Updated fire safety regulations for builders could be years away





It could take up to four years before building codes are changed to address a flood of fire safety complaints in the wake of a massive blaze, despite calls for immediate action by the city’s fire chief and displaced residents.


Fire Chief Randy Wolsey blames outdated building codes for contributing to a mammoth fire that tore apart a south side condo complex and dozens of homes, leaving at least 100 people homeless.

He says residential homes are built too close together and don’t use a recommended layer of drywall as fire proofing underneath vinyl siding.

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Ray Danyluk says he wants to move quickly on the issue, but a provincial task force needs to review the current building code before he can take action.

“I very much believe that we need to be proactive, but we need to make the right changes,” he told reporters outside of the legislature yesterday.

But local homebuilders are less optimistic that building code changes could realistically be introduced in a short period of time — even with public pressure over the recent blaze.

Grant Ainsley, Alberta director for the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, says he doesn’t expect any changes to the code until 2011 since a national council typically needs to approve them.

He says builders will comply with any code changes that the province decides, but residents need to understand that it could mean increased costs for a typical home.

“It is a little bit too simplistic just to wrap the home with drywall and have the chances of this catching on fire to be reduced,” he said. “Having said that, we’re certainly not opposed to making changes, but we just want to make sure that the proper research is done before the code is changed.”

Concerns over condensation, ventilation and engineering problems associated with the extra load of drywall need to be considered as well, he says.

New Democrat Leader Brian Mason says the province has been dragging its feet over this issue for years, and concerns over increased housing costs need to be ignored.

“It’s more important that we have houses that are not fire traps than to have cheap houses,” he said.

“When it comes down to the question of basic safety, protecting people against loss of life, you can’t really put a price on that.”