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B.C. policy stifled fire safety concerns to promote mass timber highrises, documents show

daftandbarmy

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When 'woke enviro' political agendas risks people's lives unnecessarily....

B.C. policy stifled fire safety concerns to promote mass timber highrises, documents show​

Briefing note said cities needed 'organizational alignment' from fire officials to put up tall wood buildings​


Three years ago, while much of the world hunkered down to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic, the B.C. government set its sights on the sky. It began planning how to fill urban horizons with more highrise living space and office towers using wood as the structural skeleton instead of traditional cement and steel. It was a lofty goal that's being emulated in cities around the world.

To do it, B.C. created the Office of Mass Timber Implementation (OMTI), the first government office in the world with a broad and powerful mandate to make it easier to build with mass timber — a catch-all term that encompasses a variety of engineered products made up of smaller pieces of wood often held together with adhesives.

But documents obtained by CBC News through an access to information request show the OMTI was so concerned about public discussion of so-called "tall wood" buildings — those higher than six storeys — that it barred municipalities from building them unless they guaranteed their local fire officials would be aligned with planning and building departments regarding any concerns they might have, including fire risks.

'Organizational alignment' policy​

That policy is euphemistically referred to as "organizational alignment" in a briefing note written by a director of the OMTI in August 2020 for B.C.'s then-minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

The note explains the policy was instituted to "preclude mixed messages about the advantages and trade-offs" of building with mass timber. But the OMTI appears to have been trying to muzzle any messages that didn't align with the ones it was putting out.

"This strategy was based on experience when B.C. increased the allowable height of wood construction from four to six storeys in 2009," the briefing note explained.

"In that case, media coverage featured some conflicting opinions about wood, perhaps even from staff within the same jurisdiction, with planning department staff welcoming a more affordable means of urban densification whereas fire departments were sharing concerns about fire risk," the document said.

Fire officials shared concerns in 2009​

Indeed, a number of news stories in 2009 featured fire officials in Victoria and elsewhere expressing concern that provincial building code changes at that time had been rushed without consideration for whether street water flows were sufficient to battle a six-storey mass timber building fire.

Richmond, B.C.'s chief fire prevention officer told CBC News he was concerned their ladder trucks wouldn't be adequate. Two years later, the first six-storey wood frame housing project built under the new code burned to the ground while it was still under construction in Richmond. Firefighters were unable to put out the fire.

 
particularly if B.C. Rockies magical unicorn coal is used to power the wood processing...
C0153474-Roberts_Bank_Superport,_Canada.jpg
I think the mass pile of magical unicorn coal is tribute to our election interfering overlords as opposed to being used for more domestic purposes. I guess we do get it back in the guise of cheap crap from Walmart. Besides, the evil carbon emissions will stay on their side of the international date line, right?
 
C0153474-Roberts_Bank_Superport,_Canada.jpg
I think the mass pile of magical unicorn coal is tribute to our election interfering overlords as opposed to being used for more domestic purposes. I guess we do get it back in the guise of cheap crap from Walmart. Besides, the evil carbon emissions will stay on their side of the international date line, right?

Even the ones that don't are low carbon emitters ;)

China Balloon GIF by Storyful
 
C0153474-Roberts_Bank_Superport,_Canada.jpg
I think the mass pile of magical unicorn coal is tribute to our election interfering overlords as opposed to being used for more domestic purposes. I guess we do get it back in the guise of cheap crap from Walmart. Besides, the evil carbon emissions will stay on their side of the international date line, right?
I agree with you 98.6753%, but don’t rule out the possibility of skimming to help ‘friends and family’ in the business… ;)
 
The one which blows my mind is that they can also make basement foundations out of wood now. Personally I don’t trust it and it seems like a bad idea for the long term.
 
I just sorta read this. What fucking idiot thought this up?
Someone who thinks that transitioning to a resource that otherwise absorbs CO2 and creates oxygen is a great idea in a world that apparently has too much CO2…
 
The one which blows my mind is that they can also make basement foundations out of wood now. Personally I don’t trust it and it seems like a bad idea for the long term.
Consider this before you close your mind to the idea: the Empire State building is constructed on wooden piles.
 
I've been following this pretty closely and done right, you can get some really impressive buildings, but takes a really deep understanding of the risks and how fire fighting tactics work to do reasonably safely. I don't believe we have the test results to do this yet, and generally the scientists and architects operate independently of actual fire fighters, which is weird.

You can't just drop it in place though, as things like available water flow for spinklers and FF may require significant infrastructure upgrades, and local firehalls may need things like more ladder trucks. And tactics like 'shelter in place' need to be really closely looked at, which is something that didn't work in Grenhall Tower specifically because the facing material was flammable and didn't have horizontal breaks on top of it, as well as normal things like compromised fire doors etc.

Honestly I wouldn't want to live in one as a fire safety engineer at the moment in general, as the exceptions like the UBC residence needed a massive amount of extra work to not be built within code and demonstrate it was the equivalent level of safety performance.
 
Consider this before you close your mind to the idea: the Empire State building is constructed on wooden piles.
I just don’t see the value other than it being cheaper when poured concrete foundations are just fundamentally better. To each their own, it just seems to be going to a worse process for questionable value.
 
First point of clarification - I'm not a structural fire fighter or engineer.

That being said I have been told, multiple times that the wood buildings are actually positive in many cases for fire suppression as opposed to steel frame. Wood, when burnt, chars and consumes slowly which actually allows for fire fighters to have more time to fight the fire vs. the aluminum/steel stud framing common on many larger buildings now which tend to buckle through the heat and cause more structural issues....note this is what I've been told only. We are not talking major I-beams here but the 2x4 stud alternatives being used that are causing issues.

The bigger problem as I understand it is the amount of synthetic materials in both cladding (siding/roofing) and internal (polyester couches) that burn much hotter that the wool/wood furnature of our grandparents which has raised different concerns over the ability for firefighters to be able to responsed effectively. I want to say the old standard was a house with 10min of a fire hall and there has been discussion over is this too long of time.

In regards to the wood buildings overall I'm okay with lower level buildings but only in the context of everything else (adjacency to other buildings, internal mechanisms such as sprinklers, functional alternative escape routes) that should be applied to all larger mutli-story buildings not just wood laminates. I definitely don't want to go Soviet style concrete blocks of questionable integrity that you see around the world but also believe there are some options, with limited risk, to allow for moderate level density construction (4-6 stories). After that you're into a whole nother level of building engineering dynamics.
 
The one which blows my mind is that they can also make basement foundations out of wood now. Personally I don’t trust it and it seems like a bad idea for the long term.
Lots of those around from the 1970's onwards here in town. That is down though, with limited weight bearing loads, for a single bungalow home. We just don't hear about them as much but it was something I was avoiding when looking at homes.
 
First point of clarification - I'm not a structural fire fighter or engineer.

That being said I have been told, multiple times that the wood buildings are actually positive in many cases for fire suppression as opposed to steel frame. Wood, when burnt, chars and consumes slowly which actually allows for fire fighters to have more time to fight the fire vs. the aluminum/steel stud framing common on many larger buildings now which tend to buckle through the heat and cause more structural issues....note this is what I've been told only. We are not talking major I-beams here but the 2x4 stud alternatives being used that are causing issues.

The bigger problem as I understand it is the amount of synthetic materials in both cladding (siding/roofing) and internal (polyester couches) that burn much hotter that the wool/wood furnature of our grandparents which has raised different concerns over the ability for firefighters to be able to responsed effectively. I want to say the old standard was a house with 10min of a fire hall and there has been discussion over is this too long of time.

In regards to the wood buildings overall I'm okay with lower level buildings but only in the context of everything else (adjacency to other buildings, internal mechanisms such as sprinklers, functional alternative escape routes) that should be applied to all larger mutli-story buildings not just wood laminates. I definitely don't want to go Soviet style concrete blocks of questionable integrity that you see around the world but also believe there are some options, with limited risk, to allow for moderate level density construction (4-6 stories). After that you're into a whole nother level of building engineering dynamics.
In buildings with steel structural supports they are generally insulated if they have a structural fire requirement. Wood beams in new construction have the same performance requirement. So if a beam, column etc has a 2 hour rating they all have to meet the same performance, regardless of material. For steel all that means is you need to insulate it so it doesn't hit 640 C (I think?) during fire testing which is where it loses a huge amount of strength. We've been able to do that for 70 years, and lots of really innovative solutions to help with that.

'Wood beam' is also a misnomer. We no longer have giant trees sitting around, so the wood is usually some kind of engineered beam (like glulam). Engineered wood beams have been shown to fail well before fire response time and basically has killed a bunch of firefighters in house fires when the floors collapsed. Normal softwood beams would have charred, and steel similarly would have been fine. Here is a really good, practical study out of the US.

Improving Fire Safety by Understanding the Fire Performance of Engineered Floor Systems | UL's FSRI – Fire Safety Research Institute

Fire performance for old wood is hugely variable; some were soaked in pitch/kerosene for pest control, so are incredibly dry, and in the Notre dame example, has been coated in a few centuries of wax and linseed oil and basically where candles. Here is a paper that goes into that as well, and Prof Gales at UoT does a lot of work on this for heritage buildings.

Fire performance of heritage and contemporary timber encapsulation materials

Basically it's all really complicated, and you need to really look at it case by case around the actual design, but also location and local resources. Something simple like assumed response time also goes out the window everytime a city does the normal tortured path for suburb traffic control, and stupid things like small roundabouts everywhere. In Waterloo there was a neighbourhood that would take me 10 minutes to walk through on foot by cutting through some fields, but was a 20 minute drive in a single lane nightmare with tiny roundabouts etc.

As a fire protection engineer focused on marine, only see bits and pieces of it, but it seems like the wood designs rely a lot more on active systems (fire detection, sprinkler, etc) than passive design features to get the equivalent safety. Which is okay, but does mean you have much lower tolerance for normal everyday system issues that happen in the real world. For the fire inspectors, they really need to know this kind of thing. With standard concrete and steel box highrises, even if active systems fail, there is a lot of basic passive features that will do their thing regardless.

I think it's a good example of something looking awesome in theory that doesn't work as well in real life, but pretty common thing that comes up when you have engineers and scientists that work to some prescriptive code vice in service ones that work on real world issues, and also why there are huge safety margins built into codes to account for those kind of unknown variables.
 
@Navy_Pete

Thanks so much. Aware of some of the manufacturing of beams but definitely out of my lane on the emergency response side. Really appreciate the links and chance to learn some more beyond the basic article
 
@Navy_Pete

Thanks so much. Aware of some of the manufacturing of beams but definitely out of my lane on the emergency response side. Really appreciate the links and chance to learn some more beyond the basic article
No problem; the FSRI is a great resource for a lot of practical research and really like their general approach. They have a lot of actual firefighters that have gone into science so they really look at the the implications for first responders.
 
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