Fire chief says Port rooming house unsafe
Fire chief says Port rooming house unsafe
July 21, 2017
St. Catharines Standard
Article by: Dave Johnson
 
Ashley Pastusiak stands beside 220-224 Mitchell St. Thursday, July 20, 2017 in Port Colborne, ON. Pastusiak and nine others were removed the rooming house in the city’s East Village Tuesday after Port Colborne Fire and Emergency Services Fire Chief Tom Cartwright used a section of the fire act - under immediate threat to life - to board up the issue-filled building. Dave Johnson/Welland Tribune

Ashley Pastusiak stands beside 220-224 Mitchell St. Thursday, July 20, 2017 in Port Colborne, ON. Pastusiak and nine others were removed the rooming house in the city’s East Village Tuesday after Port Colborne Fire and Emergency Services Fire Chief Tom Cartwright used a section of the fire act - under immediate threat to life - to board up the issue-filled building. Dave Johnson/Welland Tribune

 
A rooming house in Port Colborne’s East Village found to have numerous fire safety issues was boarded up Tuesday, and 10 of its residents removed.

Port Colborne Fire and Emergency Services Chief Tom Cartwright used a section of the Ontario Fire Protection and Prevention Act - under immediate threat to life - and worked with Office of the Fire Marshal, Niagara Regional Police, Region of Niagara Community Services, Red Cross and Port Cares, to move the people out of 220-224 Mitchell St. and provide them with temporary alternative accommodations in area motels.

The building is currently secured and under the control of the fire service, which was allowing residents to gather any belongings as long as firefighters were on scene.

Ashley Pastusiak, 33, and her roommate Brad Marion were two of the 10 forced to leave the residence on the southwest corner of Mitchell and Louis streets.

“Firefighters were in the building the day before, they came and checked everything. The fire alarms were working and the hallway wasn’t blocked,” said Pastusiak, who is on a leave of absence from TD Canada Trust in London, Ont.

She said firefighters and police showed up on Tuesday around 4 p.m. and everyone in the building was told they had an hour to gather up what they could and leave the building. Residents forced to leave the building were living on the second and third floors. They all had their own 14x14 rooms and shared a common kitchen and bathroom.

“We were told the building was not compliant,” she said.

Pastusiak moved into the rooming house last December, after suffering a fire in a previous residence, also on Mitchell Street, and losing just about everything she owned. She moved in after she was unable to find an apartment in the city.

“There’s nothing available out there,” she said, adding as soon as she left the building Tuesday she started to call around looking for a new place to live.

She and Marion, and some other residents from Mitchell Street, were put up at the Knights Inn on Highway 3, on the border of Port Colborne and Wainfleet. She was worried that come Friday morning, all of them would be homeless as the motel was booked up for the weekend and they’d have to move out.

“I don’t want to see anyone homeless,” Pastusiak said, on the verge of tears. “To go through this twice in nine months ...”

She acknowledges the rooming house had a bad reputation in the past, but she and others were working to change that by keeping the building as clean as possible and kicking out anyone who didn’t belong. There was even a community barbecue held to show residents in the neighbourhood the reputation was no longer deserved.

“We could only have 10 people in the place at a time; we complied with that. If there were more people, we’d kick them out,” said Pastusiak, who was still at a loss to explain why everyone was forced out.

Cartwright said the Mitchell Street property has a history of violations stretching back to May of this year.

The chief said on Friday, May 19, deputy fire chief Mike Bendia and fire prevention officer Scott Lawson visited the property and found combustibles stacked against the side of the building.

“They called in (city) public works after hours and a backhoe filled two dump trucks with combustible materials. While they were there, they conducted an inspection and found there were no working smoke alarms in most cases,” he said.

Firefighters installed new smoke alarms and a number of orders were issued to the owner to make changes inside the building.

“When I came back from vacation, Mike and Scott told me what happened. I went to look at the building and there were combustible materials against it on the Louis Street side and furniture up against the building. Again, it was late afternoon and we used our squad truck to take two huge loads to the dump,” he said.

The chief said firefighters went back inside the building and found smoke alarms either disabled or completely removed. These were smoke alarms that firefighters had recently installed, he added. The Ontario Fire Code requires buildings to have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

“We were there on five occasions and always found the same things … smoke alarms not working, disabled, and even covered with plastic bags.”

He said 17 people were found to be living on the second and third floors of the property during one visit. Those additional people were all removed from the building.

“On Monday it all came to a head. We went over again and found improper cooking devices in the hallway leading to the only stairwell off of the second floor.”

Cartwright said the hallway and stairwell had to be kept free of anything that would impede residents from exiting the building in the event of a fire.

“People were storing things in the hallway, I challenge anyone on that who says otherwise.”

Other problems in the building, he said, include electrical issues in the basement, drywall separation between units broken, the lack of solid core doors, and questions over appliances and natural gas services coming inside. The building has also been the site of at least two fires in the past. One was in the back stairwell of the building, the only exit from the second floor, and the other was a stove fire in the front apartment on the Mitchell Street side.

“Conditions such as those found within the building will simply not be tolerated,” said Cartwright.

With all of those factors, Carwrtight said he used Section 15 of Fire Protection and Prevention Act ‘Immediate Threat to Life’ to order the removal of the residents. Police, he said, were on scene to keep the peace.

“Section 15 gives us tremendous powers and it was invoked for justifiable reasons.”

Charges against the building’s landlord are anticipated, said Cartwright.

“He will be held accountable as far as we’re concerned.”