TORONTO — MARCH 4, 2011 — The national body representing Canada’s masonry industry continues to call for tougher government legislation in building codes following a near fatal incident recently in which a stray bullet penetrated several townhome walls in Calgary.
A man was reportedly handling his registered handgun when it went off. The bullet shot through his wall, then through the main floor of the adjoining townhouse; the family was upstairs. It then shot out the other wall, across a small green space between two units, and then penetrated the wall of a third townhouse. It eventually was stopped by a plasma TV, after sailing just inches over the heads of the couple watching it. Their one-year-old was sleeping upstairs.
It’s not the first time a stray bullet has threatened the safety of homeowners while inside their homes, and in addition to raising questions about the use and safety of firearms, the incident also has prompted members of Canada’s masonry industry to call into question the safety and stringency of Canada’s building codes.
“Regardless of how you feel about the legality of firearms, the reality is that they are used all around us — legally and otherwise,” said Paul Hargest, President of the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association (CCMPA). “Our building codes have to take this into account and mandate the use of stronger, more durable building materials to protect homeowners from events like this as well as risks associated with fire and weather. In a high winds, objects such as hockey sticks can become airborne projectiles and seriously damage and even penetrate certain types of walls.
Under Ontario’s Greenbelt law, which governs protection and development of the 1.8 million acres of land around the Golden Horseshoe, CCMPA is advocating the use of building policies that require the use of masonry walls in residential building construction. Urban densification of the Greenbelt will only increase the frequency of these kinds of risks, says CCMPA, adding that current building codes allow for the use of materials such as gypsum drywall, stucco, vinyl and aluminum siding, which do not meet the safety needs of today’s society.
Ballistics research conducted by the Canadian Masonry Research Institute and the RCMP shows that in tests involving close-range gun shots from a variety a different firearms, masonry walls offer dramatically increased protection over their non-masonry counterparts.
Tests carried out during World War II have yielded similar results: in no case did bullets fully penetrate masonry walls when shot from high-powered rifles, revolvers and machine guns. Resulting recommendations were that construction incorporate 8” solid or grouted concrete masonry walls, or 12” hollow blocks with sand-filled cores.
These are the kinds of recommendations CCMPA wants to put forward to the Ontario Government, including Ontario’s Office of the Fire Marshal. Improved fire safety and fire containment is another significant benefit of concrete masonry. While CCMPA applauds Ontario’s mandating of sprinkler systems in high-rise apartments and condos, the Association believes legislating the use of masonry would protect public safety, as well as property, all the more. Given the fact that many municipalities today are looking to build with environmentally-friendly, long- lasting, low-life-cycle-costing materials, masonry is an investment in urban infrastructure that makes good sense.
Paul Hargest is the President of the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association (CCMPA). Paul is also Vice President of MasonryWorx (the marketing and government-relations body for the masonry industry); Chair, A165-04 Block Standard (CSA); Board Member, Canadian Masonry Contractors Association; Board Member, Ontario Masonry Contractors Association; and Executive Committee Board Member, National Concrete Masonry Association.
The Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association operates as Region 6 of the National Concrete Masonry Association, and is the representative voice for the Canadian concrete block manufacturing industry. The Association supports concrete masonry producers and suppliers in a number of areas including standards, training, technological research, government relations, and marketing and communications. Through these areas, the Association works to ensure the highest standards of quality and maintain the industry’s strong market presence.