Nearly 500 fire rescue calls from one SRO building in downtown Vancouver in 2022

Jan 6 2023, 2:05 am

Over the course of 2022, Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS) made highly frequent visits to one particular building in response to calls.

This building is suggested to be a problematic single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel, and 300 of those calls were related to smoking cigarettes and/or drugs, according to a previous tweet on VFRS’ Twitter account that was deleted after making its rounds on social media. This now-deleted tweet also stated VFRS is “currently billing the building for each false alarm, prosecuting this building as well as multiple other SROs for Fire Bylaw offenses.”

However, VFRS chief Karen Fry says this tweet had some inaccuracies, stating they did not respond to this single SRO building over 500 times, clarifying that “this number is close but inaccurate.”

“Our current response strategy for VFRS is that we respond to all fire related incidents (fires and alarms ringing), rescues, and medical emergencies when called by BC Emergency Health Services to SROs and every other location in the City of Vancouver,” Fry told Daily Hive Urbanized.

“We have always been transparent in the inherent risks firefighters and first responders see in SROs and other buildings housing some of our vulnerable populations.”

vfrs sro tweet

The now-deleted tweet by Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (Daily Hive screenshot)

In recent years, with the pandemic exacerbating Vancouver’s homelessness, mental health, and opioid overdose crisis, emergency responders — fire rescue, paramedics, and police — have seen their resources severely strained.

She adds that VFRS officials have been making attempts to work with BC Housing to implement measures to proactively reduce the number of calls from SRO buildings, specifically false alarms.

Many of these buildings are in extremely poor condition due to a combination of age (many SROs are within century-old buildings), interior damage, rodent and bug infestations, and tampering with building systems, including smoke detectors and alarms.

Recently, there has been more attention to the safety of SROs in Vancouver after the deadly fire that completely destroyed the Winters Hotel SRO, operated by Atira Women’s Resource Society, in Gastown last April. VFRS also previously noted the overnight hours of December 15/16 were a particularly challenging period for crews, when they responded to three SRO fires — two intentionally set, and a third deemed suspicious at the time.

According to Fry, 11% of VFRS’ total responses are to SRO buildings in Vancouver, and over 40% of these calls to such buildings are related to medical emergencies, including overdoses.

“We have a dedicated team of inspectors that specifically work with the operators and owners to work towards fire safety compliance, the Vancouver Fire Bylaw and fire code issues. As part of the system in addressing the number of fire alarms in these buildings, we are working towards a strategy of training and educating staff (operators). We are actively engaged with BC Housing to address our concerns,” she added.

As for why the tweet was taken down on Tuesday, Fry says the details shared did not receive her prior approval.

“It did not take into consideration anything that we are doing in collaboration with other stakeholders to work together to make these buildings safer,” said Fry.

The location of the building in question was not disclosed, but according to Global BC the now-deleted tweet was in regards to the Hotel Canada SRO near the southeast corner of the intersection of West Pender Street and Richards Street. It is a property operated by Atira.

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