This morning it was heartbreaking to learn of a three-alarm fire and full evacuation at 96 Gerrard Street East, the Neill-Wycik Co-operative College, a long established student housing co-op. Toronto Fire Services (TFS) has been on site since midnight and they have assured me along with the co-op’s board president that everyone is safe and accounted for now. The Office of Emergency Management has been activated and they are working alongside the Red Cross and TFS to monitor the situation, and will continue to provide emergency support. I have conveyed my personal expectations and offers of support from the City directly to the President of the co-op board.
I can’t imagine how frightened these residents are, most of them are students including some with International student status. The investigation into the cause of the fire will be ongoing, and we are still working to determine the full extent of the damage. The power to the building has been cut in order to begin the substantial repairs to the electrical system. Back up power is being used and generators are being mobilized on site to support the lights and life safety systems for portions of the building that are not damaged. We are hopeful that power will be able to be restored to at least a portion of the building.
I have asked the co-op board of directors to develop an emergency communications plan and a strategy to ensure that alternative accommodations are provided to anyone who needs it. From experience I know it can take months to repair the damage caused by electrical fires of this nature.
Unfortunately, this sounds all too familiar. I can’t help but compare to what we have seen at 650 Parliament Street, and the electrical fire that displaced over a thousand residents for almost two years. What happened at 650 Parliament was tragic and avoidable, but we have learned a lot from this disaster. In response, City Council improved a number of emergency responses through the Vital Service Disruption report. This report requires building management under the RentSafeTO program to develop emergency preparedness plans for tenants during temporary discontinuance of vital services. It also requires the building management have and implement a clear communications plan, so that residents can receive timely and important information. I must impress that the above outlines what should have already existed to support those living in high rise buildings. Far too often, these residential buildings are not maintained or regularly inspected.
Just like 650 Parliament, there are vulnerable residents and in this case, International students who fall outside of the jurisdiction of both Toronto Fire Services and the Red Cross. My office will work alongside Toronto Fire Services, and the co-op’s manager to ensure these residents are supported. It’s my hope that the power to the building can be restored as quickly and the disruption to life minimized as much as possible.
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