Montreal: Fire Alarm Malfunctions : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Montreal Gazette

Saturday 24 February 2001

Police look into downtown fire Officials say alarm might have failed because wires were burned ALLISON HANES The Gazette

Police arson investigators were called in yesterday to determine the cause of a fire at a downtown office building on Thursday.

Meanwhile, fire officials were trying to find out why fire alarms in the 21-storey office tower failed.

And as the trauma of their terrifying flight down smoke-filled stairwells wore off yesterday, workers who escaped from 666 Sherbrooke St. W. had pointed questions of their own.

"We're all happy we made it out but now we're frustrated to find out our building was so unsafe," said Susan Yacyk, who descended in darkness from the top floor.

She wanted to know why alarms not only failed to go off at the first hint of a fire but why they didn't sound when people frantically pulled them.

"People were yelling, 'Pull the alarm! Pull the alarm!' " Yacyk said. "People yelled back, 'We did! They're not working!' "

Montreal fire marshal Ronald Dubeau said the wires of the alarm system were burned, which could have caused the malfunction.

"It might be because of the fire that the alarm didn't go off," Dubeau said.

But it's rare for alarm wires to burn before heat and smoke detectors kick in, particularly in high-rise buildings, he said. This occurs more commonly in low-rise structures, often because of a lack of maintenance.

"In this case we're going to investigate more to ensure that the alarm system was in good order," Dubeau said. "Normally, they should test it annually."

It will be three or four days before officials can pinpoint what went wrong with the fire alarms.

City official Francois Lemay said it is the responsibility of property owners to ensure that buildings conform to the fire code.

The city inspects only when a site is new or when a complaint is lodged, he said.

Police took over the investigation of the fire, which originated in a fifth-floor storage room.

"It's still too early to tell whether it's an accident or whether there's anything criminal," said Constable Robert Mansueto of the Montreal Urban Community police. "If the police department is involved it's considered a suspicious fire."

The building, on the southeast corner of Sherbrooke and University Sts., just east of McGill's Roddick Gates, was open again yesterday, although most tenants - lawyers, doctors, dentists, accountants, architects, and Union Vie insurance - kept their offices closed.

The building's owner, Tidan Inc., said it was making no comment.

A few strands of yellow police tape blew in the breeze and plywood boarded up broken windows.

On the floor where the fire started, a security guard kept the curious away. But sooty walls and blackened debris were visible through an open door.

Giant fans hummed on several floors to remove the scent of smoke and dry up the puddles the hoses made.

Cherif Habachi surveyed the damage at his seventh-floor publishing company.

"It's just basically soot damage," he said. "Everything's black, everything's covered in soot."

A third-floor accounting firm was drying out and calculating the water damage.

Therese Laberge peeled soaked wads of paper from a desk and tried to salvage files. A ruined calculator sat on the floor and her computer was dead.

But more than the damage, the previous day's harrowing escape was the hot topic of discussion.

Laberge at the accounting firm said she and her colleagues didn't know about the fire two floors above until she saw what looked like ice falling in front of her window. It turned out to be windows blowing out from the heat.

"People on the street were running away from the building. Then some people saw us looking out the window and they were doing this," she said, waving her arms in a frantic beckoning motion.

"We could read their lips. They were yelling 'Fire!' So we got our things and we left."

-- Rachel Gibson (, February 24, 2001

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