650 Parliament damage ‘the worst I have seen for that type of fire,’ deputy fire chief says
Toronto Star

A high-ranking official with Toronto’s fire department says the fire at 650 Parliament St. last summer has caused damages of exceptional proportion, the kinds of which the city has not seen in over 20 years.

“The catastrophic damage that was done to the electrical system and the repair that has been required is absolutely the worst I have seen for that type of fire,” said Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jessop.

“We have seen buildings that have been completely burned to the ground and demolished ... In this case the damage to the structure itself was minimal, the building is still standing. But I have never seen in my career, literally the complete devastation of an entire building’s electrical system as a result of a fire.”

A six-alarm fire broke out at the St. James Town building on Aug. 21, displacing more than 1,500 residents and forcing management and the city into a scramble mode trying to shelter affected people. No major injuries were reported.

Repair work is already underway, but there’s no approximate completion time and no one knows when residents will be able to to reoccupy their units.

The fire department completed the physical examination part of the investigation earlier in the spring, but the final phase — which consists of a thorough review of witness statements, conducting forensic testing on parts of the electrical system, studying audio transmissions as well as reviewing previous records of inspection history — is still underway. This is the part that will determine the actual cause of the fire, Jessop said.

Jessop has visited the building a number of times since the fire, and said every electrical component for the building’s entire system will have to be replaced.

“It’s literally going into walls of every unit, and electrical panels, replacing receptacles, I’ve never seen that before,” he said, noting it’s rare for buildings’ electrical systems to get badly damaged.

A series of electrical system failures at a number of buildings in St. James Town earlier this month left thousands of residents without water and electricity — prompting the city to launch an inspection blitz targeting highrise buildings. Mayor John Tory said these types of issues are largely due to a lack of maintenance. He said the status quo “is unacceptable and needs to stop” because it puts residents’ safety at risk.

Jessop said it’s been clearly evident to Toronto Fire, the city and the Electrical Safety Authority that certain landlords have not been conducting routine preventative maintenance in their systems. Inspections haven’t been properly conducted or completed at several old buildings across the city, he said.

“This causes a significant electrical and fire safety risk,” he said. “We are working collaboratively and proactively and we’re in the process of identifying what are the high-risk buildings based on previous violations, the age of the building or lack of requisite maintenance.”

Saira Husain, a communications manager at the Electrical Safety Authority, declined to discuss specific details of the repair work happening at 650 Parliament, citing confidentiality measures.

“In general terms, the scope of work for any project really varies depending on the building type, its age, size, features and any proposed changes or enhancements,” Husain said.