UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Fire severity outcome comparison of apartment buildings constructed from combustible and non-combustible construction materials Zheng, Alex; Garis, Len; Pike, Ian


Wood is commonly used in construction, but often perceived as being less safe than structures made from non-combustible materials. With the advancement of wood products and treatment, construction techniques, and protective systems, this may not be the case any longer. Using retrospective data from fire departments across Canada, this study aimed to determine whether the type of construction material (combustible or non-combustible) affected the fire severity outcome of a one to six storey apartment building fire, after accounting for protective systems (smoke alarms and sprinklers). The study found that, after adjusting for the presence of smoke alarms and sprinklers, structures constructed from non-combustible construction materials did not perform better in terms of injuries, requiring extinguishment by fire department, or the fire spreading beyond the room of origin. The presence of working smoke alarms and sprinklers played a central role in reducing the severity outcome of a fire. Smoke alarms and sprinklers both reduced the odds of extinguishment by the fire department and the fire spreading beyond the room of origin. Sprinklers also reduced the injury rate. Overall, this study highlighted the importance of protective systems in reducing fire severity outcomes.

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