Windsor

'Required' smoke detector missing in fatal Rankin Avenue fire, OFM says

More than a year after a fatal fire on Rankin Avenue claimed the life of a University of Windsor student, the Ontario Fire Marshall's office has determined a "required" smoke alarm on the main floor was missing.

Alarm location crux of differing code interpretations by Fire Marshall, Windsor Fire

A photograph Jennifer Depooter and her son Andrew Kraayenbrink. (Jennifer Depooter/Facebook)

More than a year after a fatal fire on Rankin Avenue claimed the life of a University of Windsor student, the Ontario Fire Marshall's (OFM) office has determined a "required" smoke alarm on the main floor was missing.

The OFM report was finalized on November 17 and sent to Windsor Fire Rescue Services for review. It's following the October 26, 2016 fire that killed Andrew Kraayenbrink, an engineering student at the nearby university. 

It makes me feel very little value was put on Andrew's life.- Jennifer Depooter, Andrew's mother

His mother Jennifer Depooter told CBC News she's questioning why local fire officials didn't lay any charges based on the OFM's findings.

"It makes me feel very little value was put on Andrew's life. Actually, no value," said Depooter.

"It actually makes me physically sick."

Too late to lay charges

Under the Ontario Fire Code, charges must be laid within six months of the event. Since the beginning, Windsor Fire has maintained there were working smoke detectors on each level on the home, which complies with the code.

"It's still an interpretation piece from a placement perspective," said deputy chief Andrea DeJong. "Where it was placed was not necessarily wrong."

Fire code open to interpretation

The investigator found working smoke detectors on each level of the home. However, the OFM believes there should have been a smoke alarm outside of the main floor bedroom, not in the nearby stairwell. The lack of one "contributed to the delay and detection of the fire by the occupents," read the report.

Windsor Fire interprets the code differently, calling this "an opinion," and not a matter of fact that they must agree with. They believe the stairwell smoke detector was in close enough proximity to the main flood bedroom.

Since the incident was a fatal fire, provincial investigators took the lead and Windsor fire officials were more of a "liaison" during the process. DeJong said the OFM did not give an initial indication they believed a smoke alarm was missing on the main floor, so that local firefighters could come to their own opinion.

We have to be very mindful as we take charges forward that they are going to be upheld under the strictest review.- Andrea DeJong, Windsor fire deputy chief 

"We weren't given that option," said DeJong. "So it's very tough from that standpoint."

Even if Windsor Fire was able to lay charges at this point, DeJong said they likely wouldn't.

"As we look to prosecute for charges we have to be very mindful as we take charges forward that they are going to be upheld under the strictest review," she said.

Subsection 2.13.2 of the fire code states: "A smoke alarm shall be installed if a sleeping area in a dwelling unit is not served by a hallway, between the sleeping area and the remainder of the dwelling unit."

The difference of interpretation stems from the alarm's proximity to a main floor bedroom and the existence of a stairwell near the location of the fire. Kraayenbrink was upstairs and might have been alerted by an earlier alarm.

Different placement, different outcome? 

Depooter believes her son would be alive today had the smoke detector been in a better place.

Windsor Fire admits the main floor alarm wasn't in the most "optimal" place. However, in the eyes of Windsor fire officials it was close enough to the main floor bedroom that it adhered to the provincial fire code.

"As a mom, to know your child was trying [to escape] and to know that he was actually aware of what's happening," Depooter said. "And that's because of the time factor. As said in the Ontario Fire Marshall's report, [there was] delayed detection of the fire."

The OFM listed the cause of the blaze as "undetermined." Investigators said it started in the front of the main level. But the fire caused too much damage to determine its cause. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Viau

Journalist

Jason Viau is reporter for CBC News based in Windsor, Ont. He has an interest in telling stories related to accountability, policing, court, crime and municipal affairs. You can email story ideas and tips to jason.viau@cbc.ca.

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