A recent story that somehow seemed to pass by most of the North American mainstream media is one of a devastating fire that took place in the Mexican city of Hermosillo. Hermosillo is an inland city located in the northern part of Mexico around 300 kilometres south of the Arizona border. For most Canadians this city of over 1 million people remains unknown since it is not a tourist destination. However on June 5th of this year the city of Hermosillo suffered a loss that could only be described as a disaster. A converted warehouse which housed a daycare was the scene of a tragic fatal fire, the horrible aftermath was the death of 47 children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. The building as mentioned previously was an old warehouse which had only one exit and a few windows located to high to be used as emergency escape routes. A building such as this is obviously not suitable for use as a daycare and would never be allowed to operate in Canada. However this building passed an inspection by local officials on May 26th only 10 days before the fire and was deemed to be in compliance with the local safety standards.
The problem in this case is the misguided safety standards that applied to the building. The requirements for this type of occupancy in Ontario are very strict, and with good reason, considering that you are dealing with the safety of small children. If a code of standards similar to the Ontario Fire Code where used to determine if this building was suitable to be used as a daycare, you could be certain that occupancy permits would never have been granted and the deaths of 47 children would never have occurred. That is not to imply that our system is perfect, in the opinion of fire services throughout Ontario we still have too many people dying each year due to fire. However Ontario fire trends show that between 1998 and 2007 institutional occupancies such as large daycares only accounted for 1% of the total fire related deaths. The problem in Ontario is residential fires which account for 85% of the total fire related deaths, what is even more concerning with regards to residential fires is that 80% of these fatal fires are considered to be preventable. These statistics tells us that our problem unlike Mexico is not with the fire code, it is with behavior.
The fire code since it’s implementation has quietly been responsible for saving hundreds if not thousands of lives in the province of Ontario. The fire code is also a living document that is constantly reviewed and amended to meet the modern times we live in. New building systems, improvements to public safety, and learning from our previous mistakes, all contribute to the modernization of the fire code. Without modern documents such as the Ontario Fire Code and the Ontario Building Code we too could be experiencing horrific losses like the people of Hermosillo Mexico.
Published in The Villager June 30, 2009