Montreal

Gaps in Montreal fire department's dangerous, vacant building list under scrutiny

Workplace health and safety inspectors will sit down with Montreal fire department officials today to review their vacant and dangerous buildings list. Earlier this month, a CBC Montreal investigation revealed that list was incomplete.

Quebec's workplace health and safety board, CNESST, to meet union, fire department officials today

The vice-president of Montreal's firefighters union, Chris Ross, inspects a building at the corner of St-Dominique and Marie-Anne streets that is not on the fire department's master list of abandoned and dangerous buildings. (CBC)

Workplace health and safety inspectors will sit down with Montreal fire department officials today to review the department's vacant and dangerous buildings list to see if any changes need to be made.

Earlier this month, CBC Montreal Investigates reported that list, which firefighters rely on to keep them safe, was incomplete.

After CBC compared the fire department's list with empty and possibly dangerous buildings that city boroughs know about, we found many buildings on the boroughs' lists were missing from the fire department's master list — suggesting a major communication breakdown.

One of the derelict buildings the fire department was not aware of had cars and flammable material stored inside. 

Through a broken window at this unused autobody garage, there appears to be abandoned cars, tires and oil drums. Piles of plasters had also fallen from the ceiling.

At another, a hole has burned right through the roof into the ceiling below, likely caused by a campfire started by squatters.

CBC showed the buildings to Chris Ross, vice-president of the Montreal firefighters union. He was stunned the fire department didn't know about them.

There's evidence that squatters have had a campfire on the roof of this vacant building on St-Dominique at Marie-Anne streets. The fire burned right through to the floor below. With electricity to the building cut, no fire or smoke alarm would have sounded. (CBC)

That master list of vacant and dangerous buildings will be the focus of today's meeting between the fire department and the province's workplace health and safety board — known by its French acronym CNESST.

"We see now there might be a problem," said CNESST spokeswoman Alexandra Burnet. She describes the meeting as "explanatory," to look at what the issues are and how they can be addressed.

"We will see if any new recommendations need to be made," said Burnet.

In December 1990, Lt. René Massé was killed after he was trapped in a burning, vacant building on St-Hubert Street. After his death, major changes were made to the way the fire service keeps track of vacant and dangerous buildings. (CBC)

Firefighter death led to major changes

In December 1990, Lt. René Massé was killed after he was trapped in a burning, vacant building on St-Hubert Street.

After his death, the CSST (CNESST's predecessor) ordered the fire department to keep an inventory of vacant and dangerous buildings.

Firefighters now depend on this list to warn them of additional hazards they might encounter, such as weak walls, holes in the floor or toxic chemicals.

Every building on the list is inspected by the fire department every six months. Each time a new building is added to the list, every firefighter in that district is required to visit it, so they are aware of the risks.

When CBC's report was published, the fire department's assistant director, Denis Doucet, said the findings were worrisome.

"I can guarantee that we are taking action to check whether these discrepancies really exist," Doucet said at the time.

The meeting with CNESST comes after two major fires in the past week destroyed neglected, unused buildings on St-Laurent Boulevard and on Parc Avenue.

In both those cases, the firefighters were aware of the buildings and the hazards inside, which helped guide them in how to best fight the fires.

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