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Downtown Fire Inspection Program

Ontario is one of the safest jurisdictions in the world because of its stringent safety requirements, including fire and building codes.  In April 2016 the Fire Prevention Division will initiate a new "Downtown Fire Safety Inspection Program" to help ensure compliance with the Ontario Fire Code requirements at buildings and businesses in the downtown core of the City of St. Catharines. 

WHY IS THIS AREA BEING FOCUSED?

All municipal fire departments in Ontario are required to complete a simplified risk assessment and to develop plans and programs to address their identified risks.  The simplified risk assessment for the city has identified the downtown area as one of our highest risk areas based on a number of factors which include, age of construction, type of construction, lack of spatial separations, access issues, type of occupancies, economic impact of a fire and other factors. 

This program will help to protect not only the lives of those who work, live and play in the downtown core but also the investment that many people have made in their businesses and properties. 

WHAT AREA OF DOWNTOWN IS BEING INSPECTED?

Historical city boundaries
The initial phase of the program beginning in April 2016 will focus inspections approximately on the original communities' borders (1853 in black); those being the old canal valley to the south and west, Church Street to the north and Niagara Street to the east.   In the future, additional phases of the program will extend outwardly as indicated on the image above.  Fire inspectors will continue to enforce the fire code throughout the remainder of the city during this period in addition to the downtown initiative.

WHAT WILL THE INSPECTION PROCESS INVOLVE?

 

Although every building downtown is unique, the inspection process will generally be similar.  The steps that will be involved during the inspection process are similar to those followed for all inspection and will include. 

An onsite visit to the property.

  • Access to all areas of the building.  This will include residential apartments, service rooms, etc.  This may also include access to the roof to inspect commercial cooking exhaust systems, fire walls etc.   In some cases we may require the use of ladders to check above ceiling tiles, inspect kitchen exhausts or test smoke alarms
  • A review of a buildings existing fire safety plan when applicable.
  • A review of all written records related to the maintenance of the fire and life safety equipment in the building.
  • Detailed notes as well as photographs may be taken during the inspection process. These photographs are to assist inspectors in refreshing their memories when reviewing the code requirements for your property.   
  • Inspectors may also request a copy of written records related to the fire and life safety equipment.
  • Inspectors will complete a property information form.  This information will be used to update Fire Services records to ensure we are able to provide you with the best service in an emergency situation.
  • Inspections are based on visual observations only.  Destructive testing or inspections are normally not required.

Inspectors will prepare an inspection order identifying any violations of the Ontario Fire Code along with actions to correct these violations and a compliance date.  The compliance dates identified will be based on a number of factors.

A copy of the inspection order shall be sent to the owner.  In most cases a copy of the order will also be required to be posted on site.

The property will be re-inspected for compliance.  In some cases multiple re-inspections may be necessary to achieve compliance.

When compliance is achieved, the posted inspection order can be removed and the property will be indicated in fire service records as having complied with the outstanding order on the date of final inspection.  If a compliance letter stating the same is requested, a Fire Regulation Compliance Letter can be provided for $125 (based on 2016 Schedule of Rates and Fees)

DOES RETROFIT APPLY TO ALL BUILDINGS?

No the buildings generally under consideration will normally fall into one of the following categories:

  • Most residential buildings with more than one unit constructed prior to 1992
  • Assembly occupancies (bars, restaurants etc. with more than 30 persons) constructed prior to 1987

DO I HAVE TO MEET CURRENT BUILDING CODES OR UPGRADE THE ENTIRE BUILDING?

No, the Fire Code is not intended to bring your building into compliance with the current Building Codes.  The Fire Protection and Prevention Act which is the legislation that the Fire Code is established under provides protection for an owner to meet a lesser code.  In many cases you will still be required to obtain a building permit but in most cases the referenced building code will be less stringent than those currently in place.

MY BUILDING IS UNIQUE, I CAN NOT ACHIEVE COMPLIANCE...

Although the Fire Code has attempted to provide some options to achieve compliance as well as accepting some existing conditions, in some cases it is recognized that there are buildings that still cannot achieve compliance.  In these cases an owner may obtain a Life Safety Study prepared by a professional engineer or architect.  Additional information on a Life Safety Study can be obtained from the Fire Prevention Office or by viewing Division B, Subsection 9.1.4 of the Ontario Fire Code.

CAN YOU NOT JUST SEND A LETTER OR REPORT?

Although we recognize that previously you may have been accustomed to receiving an inspection report or letter from the Fire Service, this form of correspondence is not recognized by provincial legislation.  

WHY IS THIS ORDER POSTED ON THE BUILDING?

It is legislated that all occupants of the building are served with a copy of the order, this would include tenants, as well as patrons and visitors.  The most effective means of doing this is by posting an order in a conspicuous place in or outside the building.

CAN I APPEAL THE INSPECTION ORDER?

Unlike inspection reports or letters, Inspection Orders provide for the right of appeal.  These appeals are not done at the municipal level and are completely independent of the City or its Fire Service.  Your appeal rights are included as part of the Inspection Order.  Note that the time to submit an appeal is governed by this process.

HOW IS THE COMPLIANCE DATE DETERMINED?

A number of factors will be taken into account when determining a compliance date.  In cases where the violation will have a serious impact on the safety of occupants a shorter compliance time may be necessary. Where an item which requires a building permit will be provided additional time to achieve compliance.  In some cases you may be asked to put in place temporary alternative measures while you work to achieve compliance.

WHAT IS ZERO TOLERANCE?

Although in most cases inspectors will provide for an opportunity to achieve compliance in a reasonable time it may be necessary to take immediate action to eliminate or alleviate a risk to the public.  This could include missing alarms as well as locked or blocked exits.  In addition some violations could result in prosecution such as where required smoke or CO alarms are lacking or inoperable, in the case or a fire alarm or sprinkler system is found disabled.

WHAT IS RETROFIT?

Retrofit is the upgrading of certain existing buildings, which may have been built to older or even predate building codes and brings them to a higher level of fire and life safety.  Retrofit is not intended to bring existing building up to the current code.  Retrofit achieves this by addressing the following areas:

  • Containment (Fire separations)
  • Means of egress (Exits)
  • Fire alarms & detection (Smoke alarms)
  • Suppression (sprinklers & standpipe)

 

 

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