The Quattro fire in Whalley in 2008 is one example of why Surrey's fire chief is bringing in tougher fire regulations.

Stricter fire regs on the way for construction sites

Fire chief hopes to prevent fires like one in Whalley in 2008

Faster sprinkler installation, better security and a host of other requirements may be necessary during building construction as Surrey’s fire chief works to prevent massive fires like the ones that have hit the Lower Mainland in recent years.

In May, the Remy, a six-storey wood condominium project under construction in Richmond burned, the flames visible for miles.

In 2008, Quattro, a four-storey wood frame condominium in Whalley was also the site of a dramatic fire. The blaze near 138 Street and 107A Avenue razed the building and caused extensive damage to another nearby development.

In about a week, Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis plans to introduce several tools to prevent similar fires that will be available to inspectors for all construction in Surrey.

Peter Simpson, president of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders Association, was surprised to hear the new regulations made it this far without broader consultation.

The guidelines haven’t been before the city’s Development Advisory Committee, he said.

“It’s a development issue,” Simpson said.  “If there was something coming forward that the industry needs to be aware of, at least to discuss, that would be the place to bring it up.”

Simpson said the more voices contributing to the regulations, the better they’ll be.

He said there will be a higher cost to building with the new regulations, which should be discussed with more than a couple of builders.

“We are not against safety, we’d just like to be part of this conversation and whatever is put out is understood and acceptable to all parties involved,” Simpson said.

Garis said he doesn’t have the time or inclination to embark on an exhaustive public consultation process.

“I don’t have a year to do that, and meanwhile, these things are burning,” Garis said. “If we put this in the hands and a system like that, it would take forever.”

Garis, also the president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of B.C., worked with a fire protection expert and developers in creating guidelines that may be required upon construction.

They include requiring sprinkler systems to be installed floor by floor during the construction process, so large unfinished buildings aren’t left without fire protection.

A round-the-clock watchman constantly patrolling properties may also be necessary, rather than a security guard who is stationed in one spot on large sites.

After the Remy fire in Richmond, there was much discussion about the safety of  new provincial policies allowing six-storey wood construction.

Garis set out to clarify that it was a construction site fire rather than anything to do with provincial policy. If anything, he said, six-storey wood construction is safer than the previous four-storey limit because of improved sprinkler systems and non-combustible cladding requirements.

Given the controversy, Garis wanted to ensure fire departments were also doing everything they could.

“I engaged a fire protection engineering firm to look at everything that was available to us, including what they’re doing in Europe and England,” Garis said.

He also met with the builders of the Remy project and North Surrey’s Quattro residential building to confer about the new guidelines.

“We wanted to make sure we were doing everything we possibly could and had all the elements in place so we could minimize the risks,” Garis said, adding those risks are highest during construction.

He described the list of guidelines as a “flexible menu” of tools so inspectors can sit down with the developer and determine which of them will be required for different building projects.

The guidelines will be implemented immediately in Surrey, and Garis said he’ll be urging fire chiefs in other cities to adopt them as well.

@diakiw