Toronto Community Housing fined $100K in deadly Malvern fire that killed 4 seniors
Rachael D'Amore, CTV News Toronto
Published Thursday, July 13, 2017 10:05AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 13, 2017 6:46PM EDT
Toronto Community Housing Corporation has been fined $100,000 in connection with a devastating, intentionally set fire at their Malvern complex that killed four senior residents.
On the afternoon of Feb. 5, 2016, a fire broke out at the five-storey building on Neilson Road.
The fire claimed the lives of four seniors and injured 15 others.
The Office of the Fire Marshal determined the cause to be arson earlier this year, citing that upon inspection, the building was in violation of multiple Ontario Fire Code regulations.
Investigators pinpointed the fire to “combustible chairs” on the fifth floor that were placed in an area where two hallways intersect.
Initially, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation faced charges of permitting combustible materials to accumulate in a means of agress, failing to instruct supervisory staff of fire emergency procedures in the fire safety plan before they are given any responsibility for fire safety, and failing to implement the approved fire safety.
The first two charges were later withdrawn by the City of Toronto for unknown reasons.
The housing agency pleaded guilty Thursday to failing to ensure the fire safety plan was fully implemented, resulting in a $100,000 fine.
“The fire developed as rapidly and deadly as it did because of the polyurethane foam that was in the chairs in the alcove but there were certainly elements of the fire safety plan that were not implemented as required that more than likely would have increased the survivability of some of the residents and the likelihood off less injuries, “Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop told CP24 outside the court office.
Jessop described the blaze as the “largest loss of life that the city of Toronto has had in a single fire over a decade” and said if it weren’t for the “heroic efforts” of responding firefighters, the death toll would have risen.
While TCHC recognized that there were safety measures that could have been improved, they maintained that they are not solely responsible for fire.
“Neither the specific charge nor the agreed statement of facts alleged that the deficiencies in the implementation of the fire safety plan caused or contributed to the February 5th fire, or any loss of life, injuries or damage to the building sustained as part of that fire,” TCHC's Interim President and CEO Kevin Marshman wrote in a statement.
They go on to say that the fire safety plan at the Neilson Road building has since met the standards of Toronto Fire Services.
“Fire safety has always been, and will continue to be, a top priority for Toronto Community Housing,” the statement reads. “Toronto Community Housing is committed to working collaboratively with Toronto Fire Services to continuously improve fire safety in all of its buildings.”
Graeme Hamilton, the lawyer for TCHC, told CP24 that the agreed-upon measures have been implemented at 1315 Neilson Road to ensure similar tragedies don’t occur.
“Toronto Community Housing once again expresses its heartfelt sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives in this fire, as well as those who were injured,” he read from the statement.
Victim’s loved ones still struggling
Melford Roberts lost his mother and father in the fire that February afternoon.
Standing outside the courtroom with his arms folded across his chest, Melford told CTV News Toronto that he isn’t totally relieved by the guilty plea.
He believes TCHC should be held accountable for all three charges due to the sheer danger the unmet fire codes put his parents and other residents in.
“They have a lot of ways they could improve the building. The building is for seniors and when you have seniors living there and you don’t have enough sprinklers equipped in the hallway when there’s a fire, then why put senior citizens there?” he said.
“My parents were taken from one building and placed in that building because they said it was for seniors.”
Since the deadly fire, the TCHC has made several charges to their fire safety plan.
Residential high rises are now inspected at least once a year and approximately 500 TCHC building supervisors are trained in fire prevention.
They say every fire that occurs at a TCHC building is fully investigated.
Roberts said that in some ways he’s comforted known that his parents, who had been married for 51 years, died together.
“It’s fresh. It’s not going away,” he said. “July 8th was supposed to be my mom’s birthday… I was at her site. Mother’s Day… Father’s Day… it all comes back. It’s still there.”