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BCC Ruling No. 96-45-528

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BUILDING CODE COMMISSION DECISION ON B.C.C. #96-45-528

IN THE MATTER OF Subsection 24(1) of the Building Code Act, 1992.

AND IN THE MATTER OF Articles 3.2.1.5., 3.2.2.2., 3.2.2.61., 3.4.2.1., & 3.4.4.1., and Sentences 3.2.1.1.(8), 3.2.2.11.(2), 3.2.8.2.(3) & 3.4.2.5.(1) of the Revised Regulation of Ontario 1990, Regulation 61, as amended by O.Regs. 400/91, 158/93, 160/93, 383/94 and 20/95 (the "Building Code").

AND IN THE MATTER OF an application by Mr. H.G. Oliver, Manager Utilities & Projects, Regional Municipality of Durham, Whitby, Ontario, for the resolution of a dispute with Mr. Frank Hull, Chief Building Official, Town of Ajax, concerning whether i) the building may be considered a Special and Unusual Structure under Article 3.2.2.61. rather than Article 3.2.2.2.; ii) whether the below grade process area is more than one storey in accordance with Sentence 3.2.1.1.(8); iii) whether the complete floor areas in the building are required to be protected by an automatic sprinkler system in accordance with Article 3.2.1.5., and Sentences 3.2.2.11.(2), 3.4.2.5.(1), 3.2.8.2.(3); and iv) whether the exits in the below grade process floor areas sufficiently comply with the separation of exits and travel distance requirements in Articles 3.4.2.1., 3.4.4.1. and Sentence 3.4.2.5.(1) of the Ontario Building Code at the Ajax Water Supply Plant, 75 Lake Driveway East, Ajax, Ontario.

APPLICANT

Mr. H.G. Oliver Manager, Utilities & Projects
Regional Municipality of Durham
105 Consumers Drive
Whitby, Ontario

RESPONDENT

Mr. Frank Hull
Chief Building Official
Town of Ajax

PANEL

Mr. Roy Philippe, Chair
Mr. Michael Lio
Mr. Rick Florio

PLACE

Toronto, Ontario

DATE OF RULING

October 15th, 1996

APPEARANCES

Mr. Richard Hum

Senior Project Manager
Simcoe Eng. Group Ltd
1815 Ironstone Manor
Pickering, Ontario
For the Applicant

Mr. Tim Moore
Chief Building Official
Town of Pickering
Pickering Civic
Agent for the Respondent

RULING

  1. The Applicant

Mr. H.G. Oliver, Manager, Utilities & Projects, Regional Municipality of Durham is the holder of a permit under the Building Code Act, 1992 to construct a water processing facility and subsidiary administrative offices at 75 Lake Driveway East, Ajax, Ontario.

  1. Description of Constrution

The subject building is a new 163 ML/d water supply plant. The facility can be divided into two areas, the process area and the administration area. The process area of the plant has a 7,097 m² building area and 10,249 m² floor area. The administration portion of the plant is 788 m² in building area and 1,665 m² in floor area.

Innovative landscaping and building design driven by the Environmental Assessment process resulted in:

  • The entire roof and walls of the west end of the plant, of what would have normally been the superstructure, being bermed and buried. The design invites the public to walk on top and participate in leisurely activity in the area of the plant.

  • Further adding to the uniqueness of the building is the fact that as one moves progressively towards the easterly part of the plant, the plant superstructure progressively becomes more exposed. Windows have been designed on a portion of the exposed superstructure to allow the public a view into the water plant.

  • The entire eastern wall of the plant is exposed.

  • The administration building is totally exposed.

  • The building is provided with a standpipe and hose system, and a fire alarm and detection system. The smoke detectors that are provided are in excess of the Building Code. Sprinkler protection is provided in selected areas of the process area of the plant and in the administration building. A central supervised fire alarm panel is provided.

  • The following applies to the process area of the plant:

  • Occupancy

    • Typically unmanned
    • The occasional guided public tour may be held

  • Construction
    • Totally noncombustible concrete wall and roof construction throughout
    • Open tanks are full of water
    • Pipes carry water or noncombustible water treatment chemicals
    • The only combustible load is the insulation on the electrical wiring
    • The risk of fire is extremely low

The Administration area of the plant can be best described as follows:

  • Occupancy
    • Offices
    • Maximum expected occupant load: 10

  • Construction
    • Totally noncombustible concrete construction throughout

  1. Dispute

The dispute between the Applicant and the Respondent concerns sufficiency of compliance with Articles 3.2.1.5., 3.2.2.2., 3.2.2.61., 3.4.2.1., & 3.4.4.1., and Sentences 3.2.1.1.(8), 3.2.2.11.(2), 3.2.8.2.(3) & 3.4.2.5.(1) the Building Code. The subject areas under dispute are as follows: i) the classification of the building; ii) the interpretation of the below grade process areas as storeys; iii) the requirement for sprinklering the building in its entirety; and, iv) the requirement for providing exits from every below grade process level.

  1. Provision of the Building Code

Sentence 3.2.2.61. Industrial Buildings, Division 3, up to 6 Storeys

  1. A building classified as Group F, Division 3 shall conform to Sentence (2) provided the building

    1. is not more than 6 storeys in building height,
    2. if unsprinklered, has a building area not more than the value in Table 3.2.2.Z., and
    3. if sprinklered, is not more than twice the area limits of Clause (b).

  1. The building shall be of noncombustible construction, and

  1. floor assemblies shall be fire separations with a fire- resistance rating of not less than 1 h,
  2. mezzanines shall have a fire-resistance rating of not less than 1 hr,
  3. roof assemblies shall have a fire-resistance rating of not less than 1 h, and
  4. all loadbearing walls, columns and arches shall have a fire-resistance rating not less than that required for the supported assembly.

Article 3.2.2.2.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; Special and Unusual Structures

Structures which cannot be identified with the descriptions of buildings in Articles 3.2.2.16. to 3.2.2.62. shall be protected against fire spread and collapse in conformance with good fire protection engineering practice, such as described in the NFPA Fire Protection Handbook, Sixteenth Edition.

Sentence 3.2.1.1.(8).nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; Exceptions to Building Height in Storeys

  1. Mezzanines, elevated walkways and platforms in Group F, Division 2 or 3 major occupancies need not be considered as storeys in calculating building height provided

    1. the building is of noncombustible construction
    2. except for Clause (c), the mezzanines, elevated walkways and platforms are intended solely for periodic service and maintenance, and
    3. where they are intended to be occupied, no mezzanine, elevated walkways or platform shall have an occupant load more than 4 persons.

Article 3.2.1.5.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; Fire Containment in Basements

1. Except as provided in Sentences (2) and 3.2.2.11.(2), basements shall be sprinklered or shall be subdivided into fire compartments not more than 600 m? (6460 ft?) in area by a fire separation having a fire-resistance rating not less than that required for the floor assembly immediately above the basement.

  1. An open-air storey need not conform to Sentence (1).

Sentence 3.2.2.11.(2)nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; Storeys Below Ground

  1. Where a building or portion thereof is erected entirely below the adjoining finished ground level and extends more than 1 storey below such ground level, the following minimum precautions against fire spread and collapse shall be taken:

    1. except as provided in Sentence (3), basements shall be sprinklered,
    2. floor assemblies below such ground level shall be constructed as a

i. fire separation with a fire-resistance rating of not less than 3 h where the basements are occupied by Group E or Group F, Division 1 or 2 occupancies, and

ii. fire separation with a fire-resistance rating of not less than 2 h where the basements are occupied by any other occupancy, and

    1. all loadbearing walls, columns and arches shall have a fire-resistance rating not less than that required for the construction that they support.

Sentence 3.4.2.5.(1)nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; Location of Exits

  1. Except as provided in Sentences (2), (3) and 3.3.2.4.(6), where more than one exit is required from a floor area, such exits shall be located so that the travel distance to not less than one exit as described in Article 3.4.2.4. shall be not more than

    1. 25 m (82 ft) in any Group F, Division 1 occupancy,
    2. 45 m (147 ft 8 in) in any sprinklered floor area that contains an occupancy other than Group F, Division 1
    3. 40 m (131 ft 3 in) in any Group D occupancy,
    4. 105 m (344 ft 6 in) in any floor area, served by a public corridor, in which rooms and suites are not separated from the remainder of the floor area by a fire separation, provided

i. the public corridor has a width of not less than 9 m (29 ft 6 in)

ii. the ceiling height in the public corridor is not less than 4 m (13 ft 1 in) above all floor surfaces,

iii. the building is sprinklered, and

iv. not more than one half of the required egress doorways from a room or suite open into the public corridor when the room or suite is required to have more than one egress doorway,

    1. 60 m (196 ft 10 in) in any storage garage that conforms to the requirements of Article 3.2.2.60., and
    2. 30 m (98 ft 5 in) in any other occupancy.

Sentence 3.2.8.2.(3)nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; Exceptions to Special Protection

3. Where a closure in an opening in a fire separation would disrupt the nature of a manufacturing process, such as a continuous flow of material from storey to storey, the closure for the opening is permitted to be omitted provided precautions are taken to offset the resulting hazard. (See Appendix A.).

Article 3.4.2.1.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; Minimum Number of Exits

  1. Except as provided in Sentences (2) to (4), and (6), every floor area as regulated in Article 3.4.1.1. shall be served by not less than 2 exits. Article 3.4.4.1.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp; Fire-Resistance Rating of Exit Separations Except as provided in Article 3.4.4.3 and Sentences(2), 3.3.5.5.(3) and 3.4.4.2(2), every exit shall be separated from each adjacent floor area by a fire separation having a fire- resistance rating not less than that required for the floor assembly above the floor area and, where there is no floor assembly above, not less than that required by Subsection 3.2.2. for the floor assembly below, but in no case shall the fire-resistance rating be less than 45 min.

  1. The fire-resistance rating for the fire separation in Sentence(1) need not be more than 2 h.

  1. Where an exit stair in an assembly hall or theatre serves more than one balcony level, the exit stair shall be separated from the remainder of the building in conformance with Sentence(1).

Applicant's Position

The Applicant submitted the following information to support their position:

  1. The Building Code, Sentence 3.2.2.11.(2) requires "Where a building or portion thereof is erected entirely below the adjoining finished ground level and extends more than 1 storey below such ground level, the following precautions against fire spread and collapse shall be taken:
    1. except as provided in Sentence (3), basements shall be sprinklered..."

The Building Code, Clause 3.2.2.62.(2)(a) requires "...floor assemblies shall be fire separations with a fire-resistance rating of not less than 2h, except that such floor assemblies are permitted to be reduced to fire separations with a fire- resistance rating of not less than 1 h in a storage garage with all storeys constructed as open-air storeys, ..."

Municipality's Position

The municipality advised that the entire plant should be sprinklered because the building includes multiple basement levels below grade and because there are unprotected equipment access openings at each basement level in the low lift pumping area.

Applicant's Position

Sprinklering is not required for the following reasons:

  • The landscaping grade changes depending where one is located in the plant and, therefore, the number of stories below grade also changes.
  • The berming of the superstructure at the western portion of the plant is no different than that of an exposed superstructure having a non-combustible roof and non- combustible walls with no windows. Room Nos. 8304 & 8305 at Elev. 83.5 m level. as such, can be considered to be the second floor of the plant. Exterior fire exits are provided at this level.
  • The 77.725 m elevation level can, therefore, be considered the ground floor.
  • The majority of the plant has only one basement level below the ground floor. Depending where one is in the plant, the first and only basement level can be encountered at the 70.8 m or 71.4 m, or 73.15 m, or 74.875 m elevation levels. In area, the above-mentioned floors make up 25.8% of the total basement footprint.
  • Only in the low lift pumping area of the plant is there multiple service levels. They are at the 73.15 m, 69.875 m and 66.6 m elevation levels. These levels are connected by two open staircases and have equipment access openings in each floor level to allow installation and removal of equipment. The low lift pumping area house large low lift pumps and small miscellaneous pumps. The small miscellaneous pumps have motors mounted on them. Otherwise all motors and electrical starters are housed at the ground floor level (Elev.77.725). There is no combustible load other than the insulation on the electrical wiring in the service levels. The Building Code, Sentence 3.2.8.2.(3) and A-3.2.8.2(3) allow non- sprinklering of the equipment access openings if the remainder of the facility is unsprinklered.

The entire low lift pumping area is designed to facilitate the production of drinking quality water. Equipment and piping must be readily accessible in the event of breakdown. The production of water cannot stop. Intermediate service levels were designed into the facility to provide an operator practical access to pumps and piping off high ceilings.

  1. The Building Code, Clause 3.4.2.5.(1)(b) allows a 45 m travel distance between exits in any sprinklered floor area that contains an occupancy other than Group F, Division 1. The corridor for Room 8305 and 8304 at the Elev 83.5 m level house three stair exits (Nos. 3, 4, grid 1/D).

Municipality's Position

The municipality contends that the definition of sprinklered floor area requires the entire plant to be sprinklered, including the area above the filters, because the definition of floor area "means the space on any storey of a building between exterior walls and required firewalls..".

Applicant's Position

Sprinklering is required only in the corridor and not in the rest of the plant for the following reasons:

  • The intent of the Building Code is to ensure that all things that are combustible within firewalls and exterior walls do not catch on fire and hinder egress. The entire water plant including the corridor wall in question are non combustible. Open tanks of water on the other side of the corridor wall cannot catch on fire. If there is nothing to catch on fire there will be no egress hinderance. As such, sprinklering the entire plant would provide no practical benefit.
  • The only combustible load in the plant is the insulation on the electrical wiring.
  • Simcoe decided to sprinkler only the corridors in order to meet the allowable 45 m travel distance between exits.
  • One hour fire separations will be provided between sprinklered and non sprinklered areas.

  1. The Building Code, Sentence 3.4.4.1.(10 requires ".. every exit shall be separated from each adjacent floor area by a fire separation having a fire-resistance rating not less than that required for the floor assembly above the floor area and, where there is no floor assembly above, not less than that required by Subsection 3.2.2. for the floor assembly below, but in no case shall the fire-resistance rating be less than 45 min."

Municipality's Position

The municipality advises that both Stair Nos.8 and 9 in the low lift area are required exits and should be enclosed and lead directly outdoors.

Applicant's Position

The Applicant understands that the intent of enclosing the staircases is to provide protected egress for people and a protected means for the fire department to enter the basement to fight fires. The Applicant believes that enclosing these stairs are not required because of the following reasons:

  • Two alternate accessible enclosed stairway exits are already provided in the basement level.
  • It is the Applicant's opinion that enclosing the stairs does not provide additional life safety due to the noncombustible nature of the construction and the extremely low risk.

In order to accommodate this request, major structural modifications are required.

  1. The Applicant requested the building be reclassified from a F- 3 occupancy structure to that of a Special and Unusual Structure as per Article 3.2.2.2. of the Building Code.

Municipality's Position

The municipality's position is that because a portion of this building includes administrative offices, it therefore, cannot be considered a special and unusual structure in its entirety.

Applicant's Position

The Applicant's position is that, unlike some of the F-3 examples given in Appendix to the Building Code (A-3.1.2.A.), the water plant is a special and unusual structure because of the following reasons:

  • There typically is only one water plant in any City. The facility is designed for a 50 year life span, and, unlike factories or office towers, water plants are not built on a periodic basis.

  • The design of the building is unusual.

  • The landscaping and berming features are extremely unusual.

  • Fire protection measures in the administration area have been provided in accordance with the Building Code.

  • The entire plant is constructed of non-combustible materials.

  • The risk is extremely low because water cannot catch on fire.

  • NFPA 820 Standard for Fire Protection in Wastewater Treatment and Collection Facilities was prepared specifically for a wastewater treatment plant. "The need to develop NFPA 820 was based on fire or explosion incidents that, while infrequent, are relatively severe when they occur". The standard was developed for wastewater treatment plants because, unlike water plants, there are different fire and explosion hazards to consider. The following is a description of some typical wastewater treatment plant processes and the associated fire and explosion hazards that must be taken into account.

  • Prior to entering the plant pumping station, raw sewage is screened for rags and large objects before being pumped to primary clarifies. Settling of organic particles occur in the clarifies. Downstream liquid stream processes can include having the sewage enter aeration tanks, final clarifies and polishing filters before entering a water stream.

Raw sewage cannot catch on fire or cause an explosion unless gasoline, for eg. has been spilled by accident into the sewer and has reached the sewage plant in an undiluted state. To prevent this occurrence, NFPA 820 recommends sewage pumping stations be designed to have a physically separated wet well and dry well. All pumping equipment is located in the dry well. The separation prevents open sparks which may originate from equipment from coming into contact with the gasoline vapours in the sewage wet well. Raw sewage pumping stations typically have many stories below grade. In raw sewage pumping station drywells, NFPA 820 Table 2, Item 17, makes no special distinction for multi-level basements and recommends fire extinguishers, and not sprinklers, be provided as the minimum fire protection measure in dry well areas. Raw sewage pumping stations are typically constructed from non combustible building materials. The only combustible load would be the insulation on wiring. Risk of fire is extremely low.

  • Anaerobic sludge digesters are used to stabilize sewage sludge. A by-product of the process is explosive digester gas.

  • Dewatering of digested sewage sludge is a common process that is used to reduce the volume of sludge to be transported off site to landfill. Dewatering of sludge can make the sludge dry enough so that it is combustible. The NFPA in Quincy, Mass, advise that, unlike wastewater plants, there is no fire protection standard for water treatment plants. The American Water Works Association in Denver, Colorado, which is a North American association devoted to the advancement of water treatment and distribution, recommends the use of fire extinguishers and central alarm monitoring systems in large water plants. It is quite likely that no fire protection standard for a water treatment plant was developed because the risk is extremely low compared to some processes in a wastewater plant.

  • The Town has, in the very recent past, followed NFPA 820 and allowed the use of portable fire extinguishers as the only means of physical fire protection in a raw sewage pumping station which is currently under construction. In many ways, a raw sewage pumping station is similar to that of a water plant low lift pumping station. The difference is that, in a water treatment plant, all of the processes are housed under one roof. The Applicant advised that the municipality should consider applying NFPA 820 fire protection measures used for a raw sewage pumping station to the Ajax plant low lift pumping station. In such a case, only fire extinguishers would be required. The municipality's requirement to install sprinklers over and above the fire protection measures already designed into the Ajax Water Plant does not make sense because it imposes a higher standard for fire protection for a water treatment plant than that for a "more hazardous" wastewater treatment plant.

  1. Chief Building Official's Position

The Respondent submitted the following comments with respect to the specific areas of dispute:

  1. Classification as a Special and Unusual Structure

This would appear to be an F-3 building for which design criteria is identified in 3.2.2.61. and therefore the designation as a special and unusual structure need not be applied. Inasmuch as more than 15% of the building floor area is assigned to occupancy by persons in administrative offices, it would not appear to be appropriate to consider this a special and unusual structure in entirety, and in any event there would not appear to be any recognized definitive alternate standard against which we could review this building.

  1. Below grade storeys

The process floors would not appear to be exempt from the requirements of storeys under 3.2.1.1.(8) in that they are below the first storey and are therefore not within the context of building height to which this exemption refers. Below grade levels are inherently more potentially hazardous than comparably designed above grade facilities, therefore the acceptance of the entire below grade complex as one storey with interstitial mezzanines or platforms under this sentence would not appear to be appropriate.

  1. Sprinklering

The requirement for sprinklering the complete floor areas in this building is due severally to:

i. the process areas being contained in basements (3.2.1.5.)

ii. storeys being constructed below ground (3.2.2.11.(2))

iii. the travel distance to exits exceeding 30m (3.4.2.5.(1)), and

iv. openings contained in the 2 hr. floors between process storeys (3.2.8.2.(3)).

The below grade process areas are not provided with any sprinkler protection, and there is no alternate means of containment proposed between floor levels. The applicant has proposed to sprinkler only those portions of the building outside of the process areas where the travel distance of 30m is exceeded (and the administration area, to provide for the interconnected floor space). The boundaries of the sprinklered areas include interior unrated partition walls, which condition does not constitute the sprinklering of the floor area where the travel distance is exceeded.

  1. Exits

The below grade process floor areas at levels 66,600 and 69.875 are not provided with any separated exits (3.4.2.1., 3.4.4.1.). Persons occupying these areas will not have available to them at this level any protected means of egress should any unforeseen fire-related circumstances arise. Levels 73.150 and 77.725 are not provided with exits within applicable maximum travel distance limitations (3.4.2.5.(1)).

  1. Commission Ruling:

It is the decision of the Building Code Commission that the building provides sufficiency of compliance with the requirements of the Building Code provided; the installed fire alarm system is connected to the fire department as per Sentence 3.2.4.7.(3) of the Building Code.

  1. Reasons:

i. The building can be considered a Special and Unusual Structure as per Building Code Article 3.2.2.2.

ii. The design of the building incorporates unusual berming features, complex design features with subsidiary administrative areas.

iii. The building is non-combustible construction containing very limited fuel load.

iv. The water treatment plant has a very low occupant load.

v. Enclosed exits are well distributed around the perimeter of the treatment plant.

vi. The administrative areas of the building are sprinklered and separated from the chemical facilities by a 2 hour fire rated wall.

vii. The viewing and operators galleries are sprinklered and separated from the rest of the treatment plant by a 1 hour fire separation.

viii. Public tours of the facility will be supervised and limited in frequency, in the number of participants, and to certain areas of the building.

ix. Evidence provided indicates that NPFA 820, Standard for Fire Protection in Wastewater Treatment and Collection Facilities does not require sprinklering for facilities that pose more of a fire hazard than water treatment plants.

x. Additional early warning of fire in the form of smoke and heat detectors have been provided.

xi. Floor levels within the below grade areas are considered similar to work platforms as described in Sentence 3.2.1.1.(8).

xii. Evidence provided suggests that no known water treatment plants in Ontario or Canada have been sprinklered.

xiii. Although a comprehensive risk analysis has not taken place, evidence provided by the Housing Development and Buildings Branch suggests that since 1983 there have been only a limited number of fires with low fire losses, no deaths and no injuries in water treatment plants due in large measures to low combustible content and non-combustible wall finishes.

xiv. The Housing Development and Buildings Branch intends to lead a task group to study the issue of the application of the Building Code to Water and Sewage Treatement Plants.

Dated at Toronto, this 15th day, in the month of October, in the year 1996, for application number 1996-48.

Roy Philippe

Michael Lio

Rick Florio