City of Kingston addresses increase in statements issued regarding encampment safety

Photo via the City of Kingston.

As the City of Kingston has continued to issue statements regarding safety issues – and fires/fire safety in particular, Kingstonist reached out to the City for further details on why.

Encampments have existed throughout the city on and off for years if not decades, but the encampment in Belle Park has often been the focus of discussion around encampments in Kingston since it was established in 2020. Over the past few months, the City of Kingston has been issuing statements when bylaw officers and/or officials with Kingston Fire & Rescue have removed tents, or issued notices of “Immediate Threats to Life.” While all of the statements have addressed safety issues at encampments, not all of them concerned the encampment at Belle Park.

In response to questions about why the City has felt the need to issue these statements of late, as well as how long the City intends to do so, representatives from the City of Kingston’s communication team made it clear that statements have not been issued on each instance of an Immediate Threat to Life Notice being issued. In fact, the City relayed, since Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, fire inspectors have issued 43 such notices at the Belle Park encampment.

“The reason we’re working so closely with Kingston Fire & Rescue lately, is because there’s been a dramatic increase in both the number of fires in the Belle Park area, and also the number of combustible materials found and removed, many of them in and around tents and semi-permanent structures, where fire officials say the risk of fire is then amplified,” the City of Kingston said in a statement.

The City also relayed information from Kingston Fire & Rescue Chief Fire Prevention Officer Todd Posadowski, who was quoted as saying that responses to fires in the King’s Town District of the City “have gone up 689 per cent since 2018.”

“That year crews responded to 139 incidents. In 2023, the number had jumped to more than a thousand,” Posadowski said in the statement.

The Fire Prevention officer further noted that crews have been in the Belle Park area on multiple occasions in recent weeks and months because “if we identify a fire safety risk somewhere in the community, we do everything possible to avoid a fatality.”

“Why do we have to wait for something to happen to take action,” Posadowski’s statement continues.

“It’s our job to be proactive and to also be completely transparent and let everyone know what we’re doing.”

Coincidentally, the City said, an Immediate Threat to Life Notice was issued earlier today, Thursday, Mar. 21, 2024, at the Belle Park encampment. According to the City, while fire crews were on site, two additional fires were extinguished and three further Immediate Threat to Life notices were issued. The City said crews found an aluminum pot being used for open air fires inside a tent “with charring on the combustible floor.” The City also noted that “an electric space heater and candles were found.”

“We’re here so often now that we know many of the individuals and frequently have conversations with them,” Posadowski’s statements concluded.

“Often we’re doing what we can to educate and assist where possible, given that it’s cold and the elements are not easy.”

The City of Kingston further relayed that, for fire officials “the bigger picture is that if there’s an emergency in another part of the city, a crew must be dispatched often from much further away because there are personnel in the area of Belle Park trying to stay ahead of any incident.”

“For people sheltering in the park, and those affected by these fires and ITL notices, support services, including storage options for belongings, shelter space and transportation, are available,” the City stated.

Earlier this month, the City of Kingston advised that it would be enforcing a daytime sheltering prohibition in all City parks. Kingstonist has reached out to lawyers John Done and William Florance of the Kingston Community Legal Clinic, who have been representing those living at the encampment in Belle Park since a Superior Court hearing last year about the encampment, but the legal counsel has not responded at this time.

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