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London fire will affect enforcement of safety codes in Ontario: building inspector

The remains of Grenfell Tower are seen from a neighbouring tower block in London, England, on June 16, 2017.

Carl Court/Getty Images

London's Grenfell Tower fire is a tragic incident that is bound to affect how safety codes are enforced in Ontario, one building inspector says.

"It's sickening [and] saddening, obviously, any time there is a loss of life, but when you are close to the professions that oversee and regulate these types of buildings, it hits you even a little bit harder," said Matt Farrell, an engineering technologist and building inspector with the Ontario Building Officials Association.

"Unfortunately, when there is any catastrophic loss like that, it is also used as a learning experience, and there are going to be changes to the way we administer our duties," Mr. Farrell said, adding that any changes will be gradual and dependent on what British investigators determine to be the cause and aggregating factors of the fatal fire.

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The vertical inferno broke out in the early hours of Wednesday. The cause is still under investigation.

The 24-storey apartment building, in an area of London known as North Kensington, is now a recovery site. At least 30 people are confirmed dead, and more than 70 others are still missing. British officials are cautioning that no more survivors will be found and that some remains may never be identified.

Some estimates say as many as 600 people were living in Grenfell Tower.

A criminal investigation has been launched into the incident, as questions mount about what role the installation of new cladding played in the fire, which rapidly engulfed the building's 120 units.

The Guardian newspaper reported that when the building was renovated in 2016, a cheaper form of aluminum composite cladding was used that did not contain fire-resistant material. It also reported that there are no building rules in the U.K. requiring the use of fire-retardant material in cladding for tower blocks and schools.

"In my mind it looks like there were several things that had to have happened to lead to that kind of catastrophe," Mr. Farrell said.

He said that under safety and building regulations in Ontario, construction materials have to go through "rigorous testing" to determine things such as flame-spread rating, resistance and non-combustibility.

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"My hope would be that we don't see anything like that in this province," he said.

In an e-mail to The Globe and Mail, Ontario Ministry of Housing spokesman Mark Cripps said the enforcement of safety codes – such as the installation of proper cladding and a long list of other fire-suppression and prevention systems – is up to inspectors at the municipal level.

Mr. Cripps says residents who have fears about their building's safety have two options.

"If a tenant has a concern, they should contact their local building or fire department," Mr. Cripps said. "[And] we strongly recommend that all tenants familiarize themselves with the location of exits and emergency exit protocols."

Deputy Chief Jim Jessop of Toronto Fire Services suggests residents who live in apartment buildings or condominiums have a high-rise survival plan ready at all times should a fire occur. It includes tips such as putting a wet towel at the bottom of a door to keep smoke out or using it to breathe through; using duct tape and foil wrap to seal doors and vents; keeping a whistle and flashlight handy to alert officials; and hanging a brightly coloured cloth from your balcony to show your location.

"The most important thing any tenant can do is ensure they are familiar with the exiting and the fire protection systems of their buildings," Mr. Jessop said.

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With files from The Canadian Press

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