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Letter to the Editor Edmonton Journal (Re: Re: “The Edmonton Fire Chief fears public is at risk because new homes burn too quickly”.)

Order of Canada for Edmonton Fire Chief Wolsey

Re: “The Edmonton Fire Chief fears public is at risk because new homes burn too quickly”.  The Journal, April 13.

If former USA Vice President Al Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for speaking out on global warming, surely Edmonton Fire Chief Randy Wolsey, deserves the Order of Canada for voicing the truth about Canada’s residential fire safety dilemma.  Finally, a recognized, experienced public servant has the courage to speak out. I applaud him for remaining ‘undaunted’ with comments about residential fire safety that are right on track.

As Chief Wolsey says:

“I don’t see a lot of work being done in regards to ensuring public safety,” he said. “I see it’s more directed towards cost or profit.

“Fire and building code reviews are not dominated by people who have an interest in public safety; they’re dominated by industry that has a bigger interest in protecting their market share.”

Most people are unaware of the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the Great Fire of Toronto in 1904.  Given past history that supports Chief Wolsey’s comments, what can be done?

The position of the Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association is clear and simple. A balanced approach needs to be taken to ensure residential building fire safety, i.e. one that incorporates detection, suppression and containment.  Canada has significantly moved forward with detection and suppression during that past two building code updates, unfortunately at the expense of containment.

We have effectively incorporated fire detectors into residential construction since they are very cost effective.  However, they are not present during construction.  Multi-family residential buildings are now sprinklered.  They may wet everything on the inside, however they have little impact on the exterior of a building.  How effective are sprinklers given they are mechanically operated and as such may not activate when required? While fire detectors and sprinklers have been mandated by the codes, containment of the fire has taken a ‘back seat’.  The 1995 building code cut the number of concrete block fire walls in mulit-family residences by half.  The new 2005 building code allows fire wall construction using combustible materials!

What resulted from the Great Fires of London and Toronto?  A mandating of non combustible building exteriors which prevent the spread of fire from one building to the next.

Chief Wolsey’s worst fear is a real one:  “….some future fire will cause a catastrophic loss of lives and that only then there will be the political will to make wholesale code changes.”  Before this happens, we as taxpayers and voters need to embrace this issue, stand up and make our concerns known to the politicians at each level of government: municipal, provincial and federal.  Let’s do so before it is too late and allow Chief Wolsey a well deserved, peaceful retirement.

Bruce D. Clark, P. Eng
Alberta  Director,
Canadian Concrete Masonry Producers Association