The Paddington Station fire last December left more than 100 people homeless. Dan Ferguson Langley Times

Balcony sprinklers considered for other buildings after Paddington Station fire

Strata council of Langley City residential complex is looking into retro-fitting other buildings

As repair work to the fire-damaged Paddington Station building on 201A Street near 56 Avenue in Langley City continues, owners of units in the other buildings in the residential complex are considering upgrading their fire protection by adding balcony sprinklers.

Paddington Station strata council president Donna Francis said the council was investigating the cost of installing balcony sprinklers in neighbouring buildings, following a meeting of owners.

“They want us to pursue it (even though) it wouldn’t be covered by insurance,” Francis said.

New provincial fire safety regulations, adopted after the Dec. 11 fire that left more than 100 people homeless, call for balcony sprinklers in new four-storey wood-frame buildings, but the requirement doesn’t apply to existing buildings.

As to whether the regulations will apply to the repaired building, Francis said the strata owners are waiting for word from the insurer and the company handling the restoration work.

“We want that answer and we want to know,” Francis said.

The new sprinkler requirements took effect July 20.

Investigators have determined that the cause of the fire was the result of the disposal of smoking materials on a fourth floor balcony.

While the building had sprinklers, there were none on the balconies or in the attic because provincial building code regulations in effect at the time did not require them in four-storey wood-frame buildings.

The Thompson report said most multi-unit apartment building roofs are constructed using light-weight truss construction that starts to fail after five to 10 minutes of flame exposure.

In the Paddington Station fire, firefighters had the balcony fire knocked down from the exterior within five minutes of arrival, Thompson said.

“However, the first attack team into the apartment of origin reported heavy fire conditions already in the attic space.”

There have been 18 balcony fires in the City over five years, nine of them requiring direct intervention by the fire department.

All of the nine were caused by improper disposal of “smoker’s material,” usually cigarettes butted out in planters, Thompson said.

“Smoker’s material needs to be disposed of in proper ashtrays,” Thompson said.

“Potting soil often contains peat moss which is combustible.”

Thompson said the department would like to see installation of sprinklers both on balconies and in attics of all multi-story residential buildings.

“If this building (Paddington) had sprinklers on the balconies and in the attic, this fire likely would not have spread into the attic space.”

In March, the provincial government announced fire sprinklers will be required on the balconies of all new four-storey wood-frame residential buildings effective July 20.

The announcement said the new sprinkler requirements would not take effect until July 20 to allow time for the industry to adapt to the new requirement.

The government announcement said building codes and fire sprinkler standards only apply at the time of construction and cannot be retroactively required on existing buildings.