Toronto Community Housing is facing another charge in connection with a fatal fire at a seniors’ apartment building in February.
Two separate sources confirmed to CityNews on Monday that TCH will be charged for “lack of training” in violation of the city’s fire code. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
Four people died and fifteen were taken to hospital after fire broke out on the top floor of the five-storey TCH building on Neilson Road on Feb. 5.
Ninety-year-old Charles Roberts and his 72-year-old wife Hyacinth died in the blaze. They had been married for 51 years. Their bodies were found in the fifth-floor hallway. The third victim was later identified as 86-year-old Azeema Safraj.
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A fourth person died several weeks later in hospital. The identity of the victim was not released.
TCH said it was notified on May 20 of an additional charge and that the issue is currently before the courts.
In the weeks following the fire, charges were laid against TCH for having combustible material blocking exit points in the building. Firefighters at the scene said there was furniture in the hallway where the fire broke out.
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TCH will now be charged with “failure to ensure supervisory staff were instructed in fire emergency procedures as described in the Fire Safety Plan (for that building) before being given responsibility for fire safety.” TCH faces a maximum fine of $100,000 for each charge.
Sources said there is evidence staff in the building were not trained in its fire safety plan.
“We do train our staff on fire safety, and refresher training on fire safety for approximately 600 building staff started in May,” A TCH spokesperson said in a statement.
“This year, staff will also be receiving additional training from the Toronto Fire Services in the second week of June as part of Fire Safety Awareness Week. Other Fire Safety Awareness Week activities include educational seminars for residents of 47 TCHC buildings. Joint Fire Safety Awareness Week activities between TCHC and TFS were in the planning prior to the February 2016 fire at 1315 Neilson,” the statement continued.
Safraj’s daughter had previously sent an email to Tom Koufis, Senior Community Housing Superintendent at TCH, with serious complaints about the building.
“The wallpaper is torn and falling off the walls,” she wrote in an email dated June 18, 2014. “This poses a safety issue since many of the residents smoke (in the hallway) and this could be catastrophic should it accidentally catch onto the wallpaper hanging off the wall or lying on the floor. This problem needs to be addressed urgently since it’s accident waiting to happened [sic]. Most of the seniors are not mobile and should there be a fire most of them will be trapped in their apartments.”
Lisa Murray of Toronto Community Housing says the wallpaper was removed in 2015. However, residents of the building said people continued to smoke cigarettes in the hallways.
Safraj’s daughter said she’s happy TCH is facing further charges.
“I’m very pleased to hear this. I was concerned my mom’s death would go unnoticed or nothing will happen so hearing this really does my heart good,” she said. “They need to be accountable, my mom is gone there is nothing I can do but what I can do is keep her memory alive by making sure TCHC is held accountable.”
She said that had the employees been properly trained, her mother, and the others killed in the fire, may be alive today.
“My mom can’t run she can’t walk the elevator was not working,” she explained. “Had there been training in place in evacuation emergency it’s possible not only my mom would be alive today but three other deceased individuals.”
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.
However, 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.
Toronto fire is now working with TCH to make sure staff at all buildings are adequately trained.