A construction crane lowers new roof trusses onto the top floor of the fire-damaged Paddington Station building in Langley City. It was unclear if the rebuilt four-storey would have balcony sprinklers, required under a new law that was passed following the Paddington fire. Dan Ferguson Langley Times

Rebuilding of Paddington Station underway in Langley City

Unclear if repairs will add balcony sprinklers to the building

A construction crane was lifting roof trusses into place on Tuesday as crews began building a new fourth floor on the Paddington Station building on 201A Street near 56 Avenue in Langley City that was destroyed by a fire experts said would have done far less damage if the building had balcony sprinklers.

It was not clear if the rebuilt structure will have balcony sprinklers, which will be required under new provincial regulations that were approved in the wake of the Dec. 11 fire.

Those regulations will take effect July 20.

The restoration work is purely structural and the company carrying out the repairs has yet to apply for the necessary permits to install sprinklers.

City mayor Ted Schaffer said if the application is made after July 20, staff expect the builder would be planning a balcony sprinkler system.

“We as a city hope that they do,” Schaffer said.

Paddington Station strata council president Donna Francis said the decision is up to the insurer and the company handling the restoration work, but owners would prefer to have sprinklers installed.

“It’s out of our hands,” Francis told The Times.

“One hundred per cent, it’s (balcony sprinklers) what we hope for that building,” Francis said.

“We would be disappointed with a capital D,” if the building doesn’t benefit from the new rules that were introduced in response to the fire, she added.

The company doing the structural restoration work declined comment.

The fire left more than 100 people homeless and did an estimated $14 million of damage.

Investigators have determined that the cause of the fire was the result of the disposal of smoking materials on a 4th floor balcony.

While the building had sprinklers, there were none on the balconies or in the attic because provincial building code regulations did not require them in four-storey wood-frame buildings.

“If this building (Paddington) had sprinklers on the balconies and in the attic, this fire likely would not have spread into the attic space,” a report by Langley City fire chief Rory Thompson said.

Once a fire penetrates the balcony ceiling, it is directly into the attic space, Thompson said.

That’s a problem because the B.C. Building Code does not require fire separations between the ceiling of the top floor balconies and attic spaces.

The Thompson report said most apartment roofs are constructed using light-weight truss construction that starts to fail after five to 10 minutes of flame exposure.

In the Paddington Station fire, firefighters had the balcony fire knocked down from the exterior within five minutes of arrival, Thompson said.

“However, the first attack team into the apartment of origin reported heavy fire conditions already in the attic space.”

The report noted that the National Building Code (NBC) requires the installation of sprinklers on balconies on four-storey buildings.

The NBC is a model building code issued by the National Research Council of Canada which has no legal status until adopted by regulators.

Thompson also cited a study by Surrey fire chief Len Garis and Dr. Joseph Clare on fire reports provided by the B.C. Office of the Fire Commissioner, which found roughly one in 10 multi-residential building fires originate from an outside area, either an exterior balcony or “court/patio/terrace area.”

Fires that commence on a building’s exterior were 5.5 times less likely to activate a smoke alarm and 1.4 times more likely to require visual sighting or some other means of personal detection the study found.

There have been 18 balcony fires in the City in the past five years, nine of them requiring direct intervention by the fire department.

All of the nine were caused by improper disposal of “smoker’s material,” usually cigarettes butted out in planters, Thompson said.

“Smoker’s material needs to be disposed of in proper ashtrays,” Thompson said.

“Potting soil often contains peat moss which is combustible.”

Chief Thompson said the department would like to see installation of sprinklers both on balconies and in attics of all multi-story residential buildings.

“If this building (Paddington) had sprinklers on the balconies and in the attic, this fire likely would not have spread into the attic space.”

Langley City Council responded by calling on Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for housing, to issue a ministerial order requiring sprinklers on the balconies of all new wood-frame four-storey multi-unit residential buildings, effective immediately.

While Coleman said the provincial government planned to add a requirement for sprinklers on the balconies of four-storey wood-frame apartment buildings when the B.C. Building Code is next updated, that was not expected to happen for another year or two.

In March, the provincial government announced fire sprinklers will be required on the balconies of all new four-storey wood-frame residential buildings effective July 20.

The announcement said the new sprinkler requirements would not take effect until July 20 to allow time for the industry to adapt to the new requirement.

Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman, the then-minister responsible for housing, had said work on the revised building code was underway before the City fire that left more than 100 people homeless.

“Although the next edition of our building code won’t be adopted until late 2017, we wanted to implement this change as soon as possible, in the interest of safety,” Coleman said.

The government announcement said building codes and fire sprinkler standards only apply at the time of construction and cannot be retroactively required on existing buildings.

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