Building code Bill 52 to allow six-storey wood construction nixed with prorogation

Bill 52 is now dead wood.

Changes to Ontario’s Building Code to allow six-storey wood construction — instead of the current four-storeys — were being considered at Queen’s Park, via private members’ bills wanting to create demand for lumber.

The province was close to finalizing the Forestry Industry Revitalization Act, brought forward by Nipissing MPP Victor Fedeli, until the Legislature was prorogued by Lt.-Gov. David Onley earlier this week.

Now, “I have to start the entire process all over,” said Fedeli, a Conservative.

Bill 52 is aimed at rejuvenating Ontario’s northern economy.

“The north has been devastated,” said Fedeli, citing the closure of 60 mills and 10,000 resource jobs.

In addition, wood is being touted to reduce the carbon footprint and final cost to the consumer.

Fedeli said it’s a “great opportunity” when constructing mid-rise co-ops and townhomes.

On the other hand, the change unnecessarily increases the risk to the public and firefighters, according to the Fire Fighters’ Association of Ontario, representing 19,000 volunteers.

“Mistakes in this matter could cost lives,” said FFAO past president Carl G. Pearson.

“Hopefully we can have them built as safe as possible.”

Building materials often determine how firefighters battle a blaze.

“In a high-rise situation, usually the firefighters shelter in the stairwell,” said Pearson.

If the changes are implemented, “there’s really no safe place for them to work. There’s no fortified area,” he said.

While the issue remains up for debate, “anything that’s non-combustible basically buys us time,” said Ottawa Fire spokesman Marc Messier.

“Brick and concrete, obviously, are going to hold back the effects of flame and heat a lot better than wood.”

At the same time, “I’m not saying that (engineered) wood beams are not strong. The difference is how they perform under fire conditions,” Messier said.

In 2009, B.C. amended its code, and a “very favourable report” has been produced by the Fire Commissioner, said Fedeli, adding modern laminated lumber is fire resistant.

Regardless of where the Bill stands, buildings are pre-planned during the construction phase, Messier said, and exits, emergency exits, and stairwells are highlighted.

“We already know ahead of time what we’re up against,” said Messier.

Still, Pearson isn’t thrilled with politicians trying to move the bills forward ahead of the National Building Code, which limits wood-frame construction to four-storeys in most applications.

It’s slated to change in 2015.

Twitter: @ottawasunkroche

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