National Fire Prevention week is October 7 to 13, and with the recent blaze at a duplex on the corner of Willow Avenue and Hawthorn Street in Townsite, the subject could not be more timely. Although the cause of that fire has not been released, there is nothing suspicious, according to City of Powell River fire chief Terry Peters.
“There’s no concern for the public or anything along those lines,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate circumstance for the people. They lost everything, but the silver lining is they all got out alive and no one was injured.”
This came down to a number of factors, including the quick thinking of four-year-old Leon Scott, who initially alerted his parents to the fire in the home, and the quick response from the fire department members, who were on scene in fewer than five minutes from the time they were notified.
Although one side of the building was destroyed, the adjoining suite was virtually unscathed because the building was up to code.
“That place had been renovated,” said Peters. “Some older places that haven’t been done you would have lost the entire building.”
The upgrades included fire stops between the two sides of the duplex in the attic. Though not costly, they were vitally necessary, said deputy fire chief Rocky Swanson.
“We’re talking about gyproc with two-by-fours every so far in-between,” he added. “It just gives [the fire] somewhat of a stopping point.”
With Powell River’s rental vacancy rate currently at less than one per cent, there is incentive for homeowners to consider renting part of their space or building a suite, however, not all are up to regulation.
“Illegal suites are everywhere; it’s a problem,” said Swanson. “We all know the socioeconomic reasons for this. There is an obvious requirement that people need a place to live and people have the space. Homeowners can take advantage of that and some do it right, some don’t.”
The first steps in any renovation are consulting with city hall and making sure the space is properly insured.
“One of the key things when people are building a suite or making renovations to their home is that they contact their insurance agent to make sure the insurance company is aware of the changes to the home,” said First Insurance branch manager Greg Babcock. “A policy could be void if the insurer is not aware of a material change.”
These costs should be factored into the budget before proceeding, for the safety of both the tenant and landlord, said Swanson.
“Do things right, don’t take shortcuts,” he added. “If you think you’re going to build a suite, don’t start until you put all the costs together because that’s what generally causes people to take those shortcuts. They get into a project that they can’t afford and then they start taking shortcuts and later on that could cost somebody’s life.”
Fire and building codes are periodically changed and improved based on firsthand experience of what works best, added Peters.
“There are reasons for building codes. The reason is it’s there for your safety,” he said. “That’s what the building department is about. We don’t make this stuff up.”