The rules have changed in Ontario in order to make it easier for firefighters to be aware of lightweight construction of roofs before they go into a burning building. Local fire chiefs are welcoming the announcement.
On March 17, 2011, firefighters Ken Rea and Ray Walter were killed in Listowel, Ontario when the roof of a burning commercial building collapsed. The fire department had been unaware the roof was made of lightweight wooden trusses, which can quickly give away during a fire. Firefighters from all over Canada and the United States — including Champlain Township — traveled to Listowel for Rea and Walter’s public funeral.
In 2017, the local Member of Provincial Parliament Randy Pettapiece (PC—Perth-Wellington) introduced a private member’s bill in the Ontario Legislature called the Rea and Walter Act which was to require the identification of buildings with wood or other lightweight construction materials.
Rather than adopt the changes through legislation, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has announced amendments to the Ontario Building Code which will require municipal Chief Building Officials across the province to notify local fire departments when buildings other than houses will be constructed or renovated using lightweight materials.
To address existing buildings with lightweight construction, Ontario Fire Marshal Jon Pegg issued a directive on February 25, 2022, requiring municipalities to document them in their Community Risk Assessments—and to use that information to plan fire suppression activities and help ensure firefighter safety.
“The best way to reduce the risk to firefighters is to give them as much information as possible about the buildings in their communities,” Pettapiece said in Listowel on March 17, 2022, the 11th anniversary of the tragic fire.
“The reason for these changes is simple: to save lives,” he emphasized.
Pettapiece also announced that the Ontario government has requested that lightweight construction identification be harmonized and required in building codes across Canada. Those efforts are already underway through National Research Council and the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes.
The fire chiefs of Champlain Township and Hawkesbury say having the hazards identified will make conditions safer for firefighters.
“The buildings will be identified in our system,” said Champlain Township Director of Fire Services Ghislain Pigeon, who remembers taking a bus of fellow firefighters to Listowel for Rea and Walter’s memorial service in 2011.
“It’s good information to know,” Pigeon remarked.
Hawkesbury Fire Chief Normand Beauchamp said an inventory of the lightweight construction materials in buildings throughout the town will be made when a new risk assessment is done every five years.
“We have to determine our lightweight structures,” he said.
Fire department incident commanders and other municipal staff will also be trained to ensure the new directives are followed. Lightweight materials hazards will also be added to the may-day training firefighters receive.
Beauchamp said the adjustment will be easy in Hawkesbury because the Building and Planning Department already includes the Fire Department in its processes when construction and renovation work occurs at building sites.
“For us, it’s easy because we have a good building department,” Beauchamp said.