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Modern homes burn faster. Some say it's time to add sprinklers

Modern homes burn faster. Some say it's time to add sprinklers
From CBC - January 14, 2018

Burned-out homes and distraught families are often all that's left in the wake of a new breed of house fire that feeds off flammable furniture and open-concept designs.

Those fires, which chew throughhomes with frightening speed, are prompting firefighters and fire-prevention groups in Canadato push forthe installation of sprinkler systems in new homes across the country.

"Fires today move very quickly, they are to be taken seriously. I think the concept that the fire department will come and save you all the time is a myth," said Vince MacKenzie, a director with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.

The association is advocating for the wider use of residential sprinkler systems, and wants the National Building Code of Canada, which sets out technical provisions for the design and construction of new homes,to reflect that.

This week, a task group assigned by the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes submitted a draft report on the costs and benefits of residential sprinklers. The commission is in the process of updating the National Building Code by 2020, which forms the basis for provincial building codes.

MacKenzie said fire departments are among those calling for residential sprinklers in new home construction. He hopes it will become legislation or part of municipal bylaws.

Sprinklers are needed to control modern fast-spreading house fires and to give occupants more time to flee the home,said McKenzie, who is also the fire chief in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L.

Fires today grow more quickly because many furnishings and consumer products are made of plastic and other petroleum products, making them highly flammable, said MacKenzie.

Open-concept homes also allow fires to spread faster because there are no walls to slow the flames. In the last 20 years,MacKenziesaid he has seen the speed of fires increase dramatically.

He said it also takes less time for a room to "flash over," whichoccurs when a fire's intense heat causes objects to burst into flames.

"One time you had 15 minutes before a room flashed over in a residential setting, nowadays it's been clocked at under three minutes," he said. "Typically it takes that long to get the fire truck out through the door."

The most recent numbers from Statistics Canada show that 96 people across the country died in residential fires in 2014,down from 141 deaths in 2010.

The National Research Council of Canada provided technical support for the building codes commission task force looking into the costs and benefits of residential sprinklers.

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