Inspection – 2 apartments over an insurance business

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    • #12705
      Julien BoisvenueJulien Boisvenue
      • City: Hawkesbury
      • Department Name: Hawkesbury Fire Department

      Hi there, I have an inspection to do next Friday and the client refers to it as a Retrofit. I don’t think it’s a 9.5 being that there’s only 2 residential units on the upper level, with an Insurance business on the main level. The two apartments share the same exit. Am I right? I take it I would be working with part 2 and 6 of the OFC? What would be the more important parts of 2 and 6…. or any other section, that I should concentrate on during this inspection?

      Thank you in advance!


    • #12706
      Vicki VeldmanVicki Veldman

      You will be using mainly Part 2 of the Fire Code.

      Since the building has two residential units, you would refer to the application of Section 9.8, Two Unit Residential Occupancies.  This building does not meeting the application for Section 9.8 so Retrofit does not apply.

      You should still assess whether there is an acceptable separation between:

      – the units and the remainder of the building;

      – the exit and the remainder of the building, and

      – the residential occupancy and other major occupancies (commercial unit below);

      – the commercial unit and the exit for the residential units if applicable.

      If there are concerns you would have the option of considering writing an F order.  Remember that existing lath and plaster or drywall (doesn’t matter if it is Type X or not and doesn’t matter the thickness)  that is continuous and in good repair is accepted to have a one hour fire resistance rating.  Using Section 9.5’s requirement for separation between other Major Occupancies as a guide, you would only need one hour between the insurance office and the residential occupancy including their exit, and 30 minutes between the two apartments and 30 minute rating between the residential exit and the remainder of the residential occupancy.

      If there is only one exit for the two units and it is a shared exit, check to see if there are self closing devices on the doors since they are in a dead end corridor.  Once again, you don’t have Retrofit powers to ask for this but would be included in a F order or at the very least letting interested parties know.

      If existing fire separations are damaged, which would include plywood access panels, you would use part 2 to write up damaged fire separations.

      If doors are damaged, or not closing and latching after each use if they have self closing device you would use Part 2.

      You would use Part 2 to get smoke alarms and Part 6 to ensure they are maintained.

      Carbon monoxide alarms may be required and you would use Part 2 for installation and Part  6 for maintenance.  If the apartments have a wall or ceiling that touches any part of a service room that has a fuel fired appliance they would need a CO alarm or if they have a fuel fired appliance in the apartments.

      Part 6 for installation of fire extinguishers, 2A10BC or larger and maintenance of them.

      Part 2 for maintenance of existing exit signage and emergency lighting.  A building that size likely doesn’t  have exit signs as not required in building code.  If they are there they have to be maintained whether required or not.

      Part 2 for temporary wiring being used as permanent wiring.  ESA Order for further electrical concerns if you are sure there is an electrical problem and an email to ESA if you are not sure if the problem is a violation of the Electrical Code and ask them to follow up.

      Very common in offices to have space heaters and also very common to have extension cord use.

      Hope this helps/wasn’t too much 🙂


    • #12710
      Joseph GardinerJoseph Gardiner
      • City: North Bay
      • Department Name: North Bay Fire & Emergency Services


      Vicky did a great job with her explanation but I just wanted to show you why 9.5 does not apply and how I would handle this. All municipalities and fire departments will handle something like this differently depending on a number of factors. I really try to consider the risk associated to the occupant/building(s) and achieve fire safety economically. I think hearing how different fire departments deal with this situation is a good thing.

      Subsection 9.5.1. Application and General

      Application (1) This Section applies to buildings up to and including 6 storeys in building height with residential occupancies and containing

      (a) more than two dwelling units where

      Because 9.5 requires more than two dwelling units you cannot apply retrofit as Vicky has explained.

      We have a lot of these buildings in North Bay and utilize an F order which Vicky did a great job explaining. These are the things I cover in my order depending on the configuration of the building and its associated fire risks. I have them protect all closures opening into the exit stairway (a door I feel will provide 20 minute fire protection rating, i.e. steel clad exterior door and not necessarily a fire rated door), install self closing devices on the doors, protect the of the exit stairway with type X drywall from the commercial occupancy if there is no fire separation , and if there is no acceptable fire separation between the commercial and dwelling units I would have them install hardwired interconnected smoke alarms at each level of the commercial occupancy and at each level of the exit stairway for the dwellings. This would provide early detection for the two dwelling units. Generally these buildings are in the downtown area and are interconnected with several others.

      How much further I went with this building would depend on its complexity but generally how I would handle a building like this.

      Plus, part 2 & 6 OFC…

      Hopefully this also helps you.

      Hopefully this helps.

      Joe Gardiner

    • #12713
      John WilsonJohn Wilson
      • Department Name: Perth Fire Services

      I look at situations like this very different than Vicky and Joe. I stick with (g) Orders and have not yet used an (f).

      You will get many different versions of essentially this same question: “Does the building meet Fire Code?”. Some of the common ones I’ve had are retrofit inspection, Code inspection, compliance letter (which realistically you can’t give without conducting an inspection), upgrade inspection and I’m sure a few others that I’m forgetting.

      In a situation like yours, and every time I get a request for an inspection that doesn’t meet the requirements of any of the application statements of Part 9, I stick to Parts 2 & 6 and enforce those. When I write my letter, I spell it out very clearly “The building does not meet any of the application statements of Part 9 Retrofit of the Ontario Fire Code.” Now if an owner asks my opinion on other things they could do to increase fire safety within the building, I will gladly share. Every time an (f) Order is issued, I would expect it to be appealed as those Orders are open to interpretation and judgement whereas (g) Orders are very clear…the owner is responsible for complying with the Code.

      “Does it meet Fire Code?” is what the lawyers care about so that’s what I stick with which means no (f) Orders.

      I would dearly love to see the Code updated to take out some of the many loopholes and standardize things between Parts and Sections. Our jobs would be easier and buildings would be safer but this is where we are currently.

    • #12715
      Vicki VeldmanVicki Veldman

      Joe, have you had any of your F Orders appealed for this type of building?

      Jon, I didn’t say I would definitely write a F order, but did say it would be an option that you could consider.   I am interested in finding out how the OFM is handling a F Order for this type of building.  Are they supporting them?

      When looking at the safety concerns in a building, my focus would be more on the safety of the tenants than what question the lawyer is asking.  The property sale may be what got you there, but once there my actions would be the same as if I was there due to a tenant complaint or an owner’s request.   Once you are on site and see safety concerns, you must do everything that is in your tool kit to make the building safer to protect the tenants, and protect the municipality from liability.  I am looking for feedback as to whether writing a F Order for this type of building is in our tool kit.  At the very least, I would be verbally expressing my concerns to all parties present, and follow up by putting my concerns in writing as well, if not in a F order.

      I have been a Fire Inspector for 20+ years and when I first started we wrote Fire Inspection reports.  I would never write up anything that wasn’t required in the Fire Code.  Back then, the OFM office didn’t entertain F orders for Retrofit type of compliance in buildings that were omitted in the application of Retrofit.   It wasn’t a case that the OFM didn’t feel a fire separation should not be between two residential units.  The OFM office couldn’t get every type of situation written into the application, so they went with what was going to cover most buildings.  Over the years things have changed and the OFM office is supporting F orders for a wider range of safety concerns than what they did years ago.

      I am interested in hearing Joe’s answer to my question.  If he has had F orders upheld by the OFM for buildings that don’t meet the application of Retrofit, that makes my decision of how to move forward clear.  If he hasn’t had any appealed, I would consult my supervisor, co-workers first to see if we have had a F Order upheld for this type of building.  If no one has had this type of F Order appealed,  I would reach out to the OFM, not ask specifically about the building I am inspecting or even say that I have recently inspected this type of building, because if you do that they won’t be able to help you to avoid potential conflict if there is an appeal  I would ask a general question whether they are supporting F orders for lack of separations/exiting in a building that doesn’t meet the application of Retrofit.

      When it comes to File Searches, that is different, and yes, we only answer the questions asked by the lawyer at the advice of our City’s lawyer.  The one question we don’t answer, does the building comply with Retrofit/Fire Code.  We answer that by saying we would have to do an inspection to assess compliance of the Fire Code.

    • #12716
      John WilsonJohn Wilson
      • Department Name: Perth Fire Services

      I completely agree that the F Orders are there for us to use as we see appropriate and that they are supported by OFM. Considering the huge number of 1 or 2 dwelling units plus a commercial unit that have been specifically excluded from Retrofit and even old row houses, there is a huge portion of properties that are excluded. I guess part of my hesitation to use an F Order is how many properties here have enough issues with 2, 6, & 9 and the efforts to get compliance on them that I don’t need to add to my workload and my Chief supports this position. Personally, I don’t loose any sleep over not going further than minimum nor do I deter anyone else from going as far as they/their department like.

      I completely agree with your last paragraph. Even after an inspection (and the associated repairs), I never write a letter stating that it meets or complies with the Fire Code.  I write “The deficiencies identified on the (date) Order/Report/Letter have been corrected and there are no other noted deficiencies at the time of last inspection.”

    • #12728
      Julien BoisvenueJulien Boisvenue
      • City: Hawkesbury
      • Department Name: Hawkesbury Fire Department

      Wow! I would like to thank you all very much for the fast and excellent feedback!

      Following yesterday’s inspection, I have a few questions. The ceiling separating the business from the 2 apartments is a suspended one and is not fire rated. The space between this suspended ceiling and the floor of the apartments is approximately 24 inches and the floor is made of wood boards/planks (see picture). Do I need to speak with the CBO? I believe a 1 hour fire separation is required? How would I deal with this?

      The main area of the business has a combo smoke/CO alarm but there is an area at the back separated with a wall/door accessing to files, bathroom and kitchen but no combo smoke/CO alarm is present. Is one mandatory?

      Also, the basement underneath the business is completely vacant with hardly any combustibles but did not have any smoke/CO alarms. I believe detection is required even if it is vacant?

      Last thing….. the apartments upstairs only had smoke alarm and no CO alarms. I ordered for CO to be installed. Do the hallways require combo smoke/CO as well? Smokes were already present in the hallways.

      Thanks again!



    • #12729
      Vicki VeldmanVicki Veldman

      I would be happy to answer some of your questions.

      Always remember, if you are going to ask an Owner to do something, you need a code reference to back you, or if you don’t have a code reference, you are writing a F Order.

      Question #1:  You can order a one hour fire separation by issuing a F Order.  I would highly recommend you reach out to Joe from North Bay who posted in this string.  He has advised he has been issuing F Orders for these type of situations.  I would ask him if any of the Orders have been appealed by the Owners and if so, did the OFM hold up the Order.  I would like to know the answer myself.  If the OFM is upholding his Orders, I would write the F Order.  I am sure he will help you with the wording/send you a sample of what he is writing.

      The Building Department won’t order the fire separation in.  An example when they should order it in is if it is proven there has been a Change of Use in this building at some point in time and a review wasn’t completed by the municipality.   For example, if at one time the upper floor of this building was offices and an Owner along the way converted it to apartments they should have had an architect submit for a Change of Use permit which would include a review under Part 10 of OBC, “Change of Use’ to determine whether construction is required.  If that wasn’t done, the Building Department could ask for that review now.  The one year limitation for acting on this is from the day of discovery, not the day of construction.  A lot of building inspectors try to say they can’t act on it because it happened too long ago, or they don’t know when it happened.  Not true, the Building Code Act was changed to say from the day of discovery.

      Question #2 and #3:  smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are not required in an office, even in a new build.  Check out 9.10.19 of the OBC for application for smoke alarms and application for carbon monoxide alarms. If it isn’t required in the building code it won’t be required by Fire Code.   Check out the OFM Questions and Answers Carbon Monoxide Alarms which is very helpful

      Question #4:  Carbon monoxide alarms would not be required in the apartments unless they have a fuel fired appliance within the apartment, or there is a service room containing a fuel fired appliance that has a wall, floor or ceiling that touches the apartments.  Only the apartments that are touching the service room require the CO alarm.  Service rooms containing a fuel fired appliance serving a residential occupancy require a CO alarm in the service room.  Any dwelling unit that has an attached garage requires a CO alarm between the sleeping area and the remainder of the dwelling unit.

      Question #5:  smoke alarms are not required in hallways of any type of building including residential occupancies.  Smoke alarms are to be between sleeping areas and the remainder of the dwelling unit.  Be careful with your use of the term of smoke alarms and smoke detectors and know the difference.  Smoke alarms make a noise and are what we have in our homes.  Smoke detectors form part of a fire alarm system, don’t make noise, detect smoke and send a signal to the fire alarm panel to activate the fire alarm system audible devices.  A lot of people, including architects and engineers don’t use these two terms correctly.

      The only exception to a residential occupancy not having smoke alarms in the hallways is where the building has a residential occupancy, meets the application of Section 9.5 of the Fire Code, meets the application to have a fire alarm system (more than four units sharing an exit) but there are not more than 10 dwelling units in the building.  In that case, the Owner is given the option to install an interconnected smoke alarm system and manual pull stations (specific design included in 9.5) in lieu of a full fire alarm system if they choose.

      If at any time the main floor commercial space was converted into something that needed a fire alarm system, so for example a restaurant serving alcohol with an occupant load over 150, the restaurant would need a fire alarm system, and the fire alarm would have to extend throughout the whole building including the residential above.  At that time you would have smoke detectors forming part of the fire alarm system (which are different from smoke alarms) in the hallways.  Not likely this would happen in this building I am assuming, since there are only two residential units, that tells me the main floor space isn’t big enough to ever have an occupant load over 150.

      Hope this helps!


    • #12770
      John WilsonJohn Wilson
      • Department Name: Perth Fire Services

      In addition to what Vicki said, there is one other thing to consider regarding the lack of fire separation between the occupancies… what is the age of the building? The original OBC came in to effect in 1975, anything older than this it becomes an F Order like Vicki said. If the building is younger than 1975, it should have been built under a building permit with (typically) a 1 hr separation. From what I can see of the floor joists & bridging, that place could be as old as about 1970 and as new as into the 1990s but the steel studs are most definitely newer than 1975 so there should have been a building permit to construct that wall.

      I would check with the Building Department for open files and if the age can be reasonably determined, discuss with the CBO if they want to tackle it under the BCA/OBC or if you do the F Order to have the separation created. Open communication between Building and Fire is super helpful all the time and emphasized in times like this. I’m fortunate, I wear both hats and am in both OBC and OFC all the time…

    • #12774
      Vicki VeldmanVicki Veldman

      I didn’t mean to imply that you go by the age of a building when you are deciding whether to issue a F Order.

      In my opinion the Change of Use in recent years is the main indicator/concern here.  I do not know the date but it is known that this property was all commercial use and at the time of the inspection it is now mixed use.  The Building Inspector should be contacting the Owner regarding Construction without a Permit, and ask the Owner to apply for Change of Use permit which would include a review and submission by a designer and planning approval.  So in other words, they should be asking the Owner to take the actions now that the Owner at the time should have taken when they first thought about converting the second floor to residential.

      If an F order is written instead of the Building Department taking the action that their legislation allows them to take, the Fire Department (municipality) is taking on the liability of being the designer, and spending time on designing.  With an F Order there is the potential of the Order being appealed.  This will result in an OFM Engineer reviewing issues the Building Inspector had the means to deal with in their legislation.

      At the end of the day, after Fire puts the concerns forward in writing to the Building Department, and if Building is not going to take action, I would write a F Order.   The municipality is now aware of the lack of fire separations and will be liable if there is a fire and they have not taken action.

    • #12871
      Joseph GardinerJoseph Gardiner
      • City: North Bay
      • Department Name: North Bay Fire & Emergency Services

      “Joe, have you had any of your F Orders appealed for this type of building?”

      My apologies for the tardy response to your question. I have not had one of my “f” orders appealed. I generally do a great deal of education with the owners to ensure they understand my interpretation of the Ontario Fire Code and or my abilities delegated to me via the FPPA.  I also educate them on fire migration and the risk to the tenants, the building(s) and firefighters. I hardly ever have any of my orders appealed. I think it is because what I generally ask for is not unreasonable and makes sense to a layman person. Education and compassion are very powerful tools when performing the role of a fire prevention officer.

      Good luck,


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