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Charges could be laid in TCH seniors building fire that killed three people

Last Updated Feb 8, 2016 at 7:14 pm EDT

Charges could be laid against Toronto Community Housing after it was discovered there was furniture in the hallway of a building where a fatal fire happened on Friday, according to Toronto Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop.

Three people died and fifteen people were taken to hospital after fire broke out top floor of the five-storey TCH building on Neilson Road Friday afternoon. It is believed the fire was caused by careless smoking on a couch in the hallway.

Toronto fire can lay charges against TCH based on Ontario Fire Code violations in the building, Jessop said. The maximum penalty is a $100,000 fine.

The building on Nielson Road caters to people 59 years old and older, but is not classified as a seniors home and thus does not have to pass the same, strict provincial fire regulations as a seniors or retirement homes.

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According to TCH records, the building was last inspected for fire safety in 2013. Under the Fire Code, buildings that are classified as seniors homes must undergo annual fire inspections.

“There’s clearly a gap in the regulations at the present time,” said Susan Eng, former vice-president of Advocacy at the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP). “Because you see all of the public officials running for shelter saying it’s not their fault. In fact what we have here is something people can anticipate, a lot of older people gathered together, living together and they need the kind of resources that would be necessary to keep them safe. Right now that doesn’t exist enough.”

According to TCH, there are 15,000 residents 59 and older living in 71 seniors-only TCH buildings in Toronto. There are 27,500 seniors living in TCH buildings overall, and 38 per cent are 75 and older.

“We have to expect when people get older that they’re going to be a little more vulnerable,” Eng said. “They have mobility challenges, they can’t hear as well, they can’t move as quickly. So we have to prepare for that. We have to acknowledge that is imminently foreseeable and we have to be prepared.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne wouldn’t comment until the ongoing investigation into the fire is completed.

“People died and my heart goes out to the families,” Wynne said Friday morning. “It was a dreadful situation. There’s an investigation ongoing so we don’t know exactly what happened. And so I think we need to let that be completed and then hear from the folks who did it, what their recommendations would be going forward.”

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According to firefighters at the scene, residents had to be evacuated from the building through windows in their suites because smoke from the fire was so thick in the fifth-floor hallway.

“The smoke was so thick, a healthy young person couldn’t have got through,” Toronto Fire Captain David Eckerman said, noting that the smoke can be filled with carcinogens and carbon monoxide.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said it is important that all TCH buildings adhere to established fire codes.

“I certainly will be registering with the Toronto Community Housing Corporation how much I am concerned, as the Mayor of Toronto, about making sure that the standards that are set today and that do apply to the Toronto Community Housing are met,” Tory said Friday. “Because I think that while we have many challenges in front of us, as you’ve heard me say many times in terms of repairing these buildings and putting them in a better way so people can have a more comfortable life. I think the number one thing we have to make sure is that they have a safe life.”