Alarm repairs not a problem in fire, head of TCHC says

1:30 p.m. Feb. 10, 2017. A Canadian Red Cross sign set up at Wellesley Community Centre outside the gymnasium where residents of a Toronto Community Housing building were forced to sleep last night, following a fire.
1:30 p.m. Feb. 10, 2017. A Canadian Red Cross sign set up at Wellesley Community Centre outside the gymnasium where residents of a Toronto Community Housing building were forced to sleep last night, following a fire.

Feb. 10, 2017

A fire that occurred at a Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) building on Thursday evening was not complicated by an issue with repairs, says TCHC CEO Greg Spearn. The fire alarm panel at 291 George St. was replaced in 2015, Spearn said to reporters on Friday.

“The alarm system worked perfectly and the fire department arrived right away so the building was evacuated almost immediately, with the exception of some units on the fourth floor where the smoke was bad, and we asked people to stay in their units, and they were then evacuated by the fire department using their ladders.”

It is not known if anything could have prevented the extent of the fire and the fatality. The building does not have sprinkler system and Spearn says there is no plan to install one. “[The building] was built to code. It doesn’t have sprinklers. No it didn’t require sprinklers, either.”

CityNews reported that the unidentified man who died in the fire had been in and out of hospital with health problems in the weeks before the blaze. Another report on Friday confirmed there were concerns about him living independently.

Spearn explained to Signal Toronto on Friday that TCHC doesn’t determine if someone is capable to live on their own. “If we see a vulnerability or if someone asks for help we do our best to refer people to what we think might be the best supports,” Spearn said.

The fire at the 132-unit building, all units bachelor size, displaced all residents on Thursday night. Spearn said some went to family or friends, others were put up in hotels, and about 40 slept on cots in the gymnasium at Wellesley Community Centre because of a lack of hotel rooms due to a conference this weekend. Residents will not be able to return home until the building has been deemed safe.

Mayor John Tory spoke with reporters on Friday outside the Wellesley Community Centre, after visiting with residents who stayed overnight. He said residents were fine, but frustrated by the lack of heat in the building: the heat at the Community Centre is lowered during the night, and someone would have to reprogram the environmental controls to fix the issue. Tory said he assured residents the problem would be solved by tonight.

The fire comes just a week before Toronto City Council votes on the budget. City Councillor Gord Perks told reporters, earlier this week at the Executive budget meeting that the budget does not include enough money for TCHC. “The plan called for us to contribute… about $70 million more this year then we will actually be contributing. That means that in future years, we’re going to have to close units that people desperately need or even are currently living in.”

In response to a question today about whether the city’s budget should include more money for community housing, the mayor was fervent that the city is already going above and beyond their previous commitments to TCHC. “You know what, I live in a world where it has a lot to do with the art of the possible. I am certainly knowledgeable of the fact that the money that will be put into Toronto Community Housing this year is more than ever before in history. Ever.”

Tory also conceded the contribution by the city to TCHC won’t solve every problem.

“If I was standing here saying that I had to explain a cutback… I would probably have some explaining to do.” Tory said, adding the city is putting a quarter of a billion into repairing housing. “I need the help of the other governments; I’m optimistic I’m going to get that because I’ve been a relentless advocate on this and I will continue to be.”

1:30 p.m. Feb. 10, 2017. Emergency cots set up in the gymnasium at Wellesley Community Centre for those displaced by the fire at a Toronto Community Housing building at 291 George St. Approximately 40 men slept on cots at the Wellesley Community Centre. At time of publication, it was not known when the residents of 291 George St. would be able to go home.
1:30 p.m. Feb. 10, 2017. Emergency cots set up in the gymnasium at Wellesley Community Centre for those displaced by the fire at a Toronto Community Housing building at 291 George St. Approximately 40 men slept on cots at the Wellesley Community Centre. At time of publication, it was not known when the residents of 291 George St. would be able to go home.