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SRO fires, overdose calls are taking toll on crews: Vancouver Fire Rescue

Click to play video: 'Number of SRO fires taking toll on crews: Vancouver fire'
Number of SRO fires taking toll on crews: Vancouver fire
Vancouver Fire Rescue Services says the number of SRO fires in the city is taking a toll on its crews. As Aaron McArthur reports first responders say overdoses are adding an additional layer of complexity to what can already be a life or death situation – Jun 12, 2024

Growing calls for single-room occupancy building fires and the seemingly never-ending calls for toxic drug overdoses are wearing down on Vancouver firefighters.

At one of Canada’s busiest fire halls, it can feel like a constant parade of lights and sirens.

Engines at Vancouver’s Fire Hall 2 respond to everything from routine medical calls to overdoses and, of course, fires.

“Firefighters are encountering situations with an active overdose and unit fires. In managing both of these at the same time, (it’s) obviously, really hard for crews, and getting that person out,” said Capt. Matthew Trudeau of Vancouver Fire Rescue.

“It just adds another layer of complexity to that situation.”

Click to play video: 'Winters Hotel inquest: Jury recommends changes to SRO policies'
Winters Hotel inquest: Jury recommends changes to SRO policies

The latest statistics show Vancouver firefighters respond to more than one fire call at day at single-room occupancy facilities.

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In 2016, SRO structure fires were around 100 calls per year. That number jumped to 378 in 2023.

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Already so far in 2024, crews have responded to 147 fires. Officials said more than 50 per cent of the fires are caused by “smoking materials.”

“That is all (crews) are looking after all day. … (It’s all) everything related to substance, mental health in a vulnerable community,” Trudeau said.

According to a Vancouver city report, residents in SROs are 67 per cent more likely to experience a structure fire.

The city has passed a bylaw, which comes into effect at the end of June, banning the sale of lockable butane lighters, which are the cause of many fires, according to the fire department.

“We’re trying to use all the resources we can, within our scale, and scope within the fire service,” Trudeau said.

The combination of the toxic drug crisis and the recent rise in SRO fires is adding to an already taxing workload for firefighters at Fire Hall 2, where crews respond to nearly 2,000 calls a month.

Click to play video: 'Man rescued from SRO fire in downtown Vancouver'
Man rescued from SRO fire in downtown Vancouver

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