Good morning. Thank you for inviting the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs here today.
My name is Keven Lefebvre. I'm the fire chief for Leduc County in Alberta. I'm an elected CAFC board member and co-chair of the CAFC’s building codes committee.
I am also a member of the advisory council of Canada’s harmonized building codes board and of the Alberta Safety Codes Council's Building Sub-Council. I'm a master electrician, and I start my 42nd year in the fire service later this month.
I'm joined today by CAFC’s executive director, Dr. Tina Saryeddine.
The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs represents the country’s 3,200 fire departments through their fire chiefs and through a national advisory council of provincial, territorial and national affiliate organizations like the Department of National Defence, one of the largest owners of federal buildings.
Fire departments vary from small, rural volunteer to large, unionized metro departments. Despite our diversity, we are united in our calling to protect the lives of Canadians.
Bill S-222, in the context of federal properties and public works, is commendable. However, my colleagues and I are fire chiefs, so, as is our proclivity, we prepare for what could happen on the worst day.
First, wood has a special meaning to many of us as Canadians, but we must use it selectively. Outcomes could be disastrous in combustible parking garages containing lithium-ion charging systems, such as electric vehicle or solar storage. Well-intentioned environmental efforts, like using wood shingles in wildland urban interfaces, can contribute to wildfire damage. Buildings in these areas need to follow FireSmart principles and include sprinklers and other detection and prevention methodologies.
Secondly, take the necessary measures to ensure that federal buildings are fully operational post-disaster. Canadians require our government to be operational during and after disasters. The buildings need to be part of the solution, not an additional problem. Specific areas of government are currently looking to enhance and toughen building construction in light of the increasing impact of weather-driven disasters. CAFC's 2022 census showed that of the two million emergency events responded to annually, nearly 10% of these are new environmental emergencies.
If encouraging the use of products through government procurement, ensure that the end use is fully understood. Please ensure this bill doesn’t contradict or duplicate already adopted codes and standards. Some buildings, by code, are required to be specifically non-combustible. Understand that additives, treatments and unintended consequences of construction products could actually prevent the carbon reductions you anticipate or even become toxic in a fire.
In this vein, we would like to thank all MPs for their unanimous vote on Wednesday regarding Bill C-224, an act to establish a framework for firefighter cancers.
Our next ask will be to please support an increase in the volunteer firefighters tax credit. Eighty per cent of the country's fire service is volunteer, and no matter what building material you choose, we need every incentive to help protect response capacity in this country.
Thirdly, in Vancouver the successful introduction of tall wood buildings was accompanied by many resources from public safety engineering, many variances to specific code requirements, and much training. Unless we are considering such resources and training wherever we introduce innovation, we fail in its responsible introduction. As you pass this bill, consider that a firefighter safety objective be placed in the regulations under this act and support the same in the national building code of Canada, as required recently in ministerial mandate letters.
Related to this are the tenability times for firefighters to work within structures in the event of fire and the need to include floor performance standards within the national building code. Firefighters can and have fallen through floors during a fire. Canadians need the same floor performance assurances as are provided for in the U.S. and elsewhere.
As you move forward, please ensure that first responders are made aware of and trained to handle construction fires with the materials and methodologies chosen. This is necessary for appropriate entry, evacuation and response measures.
In preparing for today, my colleagues at Ottawa Fire Services reminded us that replacing existing building components with wood, for example, can impact load, fire spread and other safety calculations negatively.
In closing, we have always believed the same building code should apply to everyone, everywhere. It should be enforced and enforceable. It should have a firefighter safety objective. Firefighter readiness, training and equipment must be considered in preparation for what might happen on a building's worst day. The work you are doing today can help to mitigate future problems.