Over the past two years the number of people who have died in fires while living in Toronto Community Housing (TCH) was four times more than non-TCH residents.
From Jan 1, 2016 to December 13th, 2017, almost 40 per cent of fire deaths occurred in TCH properties — 11 people died during that period, including four elderly tenants in a TCH seniors building.
Ninety-year-old Charles Roberts and his 72-year-old wife, Hyacinth, died in the Feb. 5, 2016 blaze. The third victim was 86-year-old Azeema Safraj (pictured below). The fourth victim died in hospital nearly a month later, on March 2. The identity of the fourth victim was never released.
TCH was charged with fire code violations in the February 2016 blaze which spread thick toxic smoke through the 5th floor.
Ultimately TCH pleaded guilty to failing to implement the approved fire safety plan and was fined $100,000. Fazeela Khan, who was visiting her aunt who died in the fire, survived but spent weeks in the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.
She told CityNews the superintendent knocked on the door and told her to leave. All the residents were found in the hallway trying to escape. Toronto Fire officials said if they had stayed in their units they would likely have survived. The cause was determined to be arson, a chair in an alcove by the elevator was set ablaze although no charges have ever been laid.
That fire was the tipping point, raising awareness and prompting action on TCH’s highly-criticized fire safety record.
Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg was asked at a budget committee meeting in December 2017 to provide a strategy to address fire safety, as a result Toronto Fire prepared a 2018 operating budget briefing note which outlines some serious issues.
From 2010 to Dec 2017 Toronto Fire responded to 51 major fires, 26 of them were deemed to have violations of the Ontario Fire Code which the report states “contributed to the deaths, critical injuries or spread of the fire beyond the unit of origin.”
As a result of those fires there were 24 fatalities and 19 critical injuries.
Chief Pegg is proposing a permanent TCH fire safety task force be created based on “current and predicted” fire safety risks and wants 25 new permanent staff to be hired as a result. It would cost $1,904,498 in 2018 and $2,812,328 a year after that. It’s mandate would include annual inspections on all TCH buildings, fire investigations for all fires in TCH buildings annual fire safety training for all TCH supervisory staff.
Pegg is also recommending a TCH Public Fire Safety Education and Marketing Program at an estimated cost of $250,000 a year.