USE OF FARM BUILDINGS FOR ASSEMBLY OCCUPANCY
May 1, 2012
In the past year, fire safety concerns have been raised in regard to farm buildings being used for assembly occupancy. The Office of the Fire Marshal prepared this communiqué to provide guidance with respect to these concerns.
In the Fire Code, “assembly occupancy” is defined as follows:
Assembly occupancy means the occupancy or the use of a building, or part thereof, by a gathering of persons for civic, political, travel, religious, social, educational, recreational or like purposes or for the consumption of food or drink.
When farm buildings are used to host events such as dances, weddings, concerts, religious gatherings, etc., the building use is classified as “assembly occupancy”. Buildings used for assembly occupancy must comply with applicable fire safety requirements in the Building Code and the Fire Code. Assembly occupancy requirements in the Building Code and the Fire Code deal with fire and life safety features, such as exits and means of egress, fire separations, flame spread ratings, fire alarm and detection systems, and sprinkler systems, as appropriate to the use of the building. These features, along with controls on fire hazards and implementation of emergency procedures, are needed to ensure the safety of occupants in the event of a fire emergency. Persons attending assembly functions in farm buildings that lack such features and controls may be at serious risk in the event of a fire emergency.
A farm owner intending to use a farm building to host assembly events should contact the local building official to determine whether a Change of Use permit is required. Compliance with the conditions of this permit would ensure that applicable health, structural and fire safety requirements in the Building Code are satisfied and that the building can be safely used for assembly purposes. The farm owner should also consult the municipal fire department on the applicability of Fire Code provisions, including those relating to the retrofit of assembly occupancies, emergency planning and indoor public amusement areas.
Fire departments are advised to develop and implement a public education strategy to inform farm owners of their obligations to comply with the Building Code and the Fire Code, and to inform them of the potential fire safety risks associated with using farm buildings for purposes other than farming. When inspectors become aware of an assembly event taking place in a farm building, either in the planning stages or an event in-progress, they are advised to contact the owner and to conduct an inspection of the building. If fire safety concerns are identified during the course of an inspection, fire departments may wish to consider the enforcement provisions listed below, depending on the circumstances encountered:
- application of Article 126.96.36.199. of Division B of the Fire Code for activities that create a hazard and that are not allowed for in the original design of the building;
- use of an inspection order under subsection 21.(1) of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997 (FPPA);
- closure of the building through provisions in subsection 21.(2) of the FPPA;
- use of immediate threat to life provisions under section 15 of the FPPA, when applicable.
Furthermore, fire officials are advised to notify and partner with other enforcement agencies such as the Electrical Safety Authority, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission, the local building department and the local police service to deal with potential risks associated with the inappropriate use of farm buildings for assembly purposes.
The nature of the activity or event taking place will determine Fire Code requirements that apply. An evaluation will be required on a case by case basis. Fire departments requiring assistance may contact their local OFM fire protection advisors.
Use of Farm Buildings for Assembly Occupancy: Questions and Answers
Q1: Under what authority can municipal fire officials deal with fire safety concerns in farm buildings?
A1: The Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997 (FPPA) gives municipal fire officials the authority to deal with fire safety matters. This authority extends to all land and premises, including farm buildings.
In addition, the Fire Code, a regulation under the FPPA, may also apply (see Q2)
Q2: When must farm buildings comply with the Fire Code?
A2: Farm buildings must comply with the Fire Code when the occupant load of the farm building exceeds what is prescribed in Article 188.8.131.52. of Division A or when the building no longer meets the definition of “farm building” as stated in Sentence 184.108.40.206.(2) of Division A.
Q3: When does a farm building no longer meet the definition as stated in Sentence 220.127.116.11.(2) of Division A of the Fire Code?
A3: When a farm building is used for any purpose that is not associated with the practice of farming (e.g., assembly purposes, furniture manufacturing, operation of a retail establishment), then the building no longer meets the definition of a “farm building” and the exemption in Article 18.104.22.168. of Division A of the Fire Code no longer applies. The building may also be subject to the Change of Use provisions of the Building Code.
Q4: Does the Fire Code apply to farm buildings occasionally used for farm demonstration tours, farm auctions or other seasonal farming activities involving the gathering of people?
A4: The Fire Code applies when the occupant load of a farm building exceeds what is prescribed in Article 22.214.171.124. of Division A. If the activities mentioned involve higher occupant loads, farm owners are encouraged to contact the local fire department to discuss what fire safety requirements may apply during the activity or event.
Q5: Which Fire Code requirements apply to farm buildings that are not exempt from the Fire Code?
A5: The nature of the activity or event taking place will determine Fire Code requirements that apply. An evaluation will be required on a case by case basis (see Q6 and Q7).
Q6: Are farm buildings subject to the full application of the Fire Code when occasionally used for hosting assembly events that may involve large numbers of people, such as dances or concerts?
A6: Farm owners should consult with their local building department and fire department to determine applicable requirements, including the need for a Change of Use permit. In determining the applicability of Fire Code requirements, fire departments are encouraged to use the approval authority under Article 126.96.36.199. of Division B of the Fire Code. Article 188.8.131.52 stipulates that activities that create a hazard and are not allowed for in the original design shall not be carried out in a building unless provisions approved by the Chief Fire Official are made to control the hazard. Some provisions the Chief Fire Official (CFO) may consider are as follows:
- prohibition of open flames;
- well-marked and illuminated alternate exits;
- control or removal of loose combustible materials;
- safe use of extension cords or other temporary electrical wiring;
- safe use and placement of portable heating devices;
- sufficient number and placement of fire extinguishers;
- assignment of responsibility for monitoring safety issues/provisions; and
- notification to other relevant agencies when appropriate, e.g., Technical Standards and Safety Authority, Electrical Safety Authority.
Other fire safety deficiencies may become apparent during an inspection by the CFO, in which case other provisions of the Fire Code may apply.
Q7: Are farm buildings subject to the full application of the Fire Code when used for a one-off family event such as a wedding?
A7: It is recognized that such events are at times an extension of activities that are carried out in the farmer’s own home and would therefore not normally be subject to the full application of the Fire Code for assembly use. However, the farm owner is strongly encouraged to review and implement the fire safety precautions described in A6 above and to deal with any other health, safety or structural concerns.
It is important to note that fire officials retain the authority to apply the Fire Code and/or to take other action under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997 if public safety is at risk, regardless of the type of event.
Q8: If a farm owner wishes to use a farm building for purposes other than farming on a regular basis or to permanently increase the occupant load, what effect might this have with respect to applicable Building Code and Fire Code requirements?
A8: The farm owner should discuss his or her plans with municipal officials prior to undertaking any changes. A Change of Use permit under the Building Code may be required based on the nature of the new activities or the increase in occupant load. The Fire Code may also apply when the activities introduce specific hazardous operations or when the nature of the activity or increase in occupant load warrants emergency fire safety planning under Section 2.8 of Division B. In some cases, the retrofit provisions in Section 9.2 of Division B, Assembly Occupancies, may also apply.