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Safer homes could save lives

Posted on March 12, 2019 by Sunny South News

A house fire in Halifax last month which claimed the lives of seven children has prompted discussion about boosting fire safety standards.

Witness reports about the fast-moving fire in a newly built housing area in Halifax have led to suggestions of making changes to the national building code to better protect homes from fire.

“I think we’re going to learn from this tragedy and you may actually end up seeing some changes coming in the codes as a result of this,” Phil Rizcallah, director for construction research and development with the National Research Council of Canada, said in a Canadian Press story.

While Halifax Fire Deputy Chief Dave Meldrum has not spoken about the specifics of last week’s blaze which killed all seven children of Ebraheim and Kawthar Barho, he noted that “new homes are built with light-weight construction. Once fire barriers are penetrated, rapid fire spread is possible in new construction.”

One of those in favour of stepping up building standards to improve fire resistance is Mike Holmes, the well-known TV host and one of the country’s leading contractors.

Holmes said in the Canadian Press story that new homes should be built with fire-resistant materials that will slow the spread of fire. He noted the use of hardwood and older lumber with tighter grains used in older homes can better resist “flame spread” than the younger wood used in new homes today.

“We can build with wood, we just need to treat it,” Holmes said.

Another option is the use of sprinkler systems, though Holmes would prefer the use of fire-resistant materials.

“I don’t want to introduce more plumbing in a home that I’m trying to keep dry,” he said.

“However, if we’re not going to use fire-resistant products maybe we should enforce a sprinkler system … to build a home that just won’t burn like that house did.”

Rizcallah said the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes looked into the issue of residential sprinklers about a year ago but didn’t see sufficient evidence to make sprinklers mandatory in all new homes.

But sprinklers have been shown to reduce the risk of injury and damage from fire, and are certainly an option for homeowners to consider.

At the least, all homes should be equipped with smoke alarms in good working condition.

The Canada Safety Council website notes: “Investigations into home fire deaths very often find that a smoke alarm did not sound.”

The site goes on to say: “Many fatal fires start at night. Smoke alone won’t necessarily wake you up. In fact, the fumes could put you into an even deeper sleep. Often, victims never wake up. Only a working smoke alarm can save your life.”

The council says there should be a smoke alarm on every level of your home. In the case of single-level homes and apartments, there should be smoke alarms near the kitchen and all sleeping areas.

But even smoke alarms might not be enough in the event of a fast-moving fire, as was the case in the Barho home.

Perhaps the use of fire-resistant materials in construction of the home would have saved the lives of the Barho children.

It’s something to strongly consider. Even if building codes aren’t changed to require such materials, homeowners might want to demand higher standards for their own protection.

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