On a sunny Monday morning in April, black smoke commences to billow out of an old four-storey brick constructing in Gastown. Soon, the overall neighbourhood is filled with foul-smelling smoke. On Abbott Avenue, the scene is chaotic: firefighters are rescuing folks with ladders, flames are capturing out of the roof and shoeless people huddle with their pets on the sidewalk.
The working day just after the fireplace, we were being informed that all the inhabitants experienced been accounted for, and that the 107-year-aged developing — which housed 71 small-cash flow tenants and seven modest corporations — would have to be demolished. But 11 days later, as the making was currently being torn down, two bodies have been identified. It took months to formally establish them as two tenants of the Winters: 68-calendar year-old Mary Ann Garlow and 53-yr-aged Dennis Guay.
Both have been susceptible people: Garlow was a household faculty survivor who experienced lived in solitary-space occupancy resorts in the Downtown Eastside for many years, and was devoted to caring for her son, John. Guay was deaf and may perhaps not have been knowledgeable of how significant the fireplace was. The constructing was operated as supportive housing by an knowledgeable housing provider, Atira Property Management, with funding from BC Housing.
It seemed significant to locate out what occurred, so The Tyee expended a month chatting to inhabitants and business enterprise house owners about what they professional throughout the hearth. We also spoke to spouse and children associates of Garlow and Guay, who told us they wished to know much more about the fire suppression devices, how the fire started out and regardless of whether it could have been prevented.
The setting up operator was ordered by the hearth section to do a hearth check out at the time of the fire due to the fact the sprinkler and alarm had been not working due to the fact of a past fire on April 8.
A hearth check out entails standard patrols to check for fireplace, and setting up occupants are meant to be notified. But it took us two months to obtain affirmation from the hearth division that these fireplace watch functions were essentially going on.
In the meantime, 13 citizens we spoke to stated they hadn’t observed any fire enjoy patrols, hadn’t been explained to about the sprinklers not doing the job and hadn’t seen notices posted. 4 organization owners also claimed they hadn’t been explained to about the fire check out the fireplace division confirmed to The Tyee that the corporations should really have been notified.
Residents also described a determined look for for fireplace extinguishers. One particular person explained jogging by way of the setting up to get a fire extinguisher, but all the canisters he observed were empty from battling the past fire.
The have to have for answers seemed clearly urgent. About 7,000 men and women live in SROs in Vancouver. They’re lousy, susceptible, often working with psychological disease and compound use. The buildings — which give small rooms and shared bathrooms and kitchens — are usually previous and poorly maintained.
And in 2021, there were 302 fires in SROs. Just about just one a day.
If the Winters Resort fire revealed gaps in fire security, answering the queries could conserve life.
When the Vancouver Fireplace Rescue Solutions investigation report was accomplished in June, The Tyee asked for a copy by means of a freedom of information and facts request. The department mentioned it would charge a lot more than $200 to get a copy.
The Tyee paid out, and the FOI clerk despatched it in excess of within just a few times. The report included essential information and facts about how the hearth began and dozens of photos. It also verified that constructing inhabitants and personnel could not come across functioning fireplace extinguishers mainly because lots of of them had been empty from staying applied throughout the April 8 hearth.
After looking through the hearth investigation report, The Tyee had two issues: Did Vancouver Fireplace Rescue Products and services look into whether the fire look at was remaining completed in the times and hours main up to the fire? And why didn’t the fire section get the hearth extinguishers to be replaced following the April 8 fire?
We sent our inquiries to Vancouver’s hearth office on June 23. On June 28, we despatched a reminder. On June 30, we got an emailed response — but it did not response our two crucial issues. A followup e-mail obtained no response.
So at a press meeting on the Vancouver Plan on July 5, we asked Vancouver’s mayor, Kennedy Stewart, if he could assistance us get solutions to our queries.
On July 6, the hearth office at last despatched us all those answers. They explained the proof, which include video clip footage from a security camera in the making, showed that the hearth check out was currently being accomplished. The fireplace extinguishers were empty, applied in the fireplace three times earlier. The section was owing to conduct an “after fire” inspection a few days soon after the April 8 fire, which would have recognized any complications with the fireplace safety systems — alarms, sprinklers, hearth extinguishers — in the constructing.
But the April 11 fireplace transpired just before that inspection could just take location.
In that email, the hearth division also reported its workers are doing work with BC Housing and other one-home occupancy resort operators to apply fireplace protection schooling.
“This correspondence will conclude our response to the fireplace at 203 Abbott Street,” the e-mail states.
The hearth department has been terribly hectic this year, battling an unusually higher quantity of fires in the metropolis.
But it should not be this hard to get answers to two simple questions about fire basic safety. Or about the distinct actions being taken to prevent yet another fatal SRO fireplace.