March 4th, 2024

Manager in fatal B.C. rooming house fire calls for better fire safety training

By The Canadian Press on January 25, 2024.

The manager of a downtown Vancouver rooming house that was the site of a fatal fire in 2022 broke down in tears at an inquest, telling the jury that staff needed better training in fire safety. An April 11 fire gutted the building, killing Mary Ann Garlow, 63, and Dennis Guay, 53, whose remains were found more than a week later when the building was being demolished. The Winters Hotel is demolished in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 22, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

BURNABY, B.C. – The manager of a Vancouver rooming house that was the site of a fatal fire in 2022 broke down in tears at an inquest, telling the jury that staff needed better training in fire safety.

Gina Vanemberg testified that a “red book” with fire safety procedures was given to her when she became manager of the Winters Hotel in 2020, but no one from her employer, Atira Property Management, went over the paperwork or confirmed that she read it.

An April 11 fire gutted the building, killing 63-year-old Mary Ann Garlow and 53-year-old Dennis Guay, whose remains were found more than a week after the fire.

The jury has heard that Guay had severe hearing loss and Garlow may have been wearing a brace on her foot at the time of the fire.

Vanemberg testified that there weren’t any systems in place to ensure Guay would know when to evacuate in a fire, and officials with BC Housing never got back to her when she inquired about getting him modifications like a flashing light or vibrating bed.

She told the jury no fire drills were held during the two years she worked at the hotel because of rules against gathering due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nearly 30 witnesses are scheduled to testify at the inquest, which is not intended to find fault but can lead to recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.

The fire department has said the fatal fire was sparked by unattended candles.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2024

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