Codes and standards
Fatal high-rise fire brings lessons learned back to Ontario
By Jason Reid
By Jason Reid
Being a security guard is often a thankless job. They are always right there to help and it is commonly understood that they are a professional and trustworthy individual who is in charge of all your building life safety systems on their watch. In fact, they are called upon to implement emergency procedures to bridge the gap between the arrival of police, fire and EMS for the first 10 minutes in every emergency at their building. It is these individuals that have clear, detailed roles and responsibilities during all types of incidents.
Recently, a security guard in Mumbai tragically died during a fire incident that started inside a 60-storey residential high rise. From a nineteenth-floor suite, it spread to the unit directly above it. Twenty-six residents were rescued with no major injuries, and a security guard died in the incident.
According to a senior official from the Mumbai Fire Brigade, the building’s fire fighting system was initially not fully operational.
“Sprinklers were not working and there was very less pressure in the hose lines. We had to make the equipment operational manually.” This equipment not being ready-for-use by firefighters not only negatively impacted the occupants and staff, it endangered the lives of arriving firefighters.
Although there is an ongoing investigation, there is little international coverage. However, there are some immediate lessons that have been learned from this incident and continue to be highly relevant in Ontario.
Initial sources at the high rise had identified that the fire alarm system sounded, and some building occupants were either evacuated and/or defended in place. At some point, the security guard responded to the fire floor, became trapped in the fire as he tried to help others and fell from the nineteenth-floor balcony.
In Ontario, security guards’ procedures in residential buildings do not direct and/or guide security staff to perform rescues. Security guards in residential buildings are not required to go to the suite involved in the fire and perform searches, and/or attempt to extinguish the fire. These tasks are done by highly trained firefighters who are equipped with the necessary personal protective equipment.
Significant questions arise: Did the guard know his role during fire alarms? Were procedures followed? Was there training on these procedures? Was the building’s fire safety plan ever explained to the security team? Was the building owner aware of the responsibility to train staff? Building Owner test and inspection records, coupled with staff training will be a significant focus of the investigation in this fatal incident, as it would be the same in Ontario.
Ontario has a long ongoing history of identifying the gap of “training” building owners and staff as a vital component of a fire-safe building. In fact, the Ontario Fire Code requires that all staff be trained on how to implement the fire safety plan – before being given any responsibilities at the building.
Training has been a common lesson learned for over 30 years in Ontario. In a 1995 coroner’s inquest into the Forrest Laneway fire that resulted in multiple deaths, the coroner recommended that building owners have mandatory training to better understand their accountabilities – to better protect staff, occupants and firefighters.
Specifically, the inquest recommended developing a mandatory, certification training course for building owners / supervisory staff.
Fast forward to 2020, with still no recognized training program in Ontario, the City of Toronto’s auditor general released a report on fire and life safety, Raising the Alarm, which highlighted the need for industry-recognized training aimed at building owners and staff to assist and support them in understanding their roles and responsibilities under the Ontario Fire Code. In fact, this report highlighted that only one in 12 of the “sample” City of Toronto buildings were compliant with the Ontario Fire Code. Also, the report documented that building owners and building (city) staff required training on their roles and responsibilities under the Code.
In response to this report, in the midst of a pandemic, the City of Toronto is taking fire safety to new levels, and has hired three full-time fire safety instructors to ensure meeting the training requirements of their building managers and supervisory staff.
Training building staff on emergency procedures is one facet of the necessary training, and building owners and supervisory staff need to understand the vast array of daily, weekly and monthly tests and inspections that are required to effectively maintain their building’s life safety systems to be in working order, so that the systems work when required.
Almost every residential building owner in Ontario is required to have a fire safety plan, including having it approved and implemented at their building. The implementation requires that the owner, and all people with roles and responsibilities in that plan, are trained before being given any responsibilities at the building. This includes property managers, facility managers, security staff, operations teams, and at times, even cleaning staff and service providers.
In Ontario, building owners are required to maintain written proof of the training for all staff members, dating back two years. This documentation must be readily available at the building for inspection by either the local fire inspector and/or the building’s insurance provider.
Both the need and the demand for recognized, accredited training is evident right here in Ontario. Training allows for building owners to understand what they are responsible for and how to use their fire safety plan. Through training, the building staff will understand their own unique roles and responsibilities – that keep everyone in the building safe, including occupants, building staff and arriving firefighters.
Jason Reid is a Senior Advisor, Fire, Safety & Emergency Management at the National Life Safety Group.