Fire Investigation Executive Summary

Manège Militaire de la Grande-Allée

Incident ID: 2008-2155  June 2009

Located at 805 Wilfrid-Laurier Avenue East in downtown Québec City, the Manège Militaire de la Grande-Allée (MMGA) was designed and constructed between 1884 and 1887.  This national historical site was home to the oldest French-speaking infantry unit of the Canadian Forces, the Voltigeurs de Québec, since the unit’s establishment in 1862.  The MMGA also housed a regimental museum containing artefacts from many Canadian Forces’ battles, including First and Second World War items such as the Vimy Bell, weapons, uniforms, and medals.

On April 4, 2008, at approximately 9:30 pm, a Category 1 Fire Incident was reported at the MMGA which destroyed the main drill hall and severely damaged other sections of the building.  Immediately following the incident, the Canadian Forces Fire Marshal (CFFM) initiated an investigation into the cause, origin, and circumstances of the fire.

The investigation concluded the fire was accidental.  It was determined that the fire originated in the southwest corner of the attic of the main drill hall, where a sprinkler system installation project was ongoing. It was also determined that the fire was caused by the misuse of electrical appliances. 

Contractors involved in the sprinkler project used a portable halogen lamp that lacked a protective grille and was not mounted on a stand.  Although it was common practice to turn the light off by unplugging an extension cord, evidence indicates that the lamp remained illuminated and unattended on April 4, 2008 after all workers had left the building.

Forensic tests concluded that the portable light in question had been subjected to an impact while illuminated.  Laboratory ignition tests confirmed that when the hot components of this type of portable lamp come into direct contact with wooden structural elements, the wood will ignite in as little as five to 32 minutes.

The investigation also determined that the fire alarm system was partially impaired.  More specifically, the fire detection zone covering the attic had been disconnected, allowing the fire to burn undetected until reported by a 911 caller.  Laboratory tests performed using similar equipment within a structural model built to scale concluded that, if the fire detection zone had been operational, the fire would have been detected approximately 45 minutes (+/- 15 minutes) after ignition, alerting dispatch and initiating a fire department response more than one hour sooner.

Based on the findings of the investigation, the following recommendations have been made:

1. Use of Portable Lighting Equipment

Halogen type portable lighting equipment, identified as the ignition source, operates at very high temperatures.  These types of lights are readily available in all hardware stores and are typically found at construction sites.  The design and manufacture of these types of lights include various safeguards such as glass lenses, protective grilles, mounting brackets, and stands.  The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) testing and listing of these lights require that the applicable safeguards be in place when they are in use to prevent them from causing fires.  Manufacturer instructions must be strictly followed when using these lights.  The CSA maintains standard CSA-C22.2 No.12-1982 (R2004) Portable Luminaires.

It is recommended that the CFFM issue a product alert on the risks involved with the use of these lights and provide associated recommendations to reduce the risk of fire.

2. Fire Safety of Construction Sites

It is recommended that the Memorandum of Understanding between DND and Defence Construction Canada (DCC), along with DCC contractual documentation, be reviewed for conformity to Building and Fire Code requirements applicable to construction sites to ensure that contractors follow all necessary fire safety measures.

3. Fire Protection System Impairment Management

As required by the National Fire Code (NFC), when a fire protection system, or part thereof, is temporarily shut down, measures shall be taken to ensure that protection within the building is maintained.

The disabled fire alarm system detection zones within the MMGA were not adequately recorded or communicated, nor were any alternative mitigating measures established.

The Fire Marshal Operating Guideline (FMOG) 4006, Fire Protection Systems Impairments, describes all relevant code requirements and procedures to manage a fire protection system impairment.

All temporary shutdowns of fire protection systems, or part thereof, shall be managed in accordance with the NFC and FMOG 4006. 

4. Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Fire Protection Systems

As required by the NFC, all fire protection systems are required to be inspected, tested, and maintained in accordance with specific requirements.  As observed during the investigation, the inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm and detection systems at the MMGA was not conducted as required by the NFC. 

The CFFM recommends that all fire protection equipment be inspected, tested, and maintained by an independent third party trained and certified to work on specific systems.

5. Impairment Investigation

As the circumstances surrounding the partial impairment of the fire alarm system is beyond the scope of this investigation, it is recommended that it be investigated further.

6. National Research Council Findings Submission to Canadian Standards Association (CSA)

Given the extent of testing undertaken by the National Research Council (NRC) on the use of halogen work lights and their associated fire risks, it is recommended that the test findings be submitted to the CSA for review and assistance in future standards development.

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