City officials dismiss complaints about potential fire-safety problem

Edmonton's chief building inspector dismissed as 'unfounded' complaints that a popular fire-resistance product may not provide the fire protection its manufacturer claimed.

Edmonton’s chief building inspector dismissed as "unfounded" complaints that a popular fire-resistance product installed on hundreds of new houses may not provide the fire protection its manufacturer claimed.

Maurice Otto, the city’s chief building inspector, said he received "a lot" of complaints from competitors and home builders in June and July about claims that the paint was washing off Fireboss, an oriented strand board (OSB) coated with a fire-resistant paint manufactured by Edmonton-based FlameX.

The company estimates Fireboss controls 60 per cent of the fire-resistant board market in Alberta.

Competitors told Otto they doubted Fireboss could maintain the fire-resistance rating established by the independent testing required for the product to be sold in Edmonton. The test requires a fire-resistant board to withstand flames for at least 15 minutes. Fireboss had passed the test with a 19-minute burn time.

"A lot of people were complaining, saying, ‘Hey, the intumescent paint is washing off,’" Otto told CBC News. "(I) contacted the manufacturer FlameX and they said, ‘No the paint that is washing off is only an identifier.’

"The intumescent paint is actually a clear product. So you couldn't tell if it was on the sheets or not."

Intumescence is created by a combination of chemicals that expands when exposed to flames, depriving fire of the oxygen needed to spread or burn through.

Fire resistance was 'clear'

Otto says he accepted that explanation from FlameX owner Brett Elanik and did nothing further to verify Fireboss still worked as Elanik had claimed.

"What reason would I have not to believe him?" Otto said.

Edmonton Fire Chief Ken Block said he relied on Otto and also didn’t question that explanation.

"There is a level of confidence and trust in the decisions that are made and again we saw nothing in the answers that were given that raised the red flags," Block told CBC in an interview.

In-house testing proved it worked

CBC News asked Elanik what proof he had that Fireboss, after the paint washed off, performed to the fire-resistant rating established by the independent testing, which allowed the product to be approved for sale in Edmonton. Elanik admitted he had no independent tests that provided proof.

"We’ve done a ton of in-house testing to prove, and know on our own, that that product is still there," Elanik said.

Tony LaGrange is a paint chemist with 20 years experience researching and developing fire-resistant coatings. He owns a company called Quantum that specializes in fire-resistant products and says he once worked with Elanik on creating  a fire coating. LaGrange said it is not possible for Fireboss to meet its tested standard once the paint washes off.

"An intumescent coating is kind-of like a symphony of ingredients that all work together to create intumescent char," LaGrange said. "And it is that char on the surface of the wood that prevents the heat, and the oxygen from getting to the wood and making it burn. So you need the coating with everything in it to do that.

" What that means is, if the coating itself is gone, the symphony doesn’t take place, there is no char, and there is no fire protection."

Product passed durability test

Last summer, FlameX began applying a wax-paper coating to its Fireboss product, which it said was for marketing and stacking purposes. But Elanik said the new product also passed an accelerated durability test with the wax-paper overlay.

Flame X has also told CBC that Intertek is doing another round of tests and that the results are forthcoming.

During the past six months, CBC News has noticed dozens of houses where the paper overlay peeled and the paint appeared to wash off.

Calgary has not approved the use of Fireboss with the wax-paper overlay because this product lost its certification by Intertek, its independent testing company. However, Fire Boss without the wax-paper is approved for use in Calgary. Elanik's product also meets Edmonton’s standards, which differ from Calgary, and is approved for sale and use here.

Two related Calgary companies, Cano Coatings and Pinkwood, are suing FlameX in an attempt to have Fireboss removed from the market. FlameX is countersuing, claiming those competing companies are trying to eliminate a competitor.