Town of Whitby Coroner's Inquest

WHITBY, ON, May 5, 2016 /CNW/ - A coroner's inquest into an April 29, 2012 house fire in Whitby in which three teenagers died has now concluded. This inquest also examined the deaths of four members of a family in East Gwillimbury. One of the purposes of an inquest is to generate recommendations geared towards preventing similar deaths in the future. On April 29, 2016, the jury returned with 33 recommendations. 

As part of the inquest, the actions of the first responders, including Whitby Fire and Emergency Services (WFES), were examined.

The following evidence related to the fire in Whitby was heard at the inquest:

  • Whitby Fire's response to the call was within established standards. Only 3 minutes and 22 seconds elapsed between the time the fire stations were notified and the time the first truck arrived on scene.

  • Firefighters entered the burning home within 4 minutes and 44 seconds of arrival.  Before they could enter, firefighters had to break down and remove a locked fire door and fight the fire that had fully engulfed the entrance stairway. During this time, they also developed their fire response strategy, and set up sectors as required by industry standards.

  • The conditions inside the house were extreme due to high heat and heavy smoke, resulting in an imminent risk of a flashover. If a flashover occurred, the firefighters would have had only seconds to exit before their personal protective equipment began to fail. Despite this, the firefighters stayed in the house because they were determined to search for the occupants.

  • After being extracted from the house by WFES Firefighters with all reasonable diligence and care, personnel from Durham Region Paramedic Services and Durham Region Police Services provided medical aid to the victims of the fire.

  • The Fire Code required that the apartment in issue have one exit, not two.

  • The Fire Code does not speak to interior finishes within a dwelling unit and does not give Fire Inspectors the authority to order changes to wall or ceiling finishes within dwelling units.

The jury did not make any recommendations directed at the firefighters' response to the fire.  Among the jury's 33 recommendations was an amendment to the Fire Code that would allow Fire Inspectors to make Orders regarding interior finishes in the area of exits within dwelling units, an amendment to the Ontario Building Code related to two forms of egress for accessory apartments, and promoting the "Get Out, Stay Out" message.

Fire Chief Dave Speed and Deputy Chief Scott Siersma were in attendance at the inquest each day that evidence related to the fire in Whitby was presented. 

Chief Speed says, "It deeply disturbs me that these three young people were taken from their loved ones in this tragic fire, despite the extraordinary efforts of all first responders on scene that day. I, along with all members of the WFES family, support the jury recommendations, which we believe will go a long way in preventing this type of tragedy from ever happening again. The recommendations will make Ontario a safer place to live. The 'Get Out, Stay Out' message is key and one that WFES has been actively promoting for some time."

Chief Speed believes that "residential sprinklers would have made all the difference in this fire. It is likely that only one sprinkler head would have activated and would have controlled the fire until we arrived to extinguish it. I am pleased that the jury has recommended that residential sprinklers in new construction be researched and promoted with a view to amending the Ontario Building Code."

Chief Speed confirms that WFES has already reviewed the recommendations, and notes that many of the recommended actions directed to Ontario municipalities are already in place in Whitby. Work has begun to implement the balance of the applicable recommendations.

In response to the jury recommendations, Whitby Council adopted the following resolutions at a Special Council meeting on May 2, 2016:

"That Council support the jury recommendations of the Coroner's Inquest;" and

"That staff report back to Council prior to the end of 2016 on the progress of Whitby Fire Services' response to the jury recommendations of the Coroner's Inquest."

Whitby Mayor Don Mitchell also responded to the outcome of the inquest, saying, "I thank the Office of the Chief Coroner and the jury for their time and effort at the inquest into this tragic fire. I look forward to receiving the report from WFES on how we might best implement the recommendations of the jury."

SOURCE Town of Whitby Fire and Emergency Services

For further information: Dave Speed, Fire Chief, Whitby Fire and Emergency Services, Town of Whitby, Phone: 905.668.3312, Email: speedd@whitby.ca

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