In the late 1800’s, the fire and building codes began their first developments out of a necessity to stem the incidence of death, injury, property, and economic loss due to fire and related hazards. This necessity continues today.
While this blog is written from my perspective as a roaming fire inspector, who deals mainly with the application of the National Fire Code, I must make mention of the National Building Code as the two are very much inter-related.
History of the National Fire Code and National Building Code in Saskatchewan
The National Fire Code (NFC) and the National Building Code (NBC) were first adopted as regulations in the Province of Saskatchewan in the early 1980’s. The NFC is an adopted regulation in the Saskatchewan Fire Safety Act and the NBC is an adopted regulation in the Saskatchewan Uniform Building Standards and Accessibility Standards Act.
These two Acts mandate the local authority’s requirement and authority to enforce the NFC and NBC within their jurisdictions. Generally, fire inspectors apply and enforce the NFC on existing buildings while building officials apply and enforce the NBC on new building construction, re-construction, alterations, and change of use.
Application of the Codes
The NFC and NBC each contain provisions that deal with the safety of people in buildings in the event of a fire, and the protection of buildings from the effects of fire. These two codes were developed as complementary and coordinating documents to minimize the possibility of their containing conflicting provisions.
These are objective-based National Model Codes that are adopted by provincial and territorial governments. To suit their local needs, provinces such as British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec have adopted their own fire and building codes. These province-specific codes are largely based on the National Codes.
Legislatively it is required that buildings comply with both the NBC and the NFC. The NBC generally applies at the time of construction and reconstruction. The NFC applies to the ongoing use and safe occupation of a building and continued maintenance of its fire-related and safety features.
The scope of each of these codes as they relate to fire safety and fire protection can be summarized as follows:
- The National Building Code covers the fire safety and fire protection features required to be incorporated in a building at the time of its original construction.
Building Codes typically no longer apply once a building is occupied unless the building is undergoing an alteration, change of use, or is being demolished. This is an important statement because it is the fire inspector who often discovers these situations.
In these cases, the fire inspector should engage a building official to evaluate if the current Building Code must be enforced. The Building Code will also apply to an existing building where the Fire Code directs a provision to be in conformance with the NBC, such as fire separations and means of egress.
- A building can only maintain its intended fire safety and fire protection through ongoing compliance with the National Fire Code.
The NFC includes provisions for:
- Building and occupant fire safety
- Indoor and outdoor storage
- Flammable and combustible liquids
- Hazardous process and operations
- Fire protection equipment
- Fire emergency systems in high buildings
The NFC does contain provisions regarding fire safety and fire protection features that must be added to existing buildings when certain hazardous activities or processes are introduced in these buildings.
Legislated requirements in the Saskatchewan Fire Safety Act for building owners and local authorities can be interpreted and summarized as follows:
- Building owners are responsible to ensure their buildings continually meet all applicable provisions of the National Fire Code.
- The local authority (fire chief or acting fire chief) is responsible to enforce the National Fire Code as a regulation in the Fire Safety Act within its jurisdiction.
How can these responsibilities be accomplished? With onsite fire and life safety inspections conducted by trained and certified fire inspectors. In doing so, the building owner is made aware of which provisions of the NFC require compliance. The local authority is then fulfilling its mandated requirement to enforce the NFC within its jurisdiction.
Frequency of Fire Inspections
The local authority can set the frequency of fire and life safety inspections of each occupancy classification based on its needs and resources. The frequency often varies among jurisdictions.
Common fire and life safety inspection frequencies are:
- Every 1 to 2 years –
for assembly, residential, care / treatment, detention, and high hazard Industrial
- Every 2 to 3 years –
for business / personal service, mercantile, low and medium hazard industrial
- Every year –
provincially-regulated private care facilities and daycare centres require an annual fire and life safety inspection to maintain their licensing*
(*Please note that the Province does not mandate that its own hospitals, long-term care centres and schools in small communities receive regular fire and life safety inspections.)
It is important to note that follow-up inspections are absolutely crucial in ensuring Fire Code compliance. An initial time frame of 30 days is a typical “remedy by” requirement by fire inspectors.
Where voluntary compliance cannot be achieved, the fire inspection process includes enforcement procedures such as fines, orders to remedy, and prosecutions.
Given this information, you might ask, “Does every local authority fulfill its responsibility of enforcing the National Fire Code within its jurisdiction?” Alarmingly, in too many under-resourced jurisdictions across the country, the answer is, “No.” The reasons for that are few and many, simple and complicated, comprehensible and incomprehensible.
Despite the array of reasons for this, one thing is indisputable: This should not be an accepted norm. The potential grim consequences are easily foreseeable and, in most cases, preventable. Sadly, as I write this, it is a somber reality that in many of these smaller communities tonight, there are families sleeping in rental houses and apartments that have no smoke alarm protection and obstructed bedroom windows. This leaves them little chance of escape in a fire.
These two common fire code contraventions are easily identified and remedied. Local authorities and building owners just have to fulfill their mandated responsibilities.