Salvation Army steps up after building evacuated

Occupants removed from building believed to be vacant due to fire safety concerns.

A building on 11th Avenue was being improperly rented out for living space.

A building on 11th Avenue was being improperly rented out for living space.

The Salvation Army was able to step in and provide emergency shelter services to roughly 16 people after they were displaced from an unsafe building earlier this week.

Emergency services personnel had to remove residents of what was believed to be an unoccupied building on 11th Ave. due to fire safety concerns last Tuesday, according to Wayne Price, the director of Fire and Emergency Services with the city of Cranbrook.

The building—which was formerly used as office space before sitting empty for the last 12 months—was being improperly rented out as living space, added Price.

“It’s a really difficult situation for us, because our intent is not to put people out on the street, but the alternative was any type of fire in that place—in my view—a fire in that place, we would’ve had multiple casualties,” said Price.

There were 16 occupants inside the building, but all 12 that were present at the time of the evacuation were able to find temporary shelter as the Salvation Army stepped in to help out.

While the Salvation Army was able to directly assist with shelter, the organization was also able to liaise with contacts inside the Ministry of Social Development to access provincial resources within the city.

Everyone who was displaced as part of the evacuation was able to find shelter, said Salvation Army Captain Kirk Green.

“These people were caught short and that they were—in a sense—victims,” Green said.  “They had paid their rent in good faith and now they were out on the street, so the ministry went above and beyond…As far as I am aware, not one of the persons that was in that building, is not housed.”

The whole saga began when emergency services was called to the building on Monday, Jan. 23, in response to a report of an unconscious man. Doors to access the front of the building were locked, so first responders had to go around the back and up to the second floor in order to get into the building, before heading back down to ground level. The man was eventually taken out of the building in the same manner as accessed.

Price heard about the incident a few days later and decided to take a look at the building after learning people were living inside.

After a  meeting with the owner inside the building—who denied a request for an inspection—Price decided to take further action based on his brief observations.

“There was a number of fire safety deficiencies in the building for residential-type use so I became immediately concerned and asked to inspect the building,” Price said. “I was denied access so I left and did a quick code analysis of the building from what I’d seen. There was probably every major fire safety had been violated for that type of occupancy.”

Options included working out something with the owner—which was unlikely—or ordering a temporary evacuation, which can be issued from the provincial fire commissioner.

“I sent him the details, identified all my concerns and he was in favour of issuing the order,” said Price.

Emergency Services, along with the RCMP and the Salvation Army, carried out the order on evening of Jan. 27. Price singled out the work of Green and Nancy Zier with the Salvation Army for their help in helping the occupants with a difficult situation.

“Without them I don’t know how we would have managed caring for the immediate needs of those people, who, in my view, were extremely vulnerable at that time,” Price said.

Some of the occupants went over to the Salvation Army’s extreme weather shelter, while others found temporary shelter with motels or friends, according to Green.

However, he sees the whole event as endemic of larger housing challenges within Cranbrook.

“What I would say, because there is a bit of a homeless problem here, there is a problem with a lack of affordable housing, that this event just highlights that problem,” Green said.

“When people need to live in that type of facility—totally unsafe, extremely unsafe—it just highlights the need for more affordable housing, which is also why the Salvation Army is working with the Cranbrook and District Community Foundation and the provincial government to try to make it happen here.”