Construction Fires Are Not an Indictment of Wood Construction

CC BY 2.0. Andrew Patrick/Flickr

The world watched yesterday as a military helicopter plucked a crane operator off the end of his crane, high above a burning building in Kingston, Ontario. Today, the recriminations about wood construction have started. The Mayor of Kingston tells the CBC:

I'll be the first to admit — driving by this building, and I did on a daily basis — as I saw the wood structure go up, and having some experience in the construction world outside of my business at City Hall, I thought to myself, 'Well, this is a pretty big structure to be made out of wood entirely.' So I think that the concerns are valid. I think that many members of the community shared that concern.

No doubt by tomorrow the concrete and steel industries will be circulating that statement and the photos with their claim that wood construction isn't safe, like they did after a fire in Richmond, BC a few years ago. No doubt they will leave out the part where the mayor notes that " if the building had been finished, with sprinkler systems and fire-retardant drywall in place, the situation may have been a lot different."

After the Richmond fire, the Canadian Wood Council issued a press release and they could send it out again right now. They noted:

The fire safety of a completed building involves a lot more than its structural composition. The whole system must be taken into consideration, including the building's contents and its use. Research shows that the size and severity of the majority of fires are related to the contents of a building and the living and working habits of its occupants.
Wood- walls, floors, and roofs must be designed to provide fire resistance ratings of up to two hours, a level of fire performance also required for other types of building materials - contributing to the time needed for occupants to escape and emergency responders to perform their duties.

The Mayor also said " I am by no means an engineer. Those are the professionals that are going to know more concretely as to what is appropriate and what isn't appropriate."

Indeed. So perhaps he shouldn't be prejudging the merits of wood construction.