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Remy blaze sparks tightening of fire codes - in Surrey

Concern over six-storey wooden buildings continues

It remains to be seen whether Richmond will follow Surrey's lead in installing sprinklers and fire doors earlier in large woodframe developments.

Surrey's fire chief, Len Garis, revealed the new rules this week because of concerns raised by several devastating residential construction fires in wood-frame buildings, including the massive blaze at the Remy project in Richmond earlier this year.

Garis, who is also president of the Fire Chiefs' Association of B.C., worked with developers and a fire protection expert to develop a set of fire safety guidelines that are expected to be finalized and in place in about a week's time. Under the new rules, contractors will be required to submit detailed fire safety plans during the permit approval stage, Garis said.

Fire safety plans have always been required, but the new guidelines formalize and fully develop the requirements of the plan. Garis is urging other fire departments to follow Surrey's lead.

"As the president (of the Fire Chiefs' Association of B.C.), I will be sharing these guidelines with my colleagues, and advising them that they might want to take these guidelines, or portions of them, very seriously in their communities to try to avoid some of the things we've seen in our experience in Surrey and Richmond," Garis said.

He said that as custodians of the B.C. Fire Services Act, fire chiefs in all cities have the authority to implement changes such as Surrey's.

The cause of the May 3 fire at Remy in Richmond is still undetermined and city officials do not know when they might have an answer, if ever, Richmond's corporate communication officer Kim Decker said.

Neither could Decker say whether Richmond is considering following in Surrey's footsteps.

The provincial government is waiting to find out how the Remy fire started before considering any changes to the building code, a spokesman for the Ministry of Energy and Mines, which oversees the building code, said in a statement.

"Once the fire investigation is complete and we know the cause, we will look at the evidence and determine what, if any, further action may be required on construction fire safety," the statement reads.

But Garis isn't waiting for provincial changes, and is going ahead with strategies designed to prevent construction fires, which occur when wooden structures are at their most vulnerable and present the greatest risk to surrounding buildings.

One of the strategies included in the new Surrey guidelines is installing sprinklers as each floor is built, and turning them on when workers go home for the night.

Another is to install fire doors earlier and close them when workers are not on site. Better fire safety education and supervision during hot work, such as soldering, and more active after-hours security are also proposed.

"If there is any soldering or welding where sparks or arcs occur, (workers should) make sure that the area is wetted down, and that people are responsible for looking after that," Garis said.

"We're anticipating that there will be a greater emphasis on site security and site supervision. Site security after hours will actually be moving through the site looking for potential problems and making sure that they are corrected."

Any fires that do occur will be smaller, be more contained and then will potentially be extinguished by these systems, Garis said.

The fire department will enforce the fire safety plans with random inspections, Garis said.

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