Parliament Hill reno protected by “robust” fire-prevention measures inspired by Notre Dame blaze, committee told

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Parliament Hill construction

Ontario Construction News staff writer

The team leading the renovation of Parliament Hill’s Centre Block was watching and learning last summer when fire gutted the celebrated Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

The historic church was in the middle of a restoration construction project when the fire started. It quickly spread along the roof, causing horrific damage to the centuries-old French Gothic structure.

Jennifer Garrett, director general of the Centre Block reno project, presented improved fire prevention plans to senators on the long-term vision and planning committee last week.

“As a result of that fire . . . it led to the committee wanting more information and being a little concerned that our most precious heritage asset, that the Centre Block had an appropriate fire prevention strategy to protect it during construction activity,” Garrett said.

$733 million Parliament Hill visitors centre visualized along with $75 million House of Commons Chamber renovation

The fire prevention plan was developed with PCL-Ellis Don, the lead contractor on the Centre Block project and currently the company in control of the work site.

the team from Public Services and Procurement Canada developed a strategy that Garrett calls “the most robust fire prevention strategy for a construction site in the country to date.”

In 1916, Parliament Hill’s original Centre Block was destroyed by a fire that started in a wastepaper basket in the reading room and spread rapidly. Seven people, including one MP, died in the fire.

“We have developed what I think in confidence I can say is probably the most robust fire prevention strategy for a construction site in the country to date,” Garrett said.

The plan includes a dedicated fire prevention officer on site to continually monitor the strategy.

Garrett told senators that all fire prevention plan measures have been implemented and are functioning except for one — surveillance cameras, which are expected to be completely installed by the end of the month.

Public Services is also looking into thermal imaging as a possible fire detection method as well. The House of Commons and the Senate chambers are now protected by laser-based smoke monitors and the fire prevention plan depends on people as much as it does on technology.

“We have an hourly fire watch of 116 checkpoints within the building and we have sensors at those checkpoints so that the actual commissionaires have to physically go to those spaces,” Garrett said, adding the fire watch runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Other precautions include compact fluorescent units that don’t produce heat and a hydronic system for heating — a system of hot water pipes and radiators, instead of the gas heaters typically used on construction sites.

“I think that while you can never completely reduce all the risks associated with fire, I think we have created a very robust fire prevention strategy,” Garrett said. “I hope that we are demonstrating to you how important we take fire prevention and this very important heritage asset to heart in terms of protecting it during the course of the rehabilitation.”

In 1916, Parliament Hill’s original Centre Block was destroyed by a fire that started in a wastepaper basket in the reading room and spread rapidly. Seven people, including one MP, died in that fire.

“We have an hourly fire watch of 116 checkpoints within the building and we have sensors at those checkpoints so that the actual commissionaires have to physically go to those spaces,” she said, adding the fire watch runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Public Service and Procurement staff have not yet provided a public cost estimate for the Centre Block renovation project, despite public requests by MPs and senators.

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