a fire safety point of view, I am sure. However, it
becomes an economic deterrent at some point.
Mr. Maltby: To be blunt, I think every building should have a
sprinkler system. I have had the misfortune of being involved in a fire where I
had to tell a mother that her two babies had perished in a fire. I lost some
months' sleep over that. I never want to do that again in my life. I know that,
had that building been equipped with a sprinkler system, it would never have
As I said earlier, I am involved with the International Association of Fire
Chiefs. We have lobbied long and hard in the United States and have met with
senators and congressmen and governors. We have been very successful in having
the international residential code changed to allow for residential sprinklers
in one- and two-family dwellings.
I am involved with an MPP in the Province of Ontario who has introduced four
private members' bills that will directly affect the installation of residential
sprinklers in all residential occupancies. As a person charged with the
responsibility of the fire safety for the people we protect, and the
firefighters who protect them, I could do nothing less than support residential
Senator Finley: I would like to go back to the engineered construction
materials for a second. I will cover a whole waterfront here, if you will excuse
Glues, bonds and laminates make up the engineered construction materials, as
Senator Plett mentioned, the cross- laminated timbers. In your experience, are
there any adhesives that could be used in materials that are fire resistant or
more fire retardant?
Mr. Maltby: I have never seen them.
Senator Finley: In my office, we have timbers that are 200 years old
and this big, and we have seen cross-laminated timbers of the same size. Under
normal or average circumstances, how much faster would a cross-laminated or
engineered construction material burn? How much faster would it burn than a
standard piece of original timber, shall we say?
Mr. Maltby: There are so many factors there that it is difficult to
provide an accurate answer. For example, timber thickness obviously has an
impact on how long it will survive in fire conditions, and the age of the
timber. There is a condition called pyrolysis. This is where wood, as a natural
product, contains moisture and, over years, pyrolysis — the repetitive heating
and cooling — dries the moisture out of the product. Obviously as the timber
becomes older it becomes less sturdy in terms of fire conditions.
I am not familiar with the specific data from the studies NRC did in Canada.
However, I know from the studies that UL did in the United States, they built a
typical residential or small commercial building of less than 600 square metres
in size and put an average loading in it because that has an impact on how well
a flooring system survives in terms of fire. They subjected it to a seemingly
normal fire and allowed it to grow at a normal rate of speed. A flooring system
that would typically last more than 30 minutes collapsed in less than nine
minutes when it was made of engineered lumber.
Although nine minutes seems like a long time, by the time a fire is detected,
the 911 call is made, the fire department gets on road, arrives on scene, sets
up its gear and starts to fight the fire, nine minutes is not very long. There
have been a number of cases where firefighters, thinking that the floor system
was safe, have walked into the building and it has collapsed underneath them,
and they have perished.
Senator Finley: Your take on this is a little disturbing. We have
heard in previous testimony that wood and engineered construction materials are
no more or no less fire-resistant than other materials, like steel and concrete.
Are you saying that they are more dangerous or more prone to rapid combustion
than other non-wood materials?
Mr. Maltby: Yes, I am. That is why in my remarks earlier I said that
there are mitigating factors. For example, in a small commercial building
constructed of engineered lumber, rather than leaving the engineered lumber
exposed to a potential fire, protecting it in a number of ways, such as the
application of gypsum wallboard, would add a protection level.
We believe that the cheapest, best and easiest thing to do is to install a
Senator Finley: We heard many witnesses talk about the differences
among provincial building codes across the country, and perhaps the need to
upgrade the National Building Code.
You said that you would like local municipalities to have autonomy in terms
of fire codes. Is there a national minimum standard that municipalities and any
fire division must accommodate? If there is not, should there be?
Mr. Maltby: In recent times, with the introduction of objective-based
codes in 2005-07, depending upon the jurisdiction, there was a significant
movement to harmonize all the codes, where possible. Again, because of local
conditions, I do not think we will ever see that harmony.
I am not sure that we would want to expend the effort, the time and the money
to make the buildings in Ontario as earthquake proof as we need them to be in
British Columbia. I am not sure that the snow load requirements for buildings in
Victoria, British Columbia have to be identical to those in the Rocky Mountains,
where they get a lot of snow.
Where it is possible, feasible and logical, there should be harmonization,
but local conditions vary. This is a big country with many factors. We have
differences in response time for firefighters and different geographic and soil
conditions that prohibit complete harmonization.
Senator Finley: What you have just described to me is probably more
building code with regard to earthquakes and snow loads. I am talking about fire
codes. God forbid, you might be called upon to put out fires after an
earthquake, but it is still the burning of noxious materials. Solely on the
subject of fire codes, is there a national standard, or should there be? Setting
aside earthquakes and snow loads, is there a need for a National Fire Code?
Mr. Maltby: We do have a National Fire Code. It is a model code after
which local jurisdictions model theirs. Again, where it is feasible and logical,
there should be harmonization. However, again, based on local conditions it may
vary. The fire code does stipulate certain parts of construction. For example,
in the Ontario Fire Code a retrofit section says that a certain class of
building has to move itself forward to a certain level of safety. Many of those
conditions are based on the ability of the local fire department to respond in a
solid manner with approved times to get there.
Where it is feasible and practical, some elements of the code can be
harmonized, but certain components of it should be based on local conditions.
Senator Finley: Is there a national forum for firefighters to exchange
technology and methodology on a regular basis?
Mr. Maltby: The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has a national
presence and is moving forward in terms of recruiting membership from across the
nation. It is doing an excellent job of providing seminars and training
sessions. It is not where it should be, but it is moving in the right direction.
There is also the Canadian Fire Prevention Association, but it does not have the
presence that I think it should.
Senator Finley: I think that from a safety point of view most of us
would readily agree on sprinklers in residential homes. I would think that this
would be a huge and very expensive undertaking. Am I right that retrofitting a
typical home would be an extremely expensive proposition?
Mr. Maltby: It would be more expensive to retrofit a home than to have
sprinklers installed in a new home, but I did it. I believe in sprinklers so
much that in 1988 I put sprinklers into my home. One of my homes is about 55
years old now, and I put sprinklers in it because I believe in it so much. There
was no way one of my family members would perish in a fire.
For new construction it is not that expensive. The National Fire Protection
Association, which is a large organization involving 118 countries, recently did
a study and found that it costs $1.61 per square foot to put sprinklers into a
new home. I have friends in the United States who have been putting sprinklers
into their jurisdictions for years, and they say $1.61 is nowhere near the
actual cost, that it is from 65 cent to 70 cents a square foot.
The movement we are involved with is to put sprinklers into new homes rather
than existing homes. We have always said that the best time to plant a tree was
25 years ago; the second best time is today.
Senator Finley: If sprinkler systems were in buildings with, for
example, these light engineered construction materials, would you feel more
relaxed about the materials? You obviously have concerns about the burn rate of
If sprinklers were mandated in buildings with light-engineered construction
materials of four storeys or more, would you feel that it would be safer and
more secure, whether residential or commercial?
Mr. Maltby: Yes, we would.
Senator Ogilvie: I also want to thank you, Chief. Your comments and
answers have been remarkably clear and straightforward and are much appreciated.
Regarding your comments about steel frames failing under certain conditions
more quickly than wood frames, I think of two extremes in construction with
metal: first, big steel girders used for major structural elements, and second,
the metal studding instead of wood studs. Was your comment aimed at one or both
of those aspects?
Mr. Maltby: We have had very little history in terms of the metal
studding, but history has shown it is the heavy steel support members that do
not perform as well as one might think in a fire condition. It was not that long
ago, just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where firefighters were on the roof
of a large industrial complex. They cut holes in roofs to allow the fire to
vent, and although it was a steel structure, it collapsed 20 minutes or 25
minutes after the fire was allowed to burn. Most people think of steel as being
the end-all and be-all under fire conditions, but it is not. It changes its
characteristics. It has a tendency to absorb the heat, expand and twist, and
then the integrity of the structure is lost.
Senator Ogilvie: That clarifies that aspect, and I can certainly
understand in large buildings the temperature effect on steel and the
compression of the huge weight on the structural members.
The second question I have deals with the composite beams, or the laminated
beams. Here I am thinking of what we typically see in a building. You have
members that are roughly an inch and a half wide glued together to form a large
structural beam. Regarding the rate of burn, I would assume from what you have
said that they burn more rapidly because the adhesive begins to deteriorate
quickly under heat and the members begin to separate, giving a larger surface
area exposed to oxygen and flame, or is there another aspect that occurs?
Mr. Maltby: There are a number of variables that cause them to
collapse. Often, it is the type of glue that is used to glue them together. Our
experience has been that a significant amount of the engineered wood product is
less in terms of volume of wood. The typical beams we see could be, for example,
two-by-four at the top and two-by-four at the bottom with some composite
material in between that is made of resins and glue. Although a two-by-four is,
I think, three and a half inches in thickness, in between there, part of that
I-beam is minimal, less than one inch thick. There is not the volume there.
There is more supportive area that is being exposed to the fire conditions.
Senator Ogilvie: With respect to the straight lamination of
one-and-a-half by six or ten or whatever it is, which one often sees in chalets
and other artfully done buildings, I assume your comments apply equally to that
kind of lamination.
Mr. Maltby: It is any time that you have the lamination. We have seen
that years ago in plywood. For example, plywood is often laminated. Plywood does
not perform nearly as well under fire conditions as a solid wood member because
the lamination between it starts to fail.
Senator Ogilvie: The glue fails, and it begins to open up a larger
exposed area and the glue is highly flammable.
Mr. Maltby: You also have more exposed surface area.
Senator Raine: This is fascinating. I am a great believer in the value
of building with wood, as I come from British Columbia. I am especially
interested in wood construction concerning earthquakes and structural stability.
My husband and I built a four-storey wood frame commercial building 15 years
ago, and, at that time, we were told that there had never been a loss of life in
Canada in a fully sprinkled residential building. I am not sure about commercial
buildings, but I am interested to know if we have ever had any loss of life in
our country in sprinkled buildings.
Mr. Maltby: That is almost true. In all honesty, you will hear
proponents of residential sprinklers say that. There have been a couple of cases
of loss of life in buildings equipped with sprinklers and it happened for two
reasons. In one case, the sprinkler system was shut down. I know of two cases
where the individual who perished in the fire did so because he was very
intimate with it. In fact, he had committed suicide. He had poured gasoline over
himself and lit himself on fire, and the sprinkler system could not do anything
to save him.
Other than that, it is my understanding that, not just in Canada but in North
America, there has never been a fire fatality in a residential building in which
a sprinkler system is working and the person has not been intimate with the
Senator Raine: You have said that there is a big difference between
wood and engineered wood.
Is there a difference in the design of the sprinkler system if you are
building with engineered wood? In other words, would it need more sprinkler
heads and a bigger volume of water? Is that something that should be looked at?
Mr. Maltby: There would be a difference, depending upon the building
in terms of size and use, but not so much because of what it was made of. For
example, the sprinkler system in a single-family dwelling would certainly be a
lot different from your four-storey building. The four-storey building that you
and your husband built would have to have the same sprinkler system as a
building made out of steel. Between the wood building and the steel building,
there is not any difference, but between the large wood building and the small
wood building there is a difference.
For clarity, there is an NFPA standard, 13D, which deals with single-family
dwellings and one- and two- family dwellings, and it says how the sprinkler
system has to be installed. There is another NFPA standard, 13R that says small
residential buildings up to four storeys have to be constructed with this type
of sprinkler system. Then there is NFPA 13, which says any other building —
commercial, residential, big or small — has to be constructed with sprinkler
systems designed to that standard. The standards are based more upon the size of
the building and the use of the building, rather than the building material.
Having said that, there are some exceptions in most codes that say if you
install a sprinkler system, you do not have to have ratings on your roofs, for
example. You may be able to have wider support columns because of sprinklers,
for example, but that is not based upon what the building is constructed of, but
based upon the size of the building.
Senator Raine: Is there a difference between a non-residential
building in the codes and a residential building? I am thinking that in most
residential buildings, any engineered wood would be covered with drywall,
whereas in a factory or in a warehouse, that chipboard wood could be exposed,
which would be more dangerous.
Mr. Maltby: In a residential occupancy, the four-storey protected by
drywall, is most often protected by drywall where the people live. However, in
the basement where there are the mechanical room, the boiler room, the garbage
chutes and so forth, quite often they are not protected with drywall. Many
people do not finish their basements, especially when they first build the
house, and that is where the danger lies, when that engineered lumber is exposed
and unprotected by drywall or sprinklers.
Senator Segal: You joined the Brampton fire service in 1984; is that
Mr. Maltby: I joined the Brampton service in 1993.
Senator Segal: I normally have a high regard for anyone from Brampton.
Mr. Maltby: Thank you. I am waiting for the second shoe to drop.
Senator Segal: That regard is in view of the way in which the city was
represented in the Ontario legislature between 1959 and 1985, and by whom
specifically, but that is not your fault.
Mr. Maltby: He is actually my neighbour.
Senator Segal: He would be a great neighbour to have.
Mr. Maltby: He is an excellent neighbour.
Senator Segal: You have not lived until you see him out on the lawn in
a moo moo.
I want to talk about training of fire service members with respect to how
they manage in different kinds of buildings. I know the training process at the
fire college is rigorous. When firemen have been dispatched to a fire, have they
any knowledge upon arrival how that building was built? Is there any database
they use in the dispatch process or is that information not available?
Mr. Maltby: It depends on the fire service, how proactive they are and
on the type of building. For example, with high-hazard buildings or buildings
that the fire service knows will cause them operational issues, we try to do
what we call a preplan to prepare in the event of a fire. It is the buildings
about which we do not know about that are the most dangerous. A large number of
buildings constructed with the engineered lumber pose a huge risk because we do
not know about them.
I mentioned earlier that I sit on the International Fire Code Council that
oversees the international fire code adopted by 39 states in the United States.
There is a move to have buildings constructed of engineered lumber to be
identified by an external marker so the fire service will understand when they
arrive that they are dealing with a totally different breed of building.
There has been consideration by fire services that if they know a building is
built with engineered lumber products, they will only make an external attack
rather than an internal or aggressive attack. The challenge is it is difficult
to rescue people who are inside such a dwelling.
Senator Segal: What interaction would there be between your
organization, for example, and the process by which insurance companies set
their ratings? Fire insurance will cost different amounts for different
buildings based on what occurs in them, in rural areas of Canada based on
proximity to a fire station, and also based on construction materials used in
the buildings. Does the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs interact with the
insurance industry relative to how ratings and premiums are set?
Mr. Maltby: We do to a certain degree, but probably not to the degree
one would think. We undergo some scrutiny by people that set rates in terms of
ability to provide fire service, ability to arrive on scene with appropriate
apparatus and staffing and, more important, ability to provide an adequate and
reliable water supply.
It is more applicable to volunteer fire departments. If the volunteer fire
department can demonstrate that either they can provide a certain amount of
water in a certain amount of time, through drafting or tanker shuttles, that
jurisdiction will get a better fire insurance rating than those that cannot
demonstrate the ability.
From the perspective of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, we work with
volunteer fire departments to ensure they can get accreditation to provide the
best possible protection to their citizens.
Senator Segal: I have a question regarding development, the building
process and the relationship of both the fire marshal and inspectors to that
process. From the nature of your presentation and your answers to colleagues
around the table, assume someone came to you with a plan to redevelop a part of
a city with multi-storey differentiated use buildings made of wood higher than
four storeys. If the plan included construction of sprinkler systems in all
those buildings, you would not have a different view about those wood
developments than you would over rebar, concrete and steel developments
providing they also had sprinkler systems.
If I understand what you said, if there were sprinkler systems in the wood
construction proposal and no planned sprinkler systems in the other proposal —
whether that would be allowed is another matter — you would refer the proposal
including sprinkler systems built from wood, not including engineered wood.
Mr. Maltby: Other issues would also be involved such as travel
distance to exits and other conditions. However, if the wood building, compared
to the non-wood building, was built in compliance with the adopted code and had
a sprinkler system, we would certainly look at it favourably.
Senator Robichaud: Mr. Maltby, as a committee, we may wish to promote
the use of wood in residential and commercial buildings. We have talked about
structural wood, fireproofing, sprinklers, fire and smoke alarms. Where should
we concentrate our efforts if we want to promote the more extensive use of wood
Mr. Maltby: My recommendation is to do some scientific testing to
demonstrate that the wood product will serve as well as non-wood products. That
could be through ULC, the National Research Council or some other accredited
organization. You want to demonstrate that the wood product will function and
serve as well as non-wood products, not only in terms of construction, cost and
availability, but also in how it will perform under fire conditions.
A significant proportion of our building and fire codes are about fire
safety. For example, more than one third of the Ontario Building Code deals with
fire safety for both firefighters and occupants. The code also deals with
footings, plumbing and heating. My recommendation is to demonstrate
scientifically, not anecdotally, that wood products serve and function as well
as non-wood products under fire conditions.
Senator Robichaud: How would we initiate that? Would it be through
builders or the providers of wood products?
Mr. Maltby: My recommendation is to go through the manufacturers or
designers of wood products rather than builders because, in all honesty,
builders come across, at least to the fire service, as having a very vested
interest. Maybe the Senate is the organization to do it. If you can get NRC to
start testing wood products, maybe that is what we need to do.
Senator Robichaud: Looking at sprinkler systems and smoke alarms, do
you know how many homes are protected and how effective they are?
Mr. Maltby: I have two comments. Nationally, I do not know the
statistics because I have not been involved. I have some figures for Ontario.
The deputy fire marshal for the province of Ontario recently did a presentation
showing that in 36 per cent of fatal fires, where someone perished in the fire,
the smoke alarm functioned as intended. More than one third of fatalities
occurred although the smoke alarm functioned as intended.
The reasons for that include that we are staying in our homes longer as we
grow older. Seniors have less ability to react appropriately. They may not be
able to hear the smoke alarm as they once could. They also may not have the
mobility they once had, or they may not have the mental aptitude to understand
what to do.
Second, recently and sadly in the City of Toronto, there was a fire fatality.
A father left the house with one child, and then recognized the 12-year-old
daughter was still inside. He went back in and perished in the fire. A couple of
days later, the daughter perished, and so three people died.
Toronto Fire Service took exception to that, and rightfully so. They did a
survey of the neighbourhoods in the area and checked for smoke alarms. They
found that 40 per cent of the smoke alarms were working; 60 per cent were not.
My friend, the Deputy Chief of Fire Prevention and Public Education, Frank
Lamie, asked why the fire service is spending all this time and money on public
education when the public is not hearing what we have to say. It is appalling
that 60 per cent of smoke alarms were not working.
Senator Robichaud: In my building here in the city, they have an
annual inspection of fire alarms in all the apartments. I think that is a very
good preventative measure. They tell you if it is working.
Mr. Maltby: That is an Ontario Fire Code requirement that the fire
smoke alarms be tested annually.
Senator Robichaud: Are fire alarms or smoke alarms connected to a
Mr. Maltby: There is a slight difference between the two. A smoke
detector will quite often be seen in corridors in high-rise buildings, schools
and office buildings. Smoke detectors are devices to detect smoke and are
connected to a fire alarm system, which is a computer driven device and sends a
signal out to a bell. It is similar to what we have here.
Either a smoke alarm is electrically or battery operated and found in a
residential occupancy, usually in the area where the people live. In a high-rise
building such as yours, you should have smoke alarms within your dwelling unit
itself. However, you should also have smoke detectors in the corridors which are
connected to the fire alarm system. The smoke alarm in your own unit is not
likely connected to the fire alarm system because, if you burn your toast, you
do not want the whole building to evacuate. However, if the smoke detector in
the corridor detects smoke, it sounds the alarm. If it does, you want the whole
building to evacuate.
Senator Robichaud: A resident burnt his toast, opened the door to the
corridor, and caused a general fire alarm.
Senator Plett: I do not want to beat cross-laminated lumber to death
here but I have serious concerns. We have had witnesses come here and think it
is the best thing since sliced bread and have explained that to us.
I want to tell you about a building we visited in Quebec City. Aside from the
five-storey building, we visited an arena built of wood, and the beams were
built of cross-laminated lumber. They were pieces of lumber about inch and a
half wide and three quarters of an inch thick. They were all glued together to
make a massive beam that may have been three feet across and 18 inches or two
feet the other way.
We had the witnesses tell us that, if you take that cross-laminated beam and
a fire happens, it scores the outside. The ash or whatever it is cuts off the
oxygen and stops the burning.
I think you have explained your opinion. Mr. Chair, we need to ask some
people specific questions about that. Other witnesses explained to us that a
cross-laminated beam was better than a steel beam because it would not burn; the
ash or the scoring would cut the oxygen off. They did not seem to have concern
about the deterioration of the laminates.
I am not sure whether they were using something that you or we are not aware
of, but clearly, chair, we need to pursue that because our witness today is
certainly telling us something else. I appreciate your comments.
I have a couple of questions in regards to sprinklers. However, before I do,
in the beginning of your presentation, you used the term "flashover." I
watched the movie Flashback. Is flashover similar to flashback?
Mr. Maltby: There is a difference between flashback and flashover.
Flashback typically happens when an oxygen- deprived area is ready to flame
over. As soon as oxygen is introduced, which is needed for combustion, the whole
room erupts into a flame almost like a minor explosion.
If you paid attention to fire ground operations, one of the first things a
fire service will do is ventilate a building, typically by cutting a hole in the
roof and allowing the gases to escape. Then they can open the door and go in and
they do not get flashback.
Flashover is a super-heated time when every element within a building or area
reaches its ignition point and automatically ignites. Everything burns, but
various things have various ignition points. No one, including firefighters
equipped with the appropriate gear, can survive flashover.
The arena you were talking is probably a relatively safe condition. The
products you are talking about have probably been treated with flame retardant
material so that the ash provides a certain amount of protection. Those
supporting members or elements are probably designed given the fuel load
expected to be that that building.
Typically, in an arena, the fuel load is minimal. It is not like a warehouse
with plastic products. Typically, you have either concrete surfaces for lacrosse
or indoor soccer, or there is ice for hockey or other ice games. The fuel load
is not that great.
If you were to take the laminated supporting members and put them in a
warehouse and expect them to function the same under fire conditions as it does
in the arena, it will not likely work.
That is why the objective-based codes are such that, if you can demonstrate
to me that the supporting members in the arena will survive, based on the
construction type and the engineering of weight loads and the expected fire load
within that building, we would accept it. However, it is a totally different
application in a warehouse.
Senator Plett: Mr. Chair, I think we need to pursue that issue because
we are getting some conflicting testimony, as we did with fire ladders.
My next question is in regards to sprinkler systems. You told us earlier
about the very sad loss of life of two children and you having to bring the
message to the mother. You said do not want to relive some of the horrors you
lived through there. What kind of building was that? Was that an older building
or a new house?
Mr. Maltby: At that time, it was a relatively new house; it was
probably 15 years old. As I said earlier, it is not the construction of the
homes that is killing most Canadians. It is the contents inside and how people
react to the fire.
Senator Plett: Is your opinion that had that house contained a
sprinkler system those lives would probably have been saved?
Mr. Maltby: The outcome would have been different.
Senator Plett: I have been involved all my life in the construction
industry as a mechanical contractor. My sons, who now operate the business,
would be pleased if every building had to have a sprinkler system because they
would get more work. They would certainly support you.
Where are you getting most of your push back on the instalment of sprinkler
systems in residential houses? I would say that probably the actual costs would
be somewhere between what your friend in the United States said and the number
you used. Nevertheless, it is not that it would not be doable. It would not add
that much to the cost of a $300,000 or $400,000 home. Where would most of your
push back be? Would it be from contractors or developers? Who would be pushing
back on that installation?
Mr. Maltby: Frankly, the builders are pushing back on that item.
Senator Plett: Because of the costs?
Mr. Maltby: Yes, because of costs. Their claim is that for every
thousand dollars in costs you put a number of Canadians out of reach from
purchasing their first home. If you take a look at the information we get from
the NRC, their statistics do not show that. Vancouver has had sprinkler
legislation for many years and it has never had an impact on development.
Senator Plett: You are absolutely right there. Thank you very much.
Senator Raine: I would like to go back to the allowable height of
wood-frame buildings. Do you think there is any reason why our height
restriction should be less than seven storeys?
Mr. Maltby: I will go back to the objective-based code. If the
building satisfies the provisions of the objective-based code, whether it is
constructed out of metal, steel, wood or concrete, as long as it satisfies the
provisions of those codes and is equipped with a sprinkler system, we would have
Senator Raine: You mentioned that the massive beams in the Quebec
arena were likely treated with some kind of fire retardant. In the use of
engineered wood, if it is exposed, is the use of a fire retardant mandated?
Mr. Maltby: I am not sure. I think a lot would depend upon the
application and where it was being used.
We talked about the arena in Quebec that had the laminated wood. It likely
would be because it is a commercial building. However, if it were being used in
a single-family dwelling or a small residential occupancy, it likely would not
have to be treated. I am not sure the treatment would function as well there.
In the arena we talked about earlier, the build-up of heat would not be as
fast or intense as a build-up of heat would be in a single-family dwelling. It
would take a lot more time for the heat to have impact on the beams — because
they are at a 25-foot or 30-foot level — than in a residential occupancy where
the beams are at an eight-foot level. Also the fire area is small compared to
the expanse of an arena.
Senator Raine: Are sprinkler systems mandatory in commercial buildings
— warehouses, factories, et cetera — where the use of engineered wood is
probably becoming more and more common?
Mr. Maltby: It depends on a number of issues including the travel
distance to the exits, the size of the building and how the building is used.
For example, if it is used for warehouse storing Class 1A flammable liquids it
would probably have to have a sprinkler system. However, if it is a warehouse
storing patio stones it probably would not. It depends on the use, size, travel
distance to exits and a number of other conditions — roof ratings, for example.
Senator Raine: Is the optimum situation to have both fire retardant
and a sprinkler system, or is it one or the other?
Mr. Maltby: Fire safety is a systems approach. There is no one
component of fire safety that will make a building safe, especially when you put
people in it. The greatest cause of fire in Canada is men, women and children.
As soon as you put people in it, the building changes in terms of fire safety.
Senator Raine: Keeping in mind all the things we know about the use of
wood and wood being an environmentally friendly, renewable resource, would you
build out of wood, concrete or steel if you were building a non-residential
Mr. Maltby: I would consider all three. As long as it satisfies the
provisions of the code, I would be satisfied with that.
Senator Raine: There is no reason not to build with wood.
Mr. Maltby: No, providing it meets the provisions of the code.
Senator Mercer: Since we have a number of Canadians watching this
today, I want to take the opportunity for at least one ad in the presentation.
You may not have the answer to this, but I would suspect that, if one does
install sprinklers when building a new home, that the extra costs could be
recuperated quickly in the reduction in cost of fire insurance over a number of
Mr. Maltby: My understanding is that you will receive a reduction in
I will relate a story that happened to me in 1988 when I first installed a
sprinkler system in my house. At that time, the standard was NFPA 13D. I
understood that I should expect a 15 per cent reduction in my home insurance
because of the sprinkler system.
I called my insurance company and told them I had a sprinkler system
installed, and they said they would surcharge me 10 per cent because of water
damage. I said, "Wait a minute, what do you mean water damage?"
A residential sprinkler typically flows at less than 20 gallons a minute at
five or six pounds per square inch pressure. I told them, if you want to talk
about water damage, you should see what two firefighters would do at the back
end of a 38-millimetre line at 115 PSI. She went away and came back and told me
that the NFPA standard says they should give a 15 per cent reduction. She said
they were going to surcharge me 10 per cent, they would now give me a 5 per cent
reduction, and there is my 15 per cent savings. That was some kind of new math.
My understanding is that now most insurance companies do offer an insurance
Senator Mercer: That goes directly to my theory that insurance is
The main ad I wanted to get to is in our discussion of smoke detectors. I
would like to hear from you the need not just to change your batteries but to
periodically change your smoke detectors. Would give us a 30-second ad to help
Mr. Maltby: I thank you for that Senator Mercer. When you say smoke
detectors we are talking about smoke alarms, which are the devices in individual
units. Typically, our studies show that after about 10 years smoke alarms begin
to fail. There is a little bit of radioactive material in there, and after 10
years it does not function as well. Our studies show that they become more
sensitive, so when you even mention burning toast they sound an alarm. Then
people disconnect them, remove the batteries or flip the circuit breaker.
Our recommendation is that you change the batteries, in conformance with the
manufacturer's specifications, at least twice a year — every time you change
your clock forward or back — and that you replace your smoke alarms every 10
years. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to mention that.
Senator Mercer: Let us hope it does some good.
Senator Robichaud: When you talk about sprinklers, what is the
response time for sprinklers to come on when there is a fire in a home? They are
not all water pressurized, are they?
Mr. Maltby: For the most part there is water behind the sprinklers —
very little pressure, not a lot. In some cases, you will find a dry sprinkler
For example, some people in some areas choose to put sprinklers in their
garage. If you put a sprinkler system in the garage, in the winter time it would
freeze, so you cannot have water there. It is a dry system. In some places they
put in antifreeze or glycol.
For the most part, the typical application in a home is that there is water
behind every sprinkler head and, to avoid freezing, you design the pipe so it
does not run through the attic. However, if you do, you take precautions to
ensure that it does not freeze. There is very low pressure; your domestic house
pressure is in there. When one head activates, it is typically the only head
that activates. Unlike what you see on television where when one head activates
they all activate, that is not true. It is typically the head nearest the fire
In residential occupancies, the timeframe is different than it is in a number
of other occupancies. They are called "quick response heads," and they react
just shortly after the smoke alarm sounds, so they will probably activate within
a minute or minute and half. They have to be exposed to a prescribed
temperature, typically 165 degrees Fahrenheit, for that minute and half for it
Senator Robichaud: I did not think they were that fast.
Mr. Maltby: They are fast because they are a life saving device. The
Ontario fire marshal has shown that flashover can take place in three minutes,
so you have to have them react fairly quickly because they are designed to save
The Chair: Mr. Maltby, one aspect of the committee's order of
reference is to examine the possibility of increasing the use of wood in
non-residential construction. Our forestry sector is in crisis. Also, North
Americans use the highest percentage of wood per capita.
In your experience, what should we look at in non-residential construction in
order to increase the use of wood, whether in interior or exterior walls?
Mr. Maltby: As I mentioned earlier, you can work in conjunction with
government and testing agencies because from a fire service perspective, that is
our greatest concern. Having been exposed to the engineered product, we are a
little suspicious of the value that it brings.
I suggest that you work with organizations like the National Research Council
to demonstrate and prove scientifically that wood products will function as
expected under fire conditions that are set out in the building and fire codes.
The Chair: Thank you. For senators' and your information, Mr. Maltby,
next week we will have as a witness the architect who designed the Fondaction
building in Quebec City.
As chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Mr.
Maltby, I want to take this opportunity to thank you and through you, the men
and women who are our Canadian firefighters, for the outstanding job you do for
all Canadians, regardless of where we live, in order to ensure a better quality
of life for our people.
Mr. Maltby: Thank you very much and thanks for the support that the
Senate gives to the Canadian fire service.
The Chair: Thank you very much, sir. There is no doubt that we all
have the common denominator of making our country a better place to live, work,
raise our children and reach out to the most vulnerable.