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Dollarama rebuild won't require sprinklers

James Jackson
Chronicle Staff
Published June 23, 2016Fire Chief Richard Hepditch, photographed at a press conference last September for the Dollarama fire. James Jackson photo.


As a new Dollarama store rises from the ashes after last September’s multi-million dollar fire, the building code states it will not require emergency sprinklers.

“They didn’t require sprinklers on the base of the design of the building at the time it was built, and they still don’t require sprinklers,” said Brandon Thompson, a municipal building official with the City of Waterloo.

“The insurance industry and the province have decided that this building does not require sprinklers.”

Even if the Dollarama being built at the Parkdale Plaza, 504 Albert St., was a brand new build it still wouldn’t require sprinklers, said Thompson. That’s based on a combination of the size, building usage and construction materials.

The store went up in flames on Sept. 11, 2015 around 4:15 p.m. and quickly engulfed the Dollarama. It took more than 12 hours to get the fire under control and involved more than 60 firefighters as thick, black smoke billowed from the plaza. The Ontario Fire Marshal’s office released a report in April that pegged the damage at $5 million.

Under the building code, the new store — which will be virtually identical to the previous Dollarama — can be built with either combustible materials (wood) or non-combustible materials (steel and concrete). Thompson said the Dollarama will be non-combustible materials and will have a firewall rated at four hours of fire resistance separating the store from adjoining businesses

The old Dollarama also had a firewall, but it was not up to the modern building code. The new wall will be taller, and is designed to stay standing even if the roof above it collapses, Thompson said. Due to the damage sustained in the fire, Thompson said they couldn’t determine the fire rating of the old firewall.

“The walls themselves … have been modernized,” said Thompson. He said the design of the store meets the minimum standard for fire resistance set out by the building code.

City staff are not in a position to encourage builders to go above and beyond what is required by the code.

“Our regulations are pretty clear as far as what is required, and as long as they meet that minimum requirement, that is all we can ask of them,” said Thompson.

A 14-year-old boy pleaded guilty to arson and served six months in custody.

The city’s fire chief said he respects the building code, but said he’d like to see the legislation evolve to include sprinklers in every new building.

“You can have a fire just about anywhere,” said Richard Hepditch. “You can have one in a Dollarama just as easily as somewhere else.”

He said sprinklers likely would have made a difference in limiting the spread and damage of the Dollarama fire, as well as enhancing firefighter safety. Two firefighters were taken to hospital for observation for work-related stress and exertion while fighting the fire.

“It would have depended on the capacity of the sprinkler and the location, but the way they’re designed it’s a very safe and reasonable assumption to say yes, they would have made a difference.”

The number of fire escapes and extinguishers will be determined by the fire code.

Property manager Harjit Jaswal said safety is his top concern, but noted if sprinklers are not required by the building code they are not covered by his insurance.

It also doesn’t make much sense to install them in just the Dollarama and not the rest of the plaza, meaning it would be an extra cost for him and his tenants.

It’s a discussion he’s willing to have, however.

“We can think about it,” said Jaswal. “Definitely I can talk to the tenants and if they think (sprinklers are) better for the protection of the plaza and the tenants, we can start working on that.”

Jaswal said the new windows will be made of a special fire resistant glass, but that glass is in short supply, he said, and is still about 10 weeks away from delivery.

Thompson said that glass is required as part of the firewall upgrades to the building.

Nicole Dore, who operates Pro Martial Arts with her husband just a few doors down from Dollarama, doesn’t think it’s reasonable for the property manager to expect tenants to pay for the sprinkler upgrades. She thinks the Dollarama should have sprinklers and would like to see corporate owners of the chain step up and pay for them.

“I would like to see sprinklers installed,” she said. Damage to her unit was limited to smoke and water, but still added up to about $100,000. They re-opened in late April.

Thompson said the city has not received any permit applications to install sprinklers in other businesses that were forced to close because of the fire.

He had until June 22 to process a permit request for the interior finishings of the store, including lights and shelves.