OFMEM Building Permits for work required to comply with the Fire Code

Building Permits for work required to comply with the Fire Code, or an Inspection Order issued under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act

By Susan Clarke, P.Eng., MBA
Fire Protection Engineer
Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management

This article is reprinted from the Ontario Building Officials Association Journal Issue 103, September 2014, with permission

The following information is intended to assist building officials in evaluating building permit applications for proposed construction on existing buildings, where the construction is needed to satisfy the Fire Code, or an Inspection Order issued under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997 (FPPA).

Background

The Building Code is intended to be used for the design of new buildings, additions, renovations, and material alterations or repair of building systems. It is also used for changes of use where no construction is proposed, and where construction is proposed. The Fire Code is a set of minimum requirements respecting fire safety within existing buildings and the surrounding property. The two are intended to work together as companion regulations.

It may be necessary for work to be done on a building or a system, in order to comply with the Fire Code. If so, a building permit must be obtained to do this work. Similarly, where an Inspection Order is issued under the FPPA and work is necessary to comply with the order, a building permit must also be obtained. The work required may be to a lesser standard than what would be required for compliance with the Building Code.

Inspection Orders

One of the enforcement tools available to a fire inspector is to issue an Inspection Order directing the owner or occupant of a property to take an action to ensure fire safety. These are described in Section 21 of the FPPA as follows:

21.(1) An inspector who has carried out an inspection of land or premises under section 19 or 20 may order the owner or occupant of the land or premises to take any measure necessary to ensure fire safety on the land and premises and may for that purpose order the owner or occupant,

(a) to remove buildings or structures from the land or premises;

(b) to make structural and other repairs or alterations, including material alterations, to the buildings or structures;

(c) to remove combustible or explosive material or anything that may constitute a fire hazard;

(d) to install and use specified equipment or devices as may be necessary to contain hazardous material on the land or premises and, in the event of a fire, to remove or transport the material;

(e) to discontinue the manufacturing, production or fabrication of any material, device or other thing that creates or poses an undue risk of fire or explosion;

(f) to do anything respecting fire safety including anything relating to the containment of a possible fire, means of egress, fire alarms and detection, fire suppression and the preparation of a fire safety plan;

(g) to remedy any contravention of the fire code.

As several of these items may result in or involve construction or demolition, Section 22 of the FPPA ensures potential conflicts are averted where the building in question has been constructed to comply with the Building Code.

22.(1) No inspector shall make an order under clause 21 (1) (b) requiring structural repairs or alterations to a building, structure or premises that was constructed in compliance with the building code established under the Building Code Act, 1992 or under a predecessor to that Act and that continues to comply with that code as it existed at the time of construction, unless the order is necessary to ensure compliance with the provisions of the fire code relating to the retrofitting of existing buildings.

The Fire Code – examples of requirements that may necessitate construction

Work that may be required to comply with the Fire Code may be related to repair of existing construction, for example:

2.2.1.1. Where fire separations between major occupancies are damaged in a manner so as to affect the integrity of their fire-resistance rating, such damaged fire separations shall be repaired so that the integrity of the fire separations is maintained.

It may also relate to the installation, repair or replacement of service equipment:

2.6.1.12.(1) Commercial cooking equipment shall be provided with exhaust and fire protection systems in conformance with NFPA 96, “Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations.

Or to the introduction of extinguishing systems to protect property:

3.3.1.8.(1) Where the floor area of a tire storage location exceeds 250 m2, the floor area shall be provided with an approved automatic fire extinguishing system installed in conformance with NFPA 13, “Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems”.

Part 9, Retrofit of the Fire Code, provides for upgrading of existing buildings through retrofit. At times buildings will need to undergo construction in order to meet these requirements. The term “retrofit” is defined as the minimum performance requirements for life safety for existing buildings. Currently the Fire Code includes retrofit requirements for the following occupancies:

Assembly Occupancies
Boarding, Lodging and Rooming Houses
Health Care Facilities
Buildings up to and including 6 Storeys in Building Height with Residential Occupancies
Buildings Higher than 6 Storeys in Building Height with Residential Occupancies
Buildings with a Care Occupancy or Retirement Home
Two Unit Residential Occupancies
Hotels

Requirements for each of these occupancy types are outlined in dedicated Sections within Part 9 of the Fire Code. Each Section is further subdivided to address the four principles of life safety:

Containment
Means of egress
Fire alarm and detection
Suppression

Existing buildings containing these occupancy types are required to meet the minimum level of life safety established by the Fire Code. Often existing buildings predate the Building Code, or an important edition where particular fire safety features were introduced. Subsection 9.1.2. provides exemptions from retrofit provisions for buildings or parts that satisfy a referenced edition of the Building Code.

Building Code References

Often when work is required to comply with the Fire Code, reference is made to the Building Code, such as in Part 2:

2.6.1.4.(2) A chimney, flue, or flue pipe shall be replaced or repaired to eliminate
(a) any structural deficiency or decay …

(3) Chimneys, flues and flue pipes that constitute a fire hazard shall be repaired or replaced in accordance with the Building Code.

Part 9 includes numerous references to the Building Code, for example:

9.3.2.1. Fire separations required by this Section to have a fire-resistance rating shall comply with Subsection 9.10.3. of the 1986 Building Code.

9.5.3.7.(1) Each fire escape used as an exit shall be in accordance with Articles 3.4.7.2., 3.4.7.3., 3.4.7.5. and 3.4.7.6.of the 1990 Building Code.

Retrofit requirements for existing buildings may not be as stringent as those found in the Building Code, for instance:

9.7.5.1.  (1)  An automatic sprinkler system shall be installed in each building in accordance with NFPA 13, “Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems”.

(3)  Despite Sentence (1), in a building not greater than 6 storeys in building height, a sprinkler system may be installed in accordance with NFPA 13R, “Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Residential Occupancies up to and Including Four Stories in Height”.

The question that often arises is how to provide a building permit for work that meets Fire Code standards but does not always meet Building Code standards.

Building Permit Process

The Building Code Act, 1992 (BCA) provides a regulatory scheme requiring a permit from the Chief Building Official (CBO) before proceeding with construction (or demolition) in accordance with Subsection 8.(1) of the BCA. Neither the BCA nor the Building Code require that existing buildings be maintained or retrofitted, except for the maintenance of on-site sewage systems.

The CBO is required to issue permits provided several conditions are met, including that the proposal does not contravene the Building Code or any other applicable law:

8.(1)  No person shall construct or demolish a building or cause a building to be constructed or demolished unless a permit has been issued therefor by the chief building official.

(2)  The chief building official shall issue a permit referred to in subsection (1) unless,

(a) the proposed building, construction or demolition will contravene this Act, the building code or any other applicable law;

As previously mentioned, sometimes work specified in an Inspection Order issued under the FPPA or work required to comply with the Fire Code, does not meet Building Code standards. How can a building permit be issued in these instances?

Subsection 22.(2) of the FPPA states that work done to comply with either an Inspection Order or with the Fire Code is deemed not to contravene the Building Code.

22.(2) If repairs, alterations or installations are carried out in compliance with an order made under subsection 21 (1) or for the purposes of complying with the fire code, the repairs, alterations or installations shall be deemed not to contravene the building code established under the Building Code Act, 1992.

Therefore, when reviewing a building permit application for construction required for these purposes, the CBO should be aware of this provision in the FPPA.

Subsection 22.(3) of the FPPA requires the fire inspector making the order under the FPPA to give the CBO a copy of the order. This provision ensures that the CBO is made aware that an order requiring repair, alteration or installation under the FPPA has been issued by the Fire Inspector.

22.(3) An inspector who makes an order requiring repairs, alterations or installations to be made to a building, structure or premises shall furnish a copy of the order to the proper chief building official appointed under the Building Code Act, 1992.

As familiarity with Fire Code requirements is helpful when reviewing building permit applications for work to comply with either an Inspection Order or with the Fire Code, consultation with the municipal fire department may be necessary to ensure the plans review and inspections processes are coordinated.

Checking Municipal Records

Where an owner applies for a building permit to comply with an Inspection Order, and a review of municipal records indicates that the occupancy type is not consistent with that permitted by the zoning bylaws, s/he may issue a conditional permit as provided in the OBC reference:

1.3.1.5.(3) Div. C   For the purposes of issuing a conditional permit under subsection 8 (3) of the Act, a person is exempt from the requirement in clause 8 (3) (a) of the Act of compliance with by-laws passed under sections 34 and 38 of the Planning Act where the construction in respect of which the conditional permit is issued is required in order to comply with an order issued under subsection 21 (1) of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997 or under subsection 15.9 (4) of the Act.

(4)  A permit issued under subsection 8(3) of the Act shall indicate its conditional nature.

In this way the owner is able to satisfy the Inspection Order, but will be required to satisfy any conditions set by the CBO within a set time frame.

Where an owner applies for a building permit to comply with the Fire Code, and a review of municipal records indicates that the occupancy type on the OBC Matrix is not consistent with that on municipal records, the building official is encouraged to confer with fire and zoning officials to determine an appropriate course of action which may vary on a case by case basis, to ensure interim safety of the occupants in the building.