Lethbridge Herald (Newspaper) - February 20, 1973, Lethbridge, Alberta
16 - THE LETHBRIDGE HERALD - Tuesday, February 20, \9T�- IS YOUR HOME fa pis While the law profile of the Lethbridge skyline may offend those who are used to bigger centres, it does have its advantages. Many cities are slowly - and In some oases tragically-waking up to the fact the tall buildings contain a potential hazard to life. Last November, 14 people died in a two-day period in two separate high-rise fires, one in New Orleans and the other in Atlanta. And in Canada, five people died last January when the 10-storey Canadian Liquid Air building in Montreal caught fire. Of course, a fire in any structure presents a hazard to life, but in high-rise buildings, the problem is compounded. The most obvious thing is that it's difficult to get people out of the building. Stairwells and elevator shafts fill with smoke, and even the most hardy of individuals can last no longer than three minutes in a smoke-filled enclosure. And if it's difficult to evacuate the building, it's at least as difficult for firefighters to get to the blaze. Most ladders only reach 100 feet, a height sufficient, to fight a fire in amy building in Leth-bridge. (The Lethbridge fire department will take delivery of a 100-foot ladder-truck late this month). So in a building higher than 100 feet firemen must carry their equipment up long flights of stairs. Elevators cannot bo used in a fire, both because of the smoke hazard, and because a fire often short-circuits the automatic control mechanisms sending all elevators to the fire floor, which is not recommended as a safe place to be. One of the greatest dangers in a high-rise is that the structure acts like a "giant chimney," according to Montreal's fire commissioner John Mc-Dougall., The chimney, or "stack" effect is based on a fact known to most school children. Hot air rises. So especially in the winter, cold air moves into the bottom of the building, warms, and rises through ventilator shafts, stairwells, and any other vertical shaft it can find. This effect, which is accentuated during a fire, can move smoke throughout the entire building. Building code - A study done by the National Research Council has shown that in a 20-storey building, with a fire on the first floor, smoke will be in an untenable concentration on the 20th floor within 15 minutes after the fire floor has filled with smoke. Under the National Building Code, which sets construction standards for the City of Lethbridge, a residential high-rise is defined as any building over six storeys. So only throe apartment buildings in the city are considered high rises - Stafford Place, Cumberland Towers, and Park Towers. ' "This is a new situation, and it takes several yearns to develop provisions to make high-rises safe," Tosh Kanashiro, the city's building inspector said in a Herald interview. By WARREN CARAGATA illll!IIN!ll[llllllllilllll!lllltlllllli!llllllll]llllllll!lllillll[l!!ll!lllllillillllmi!lll To meet the problem, the National Building Code is being revised to take into consideration new fire-control procedures developed in the last couple of years. Under the 1970 Code, adopted by the city, standards relating to high-rise buildings are set, but Lethbridge fire inspector Doug Kcmetz told The Herald that there is no such tiling as a fire-proof building. Hazards "You can build in all the precautions you want," he said "but "as long as people are living in the building a potential! fire hazard exists." A local building designer, who refused to be named, said that in modern construction, the only combustibles are those items which people bring into the building. Referring to fire-prevention in high-rises, he said, "it's a matter of education, not construction." Some of the precautions built into apartments: Sealed vertical shafts which prevent, or at least stall, smoke movement to upper storeys. However in a concrete building, no seal is completely effective; As cement cures, it shrinks, causing small hairlike cracks. Over one floor, these cracks can amount to the equivalent of an opening two-feet square. A pressurized core area - corridors and elevator shafts- which prevents smoke move* ment from an apartment into the hallway, thereby containing the smoke in the originating room. Two sealed stair ways, which in reality, are enclosed fire escapes. Vertical shafts specifically designed to draw smoke into them, and vented at the top to allow safe smoke movement within the building. Safety zones on each floor, designed to prevent smoke and flames from spreading into that area for several hours. Smoke detectors in ventilation system, which prevent the system from spreading smoke throughout the building. Sealed vertical shafts, two sealed stairways, and smoke detectors in ventilation systems are required in all hifjh- rises, but the other safety systems mentioned are not, and their inclusion remains at the option of the contractor. Sprinklers After the, two high-rise disasters in the U.S., the president of the National Fire Protection Association, Charles S. Morgan, issued a statement which states that the answer to the problem lies with automatic sprinkler systems. "What can be done practically to the hundreds of thousands of buildings existing today, some of them high-rise, which' are vulnerable to fire and in which occupants live in danger? "I believe that the answer lies in automatic fire-extinguishing systems, in short, automatic sprinklers," Mr. Morgan said. "They are not a panacea, but there is no real substitute for them," he said. Doug Konietz adds that sprinklers coupled with smoke detectors are one of the best methods, providing both fire control and early warning. The cost of these two systems is high however, and the designer interviewed by The Herald estimated that both systems together would cost about seven per cent of the total building cost. "Can we afford to do this?" (install both sprinkler and smoke detection systems), Mr, Kometz said. Can we afford not to?