Fire Safety in Farm Building Design

Today’s farm structures probably create some of the most fire prone conditions. From building usage, the storage of flammable material to building construction components the fire load can be tremendous. How does our current legislation protect the farm property and the individuals that work inside these structures? Disappointingly little.

To start, our regulatory legislation is dates back to 1995 and our current national farm building code is almost 20 years old. Even though there has been talk of a new farm building code in the works more recent updates have shown that any progress made has been halted. Though the farm code deals with some fire safety items such as maximum floor area, spatial separation, fire stopping, fuel storage, fire separations for utility rooms, electrical / lighting protection and exiting it is a pail comparison to the level of performance and fire safety implemented for current commercial facilities under new legislation.

To be more specific, no references are made to distinguish farms structures in terms of a hierarchy pertaining to hazard. For example, the facility in question could be 4799 square metres and be entirely filled with a flammable material such as hay or straw and be in total conformance. Farm buildings do not require a 1 hour fire separation until they exceed 4000 square metres or about 51000 square feet. That raises another problem for the larger facilities that exceed this under one roof. Generally these fire separations are put in a non-evasive area such as a connection link to minimize cost. How does one put a 1 hour fire separation parallel to the width of a 120 feet wide dairy facility and not inhibit cow flow, manure transfer, ventilation blockage, etc? The construction of such a wall is expensive to say the least. How in light of no control over the building fire load and combustible content can fire be stopped simply from by-passing this fire separation? Even on an implementation level these fire separations have suffered much resistance and opposition and due to this the real issue at hand has not been properly addressed.

The current regulatory codes pertaining to farm structures are simply out-dated. New legislation to regulate spatial separation, classification of farm structures, fire fighter access, exiting, water supply, fire-separations, combustible versus non-combustible and similar items will increase fire safety and prevent fire loss plus provide more design opportunities. Farm structures will continue to become more modernized and complex and therefore need a more specifically tailored code that allows for more design flexibility and options. This sector will increasingly have large properties and monetary value that needs to be protected. Current design standards and minimum code simply do not obtain a level of performance that is congruent to good engineering practice as it relates to fire safety and loss.

It is recommended that a new committee is formed specifically dealing with the new release of a national farm building code. New legislation will provide a higher standard of construction and strategic preventative rules to reduce fire loss. Additional options also will need to be considered similar to what is available within the Ontario Building Code pertaining to selecting regulating code articles based on over-all area, on-site water storage, construction type and access routes for farm buildings.

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