Could a fire like the one that ripped through a London apartment tower Wednesday morning break out in Metro Vancouver?
It’s a question some are asking after a night of horrifying images of the blaze, which left at least 12 dead and dozens more injured.
CKNW’s Steele & Drex checked in with Capt. Jonathan Gormick of the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services who says while our city may be packed with towers, residents can sleep easy knowing they’re unlikely to meet the same fate.
LISTEN: Vancouver Fire Rescue’s Captain Jonathan Gormick discusses the possibility of an apartment fire in Vancouver
“It seems like a multi-system failure to me,” said Gormick of the devastating Grenfell Tower fire.
Gormick said we’ll have to await the results of the investigation, but the age of the building and recent renovations that may have damaged suppression systems are possible red flags.
But he said by those same measures, Vancouver residents have little to fear.
New city, new codes
“The initial images looked unreal. It literally looked like something out of Hollywood, and I think that’s really because we just don’t see those kinds of fires, with that much extension, in North America or specifically in the city of Vancouver.”
Gormick said Vancouver is lucky in that it’s a relatively young city, one that has seen virtually all of its densification take place in the last three decades.
“So that means that all of the high-rises and multi-family dwellings are built to modern standards,” he said.
On top of the modern construction, Gormick said Vancouver has “aggressive” fire codes that were instituted in the 1990s, over protests from developers.
“We have a large degree of compartmentalization, and we have very extensive and complex fire suppression systems,” Gormick said.
Those include systems designed to stop a fire from spreading, and others, such as pressurized stairwells, that protect exits for occupants fleeing from disaster.
But what about older buildings in disrepair, including Downtown Eastside SROs like the notorious Balmoral?
“All of the systems in the world don’t do any good if they’re in a state of disrepair,” said Gormick.
But he said Vancouver inspectors are themselves aggressive about the fire code – conducting annual checks on all buildings to ensure safety systems have been tested, maintained, and tagged by a qualified person.
Gormick said if owners don’t keep up, the city isn’t afraid to penalize them.
“If we come back and find that’s not done, at the very least we can start to impose fines and we can go as far as to prosecute owners.”
Vancouver has been home to several high-rise fires, but they’ve largely been contained to one or two units.
However the city is now home to the world’s tallest wood-and-steel high-rise, the 18-storey Brock Commons at UBC.
It will soon be surpassed by an even taller 19-storey wood construction building in Coal Harbour.