Ontario fires up 65% while property managers and boards navigate fire code compliance.
For many of our clients and for many of you reading this today you may have made decisions weeks ago about whether to test your fire alarm systems and in suites devices that should be revisited now.
When I heard from a client with multiple buildings that they had conducted the annual testing of their common area life safety systems but not their in-suite devices due to COVID-19 I was concerned. The manager had been advised by her service provider that she did not have to do the in-suite testing. So they skipped the in suite in several buildings. Some managers were advised by contractors to postpone testing completely. The messages have been inconsistent.
What is the accurate advice for your buildings, your fire code compliance and the safety of your residents and staff? When you talk to a professional you should be able to rely on their advice.
As a fire code consulting firm, many of our clients have reached out to ask us about this, I have been monitoring the evolving information and opinions and I recognize how these inconsistencies could have happened.
So why the confusion?
Like every industry there was varying information emerging, while everyone was dealing with the shock and quickly evolving nature of the pandemic.
The Canadian Fire Alarm Association (CFAA) released guidelines in April stipulating that it may be reasonable to postpone in-suite testing. Testing is regulated by the National test Standard CAN/ULC-S536, which you and your service providers follow for annual testing. The Ontario Fire Marshal’s office and many fire departments subsequently stipulated that the fire code is the law and ALL testing must continue. May 5th, CFAA released a COVID-19 Bulletin amending their position slightly and stating that you should talk to your fire alarm contractor and authorities and you must track who helped you to make any decision to deviate from the fire code, when postponing any testing. UL released a statement saying – If circumstances prevent you from complying with the written requirements of the Standard you must document your alternate procedures, when the change went into affect and when it will go out of practice.
There were contractors, fire professionals and municipal opinions that differed even within the same organization. It’s no wonder varying interpretations and actions were taken.
The main consistent message was that fire alarm service providers are an essential service. In the early COVID-19 days I spoke to one provider who stayed at 100% capacity, and others that had reduced or closed completely. Depending on when you spoke to your fire alarm service contractor, and which stage of COVID-19 we were in, you may have been advised to postpone testing, to do common areas and not in-suite, or to proceed with all testing.
This was a new situation for everyone. Everyone was impacted differently and depending on what was happening day to day we made the best decisions we could with the information available.
The big question is what do you do now? We are experiencing a significant increase in home fires, up to 65% in Ontario with the leading causes being careless cooking and smoking. We need to keep our people and our buildings safe.
The bottom line is, the Fire Code is the law. If you are a townhouse complex, remind your residents to check their smoke alarm and CO detectors. If you have common systems, all Life Safety system testing should be completed as scheduled, with safety precautions in place where reasonable to do so. Where not feasible, or unsafe to do so – document which devises were unable to be tested and why. If you missed any of your testing or if it is due, schedule it. Start by speaking to your service provider, if they refuse to conduct in-suite testing, ask why. You have a legal obligation to maintain your buildings Fire Code Compliance even if your service provider is unable or unwilling to assist you. If you are concerned that their reasoning does not meet your obligation, you should seek a second opinion.
Be reasonable. Be informed. Be realistic. And remember, you are not alone!
Michele Farley, FCS Fire Consulting Services LTD.
President & Senior Fire Code Consultant
**The information in this article is general information and is current as of the date of publication, May 25, 2020. For information specific to your building or situation please reach out to your professionals or to FCS Fire Consulting Services directly.**