Montreal firefighters train for highrise building fires, say officials

The Montreal fire department says it has specific measures in place to deal with large-scale building fires such as the highrise apartment blaze in London that killed at least a dozen people Wednesday.

Emergency workers have detailed procedures, technical briefings in case of massive blaze

At least 12 are dead and hundreds are injured after a blaze at 24-storey building in London.

The Montreal fire department says it has specific measures in place to deal with large-scale building fires such as the highrise apartment blaze in London that killed at least a dozen people Wednesday.

Highrise structures aren't as easily accessible for emergency services compared to smaller buildings or homes, but Montreal firefighters are equipped with a plan if the situation ever arises.

"It's not too complicated to intervene in a highrise building, but it's different," said Benoit Leclerc, who works for the city's fire department and is an instructor specializing in highrise building fires at Montreal's École Polytechnique.

In Quebec, firefighters are taught with how to deal with flames ripping through large-scale structures before they even leave school. Each student must complete at least 90 hours of training that focuses on highrise building fires.

"There's a specific kind of training," said Leclerc. "It's the same thing even for police officers."

Keeping track of each building

In order to minimize damage and be able to access the structure quickly, the fire department keeps a detailed technical file on each highrise building in Montreal.

Firefighters make regular visits to tower blocks and multi-level structures so they can take note of important exits and what kind of protection is already in place in case of emergency.

"The file helps us to act in terms of priority and building components," said Stéphane Corriveau, the chief of operations for the Montreal fire department.

The fire in the public housing complex in London has killed at least 12 people. (Rick Findler/Associated Press)

Those briefing notes are also kept in fire trucks and in alarm panels of buildings so firefighters can easily access them.

Leclerc said those buildings must also meet strict modern construction codes. The interior and exterior of the structure must be constructed out of incombustible materials, such as brick, cement, metal, glass or stone.

They must also have elevator shafts and staircases specifically adapted for emergency services. Alarm, drain and sprinkler systems in highrise buildings are also more complex compared to those in smaller structures.

Time is of essence

When it comes to highrise buildings, firefighters have to act even more quickly to put out the flames and evacuation priorities change in order to save as many lives as possible, said Corriveau.

All of the city's 67 fire stations are equipped with long hoses and bags filled with equipment specifically for more complex fires.

"If we take a lot of time to evacuate the building then the fire will progress more quickly," said Corriveau.

While the procedures for highrise building fires are different, the fire department's goal remains the same in any emergency.

"Our priority is to save lives," said Leclerc. "Even if it's dramatic from the outside, we have to prioritize evacuations and saving people inside."

With files from Radio-Canada