A New Guide for Fire Chiefs on Development Review
Author: Sean Tracey
Development Review and Community Risk Reduction
When we look at Community Risk Reduction programs, we need to consider that there are three tiers to public safety. First is that our communities are properly designed for the risks we face, second that we have inspection and education programs in place to protect the public and the built environment, and third, that we have properly sized and resourced emergency response capabilities.
It is important that fire chiefs get engaged in the proper design and application of standards to any new developments taking place in their community so that these designs reflect the capabilities of the fire service. From my experience, this has not consistently occurred in the past. It is believed that this is due to two factors: a lack of understanding and guidance for fire chiefs; and a lack understanding by planners of how their designs should be impacted by fire service capabilities. The handbook attempts to address this. It brings together the various design considerations from best practice documents not found in the NBC or OBC in one source.
Origins of The Handbook
The CAFC’s White Paper on residential fire sprinklers recently concluded that incentivization was the best way to promote sprinklers. Identifying incentives or trade-offs at the development approval stage meant that developers could take advantage of these systems – often installing them at significant savings and therefore mitigating affordability concerns. The problem was that too few fire departments were engaged in development review and did not have tools to advise them on what they should be looking for.
A challenge was that the best practices for fire safe communities are not formally adopted in regulations and therefore not uniformly applied. The model building code also only addresses individual buildings not subdivisions. The handbook therefore outlines what the requirements are and why the references have been chosen. It summarizes these principles as well as providing hyperlinks to all referenced documents should more detailed guidance be needed.
Elements of Fire Safe Community Design
Water supply for fire protection has been a long and complicated issue. The handbook identifies that there have been several different standards applied, sometimes incorrectly by communities. It emphasises that the widest used and best practice remains the Fire Underwriters Survey’s (FUS) Water Supply for Public Fire Protection – A Guide to Recommended Practice in Canada. This most accurately reflects the fire services needs to support multiple hose lines to fight the fire as well as for exposure protection. It includes guidance on determining number and location of hydrants.
Limiting distance in the OBC and NBC is similarly a very complicated issue. The handbook discusses in detail and how this is impacted if the arrival time of your effective response force is greater than 10 minutes. What are a community’s options when housing development proceeds outside of response times of the department. It includes where to find and update every community’s 10-minute response coverage maps on the FUS Municipal Portal.
The handbook also identifies how and when to consider wildland-urban interface risks and the application of FireSmart™ Canada principles found in the National Research Council of Canada National Guide for Wildland-Urban Interface Fires. A community can demand higher design standards in high-risk areas so that the responding department is given a greater chance to protect these structures.
Fire risk is greatest during construction. The handbook provides sample wording that can be added to development approval agreements that seek to limit the number of “open units” and thus mitigate the risk of conflagration.
A sample check sheet for development design approval is also provided. The intention is that the fire service can now confidently participate in the development design approval stage.
Incentivizing Residential Fire Sprinklers
Throughout the handbook information is provided on how the presence of residential fire sprinklers can impact the design requirements. In Canada we are seeing more developments being voluntarily sprinklered by developers as of means of overcoming some of these design challenges. Often these are due to the inability to address fire service needs. Having the fire service involved before the lots are developed identifies opportunities for incentives. Incentives that benefit developers and ultimate homebuyers by having their future homes sprinklered. Developments that can gain just 2 more building lots can fund the sprinkler protection of up to 50 homes in the development.
How to Access the Handbook
The handbook is being provide free for download from the Home Fire Sprinkler Canada website at: https://homefiresprinklercanada.ca/free-resources-stakeholders/.
What we ask in return is for feedback on your experiences in applying the document and how to improve it for future use. The next iteration will look at how to consider the approval of carriage or laneway homes based on Vancouver’s experience with this sprinkler protected properties – something of increasing benefit for housing affordability.
It is our sincere hope that the handbook will provide the support fire services need to become more confident in their role during the development review process. This may then lead to more developers voluntarily employing residential fire sprinklers and thus safer communities.