Sault Fire Services, apartment residents and building staff took part in a mock fire scenario at the 133-unit, 14-storey apartment building at 615 Bay Street Tuesday afternoon.
Always an important exercise to perform for both firefighters and tenants, Tuesday’s scenario is especially relevant in light of the June 14 fire which engulfed Grenfell Tower in London, England and claimed 80 lives, as well as several recent balcony fires in Toronto apartments.
Three fire trucks and a command vehicle arrived at the scene shortly after 2 p.m. for the scenario, which involved a mock fire in a fourth storey apartment unit, the building’s residents evacuated.
Though firefighters knew in advance of Tuesday’s training session, they were deliberately not informed exactly where the mock fire would be and had to pinpoint it, in order to test their skills.
“They didn’t know which floor or which room it was in at all, so they had to follow supervisory staff when they got here after the 911 call, as well as look at the panel and adjust based on that,” said Aaron Gravelle, Sault Fire Services public education officer, speaking to SooToday.
Sault firefighters improvised professionally before they even got to the scene.
“We had a real call come in just before we did the scenario so we juggled things around…the first truck to arrive was from the west end fire hall which is not standard for this, it would normally be Fire Hall 1 (on Tancred Street, in the city’s downtown core near the Bay Street apartment tower), but if they’re out on a call we have to adjust based on that,” Gravelle said.
“They adjusted very well.”
The crew from the second truck to arrive on scene acted as a Rapid Intervention Team (RIT), or rescue team.
“Our job is to be ready in case any of our crews get into trouble and we are basically a rescue team to help our guys (if needed),” said Captain Paul Makkonen, whose crew stood by after the ‘fire’ apartment was located by firefighters on the fourth floor.
“If the fire’s in your apartment you have to get out, you have to move, get out, close the door behind you, pull the fire alarm and evacuate to a safe zone,” Gravelle said.
“Even if you have mobility issues and can only evacuate one or two floors, as long as you’re out of that immediate danger zone, that’s okay.”
Firefighters will help move residents down by two storeys, away from the fire zone, and override the elevator to bring them down safely to the outside of a building experiencing a fire, Gravelle said.
There was no official 'cause' for the mock fire, but Gravelle said cooking fires are the most common in such apartment buildings.
Gravelle said each unit must have a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm, and both landlords and tenants have a responsibility to make sure those alarms are in working condition.
“They did a very good job today,” said Gerry Grandinetti, District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board (DSSMSSAB) housing operations manager, in praise of Sault Fire Services.
“We haven’t had one of these (fire drills involving Fire Services) for some time and I think I can see this happening on a more regular basis,” Grandinetti said.
“We have a fire safety plan in place…we’ve had very few fires in high rise buildings, we’ve had a few stove top fires in the past but no major fires, and we just want to educate not only residents but our staff as well, to make sure how to handle things if a fire takes place.”
“How it worked out today was very well done.”
Grandinetti estimated there are 150 residents at 615 Bay Street, and all of those at home at the time (between 40 and 50 people) were evacuated.