Vancouver council considers plan to improve fire safety in city’s SROs – BC

Vancouver city council is considering a new initiative aimed at fire safety in single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels Tuesday.

The proposal comes amid a troubling — and sometimes deadly — increase in fires and fire-related calls in the city’s Downtown Eastside.

The worst disaster was the fire that destroyed Gastown’s Winters Hotel, killing two people and leaving 71 others permanently displaced.

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It was the first of seven SRO fires in Vancouver in 2022, and a sign of an alarming trend.

The number of SRO fires in the city more than doubled between 2016, when there were 104, and last year, when the city recorded 223.

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Marvin Delorme, a resident of Vancouver’s Woodbine Hotel, said his building has seen two fires in the last four months alone.

Click to play video: 'Safety concerns after hundreds of false alarms at Vancouver SRO hotel'

Safety concerns after hundreds of false alarms at Vancouver SRO hotel

“Basically everybody was lost, nobody knew what to do, nobody knew where the fire extinguishers were and trying to knock on every door, it was difficult — when the caretaker and his sidekick are not very healthy,” he said.

“I saw those fire trucks and police and ambulances outside and I thought, ‘I’m going to be homeless.’ I don’t even have a sleeping bag or a tent. My mind was racing, I thought, ‘Where am I going to stay? Where am I going to live?’”

The proposal at council Tuesday from the SRO Collaborative Society is seeking a $110,000 grant to run a one-year fire safety pilot project.

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The initiative would focus on 18 privately operated SROs, teaching tenants about the resources in their buildings and helping them build fire response plans.

“Tenants will meet fire inspectors and fire educators who will come into their building and meet with tenants, do a walkthrough so tenants can learn about things that relate to fire safety that they don’t know in their buildings, they will do workshops with us, they will do a fire drill and barbeque once a year,” society executive director Wendy Pederson explained.

“There will be a couple of lead tenants in the building who will survey all their neighbours about fire safety. For example, they will learn who is shut-in and who is going to need help if there is a fire.”

Pederson said the Winters Hotel fire has weighed heavily on the minds of residents across the Downtown Eastside, and that the community is eager to take steps to ensure it isn’t repeated.

Click to play video: 'VPD confirms identities of two killed in Winters Hotel fire'

VPD confirms identities of two killed in Winters Hotel fire

“Two people died there that didn’t need to die, and tenants didn’t really understand why that happened,” she said. “I think if tenants were more knowledgeable they can also be part of the monitoring that needs to happen, and that fire could have potentially been prevented.”

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Jean Guy Gagnon lives at Vancouver’s Arlington Hotel, where some residents got a recent tour from a fire safety educator.

The experience left him feeling safer, but he said other residents, and those living in similar buildings need to have the same information.

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“That was super good. He gave us some pointers because nobody knows what to do during a fire. They don’t know where the extinguishers are. So we need a system and we need a drill and to get everyone involved,” he said.

“There’s so many old people living in the building, we have to take care of them too.”

Council received a staff report on the proposed pilot project and is slated to vote on the item Tuesday afternoon.

However, at least one councillor has already signalled he likes the idea.

“There’s been tragic loss of life and we need to do everything we can to prevent that from happening, so I think it’s money well spent,” ABC Coun. Peter Meiszner said.

The SRO Collaborative Society said if approved, the funds will be used to cover staff, honorariums for participants and food for workshop sessions.

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