Alarm fails in Villeray apartment fire, prompting dramatic rescue

It was the smell of smoke, not the sound of a fire alarm, that sent several residents of an apartment building in Villeray running from an early morning fire.

Fire department will investigate why the building's smoke detectors did not go off

Firefighters used their mechanical ladders to rescue several residents trapped by the flames. (Alain Beland/Radio-Canada)

It was the smell of smoke, not the sound of a fire alarm, that sent several residents of an apartment building in Villeray running from an early morning fire. 

When firefighters arrived at the scene around 4 a.m. Wednesday, they had to rescue at least a dozen people still trapped inside.

By then, flames could be seen from the fourth-floor balcony, and firefighters used mechanical ladders to rescue those unable to get out.

The site of the fire was a privately owned autonomous living facility for people aged 55 and over, housing around 150 people, many of them elderly or with reduced mobility.

Residents said they did not hear a fire alarm at first. According to Montreal's chief of fire prevention, Louise Desrosiers, the panel operating the fire alarm and detection system wasn't working.    

"Even as I was leaving, I pulled on the alarm on the third floor, and it didn't go off," one resident told Radio-Canada as he clutched a grey blanket.

The fire department was called to the scene just before 4 a.m. on Wednesday. (Radio-Canada)

3 people injured

Firefighters confirmed that they also did not hear a fire alarm. Yvon Daunais, an operations chief with the fire department, said because the alarm didn't go off, they had to call in back-up to search every unit in the building. 

Some residents were still sleeping when firefighters entered their apartment. Mara-Andrea Vieira woke up to a fireman taking her by the hand.

"He said 'Come on, get out of here, there's a fire," Vieira told CBC News.  

"Me, I was still in the sleepy mood. I thought it was a dream. But when I saw the big smoke in the hallway, I told myself 'That's not a dream, that's reality.'"  

Three people were taken to hospital: one resident for smoke inhalation, another for burns to their hand and a firefighter to be treated for heat exhaustion. 

The Red Cross has put up 19 people in hotels. Desrosiers said the fire department is not investigating why the alarm didn't work since the owner is replacing it. 

Daunais said the department's prevention division will investigate what happened. 

"Our working hypothesis is that the fire started in the kitchen of an apartment on the fourth floor," he said. 

The upper two floors of the building were badly damaged, but residents on the first two floors should be able to return to their homes shortly.

Fire officials said the building had many elderly residents. (Radio-Canada)

with files from Emily Brass