Statement by Greg Spearn Interim President and CEO on 1315 Neilson Road fire

Statement by Greg Spearn Interim President and CEO on 1315 Neilson Road fire

February 24, 2016

First, let me begin by stating once again that Toronto Community Housing deeply regrets the loss of life and the injuries that happened as a result of the fire at 1315 Neilson Road on February 5th. Since the fire, we have been working hard to assist the tenants of the building and the families of those who passed away, or were seriously injured. We continue to work to repair and restore the fifth floor of the building, which is the floor where the fire occurred. The west wing repairs are completed and residents have returned home; the east wing will take 6 to 8 weeks to repair, largely as a result of order time for replacement suite doors which were, of necessity, breached by firefighters in the line of duty during the fire.

As Chief Sales has explained, Toronto Fire Services has laid one charge against Toronto Community Housing. We believe that we were in full compliance with the fire code and all applicable fire safety legislation at 1315 Neilson Road at the time of the fire. Therefore, we will be contesting the charge.

I would like to clarify that the combustible material that seems to be the basis for the charge was two upholstered arm chairs, one new and one older, that were located in a large alcove off the fifth floor hallway. Two chairs had been located in the seating area alcoves of each floor for many years without incident. As the matter is now before the courts, we will make no further comment on the charge at this time.

I would like to clarify a point reported in the media over the last 24 hours. It was reported that there was peeling wallpaper in the hallways. I can confirm that the wallpaper was removed and hallways painted before the end of last year.

If indeed, as reported by some media outlets, the cause of the fire is found to be careless smoking, then someone broke the law and many people paid a terrible price. Where a TCHC tenant is found smoking in any common area, including hallways, they are told by staff to put it out. If they persist, we will proceed to terminate their tenancy. ​
The official cause of the fire remains undetermined. We await the findings of the Ontario Fire Marshal and anticipate it will likely be several months before the results are released.

Regardless, we are not standing still waiting for the Fire Marshal's report.

Toronto Community Housing takes fire safety very seriously. We fully support the efforts by Toronto Fire Services to maintain the highest standards and systems in all residential buildings in the city. We continuously work with Toronto Fire Services to examine our current fire safety practices to ensure that all our buildings meet or exceed the Fire Code as written. This includes the codes as they pertain to the year a building was built as well as retroactive requirements.

If any improvements can be made, we take quick and effective action to make them.

For example, in 2016 we are partnering with Toronto Fire Services for a Fire Safety Week starting June 5, in our communities. The intent is educational for tenants and staff about fire safety. The week will include activities at 60 of our buildings, plus training workshops for 300 front-line staff.

Toronto Community Housing's fire safety program is comprehensive. Matters related to fire safety are overseen by our dedicated Life Safety Unit which will be expanded in 2016. The Life Safety Team works with Toronto Fire Service, the City of Toronto's Municipal Licensing and Standards, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, the Electrical Safety Association and others to ensure TCHC provides an effective response to any issue, at all times.

At every one of our buildings, we conduct monthly fire safety inspections. We inspect fire separation doors, fire exit doors, garbage chute hatches, fire hose cabinets, emergency lighting, emergency power systems, the elevator return, fire alarms, voice communications and sprinkler systems.

Our last such inspection of 1315 Neilson Road was conducted on January 22, 2016, and all fire safety systems and equipment were found to be in working order.

We conduct weekly inspections of fire hose cabinets and inspect fire doors daily, to identify required repairs as a result of continuous vandalism to locking mechanisms. As a social housing landlord, we face particular challenges in this area. We repair an astounding 4,000 doors every month, most of them in common areas, mostly as a result of anti-social behavior by tenants or guests. In this area we are strengthening our work with Toronto Fire Services, as they will be assisting us with prosecutions where we are able to identify responsible parties.

During annual unit inspections of all our nearly 60,000 units, we test smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, window closures, and door stops. We also monitor units for excessive clutter. Staff also inspect smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms during routine work order calls in tenants' homes.

We continually make capital improvements to upgrade our fire and life safety systems. For example, although the requirements for low rises differ from those for highrises, we apply the most stringent highrise standards at all our apartment buildings. Several fire safety systems at 1315 Neilson Road exceed Fire Code requirements, such as positive pressure stairwells, heat detectors, fire alarm monitoring, and voice communication. In 2014, we spent $5.2 million on fire safety system improvements and in 2015, that amount grew to $9 million.

We also have in place a preventive maintenance program to maintain life safety systems in all our buildings. This includes regular testing of all life safety components and systems and fire protection equipment by outside contractors, including thermographs of all life safety and electrical equipment. We respond 24/7 to fire safety issues such as alarms or elevator entrapment, and has protocols in place to ensure immediate response by dedicated on-call staff, contractors or both.

We deliver fire prevention and preparedness education to tenants focused on emergency procedures and preparedness, danger of false fire alarms, and understanding of the fire safety features of each building. There is also fire safety information in our tenant guide, which we have translated into 18 languages.

We provide staff training for all life safety equipment on a demand-basis, and as part of our on-boarding program for new employees.

To conclude, let me say once again that although Toronto Community Housing is defending the charge, we remain steadfastly committed to working collaboratively with Toronto Fire Services to examine our fire safety practices at 1315 Neilson and all our buildings. We will continu​e to make whatever improvements may be needed to keep our residents safe. For example, as a precautionary measure, we recently removed furniture from anything we thought could be considered common hallway areas of all our buildings across the portfolio, most of which has been in place for many years. Once the Fire Marshal's office has released its Investigation Report, we will revisit this to see if any furniture could be returned.