A company that brought employees to Kingston from China to work on the construction of a new production plant, and housed dozens of its workers in five cramped single-family homes, was ordered by the Ontario Fire Safety Commission to make repairs to address serious life-safety infractions at its properties.
B.C.-based Realgoal Technology Inc. owns and operates five residential buildings in the city of Kingston. Realgoal, and its sister company UPACK, provides its employees with room and board as part of their employment as workers at a local factory under construction.
In June and July of 2019, Kingston Fire & Rescue inspectors conducted an inspection of the company’s properties, finding that the five houses, originally built as single-family homes, were being used to provide accommodations for a total of up to 88 people.
Reports from the Kingston Fire & Rescue inspections describe the following living conditions at the five properties:
367 Ellesmere Ave was originally built as a two-storey single home with four bedrooms, but was being used to provide accommodations for 23 persons, with shared cooking operations and shared washrooms. The basement contained 10 beds and the second floor area contained 13 beds. The kitchen contained cooking operations consisting of multiple appliances fueled by a single unsecured 100lb propane cylinder that was kept inside the kitchen area. This kitchen was used to provide daily meals to approximately 42 people residing at the multiple properties. Two additional propane cylinders were stored, unsecured, in the garage, approximately two metres from the designated smoking area for the residents and other workers residing at the other properties.
1100 Crossfield Ave, a property originally built as a two-bedroom single-family bungalow, contained accommodations for approximately 26 persons with a shared kitchen and shared washrooms. The basement contained 18 beds on nine bunk beds, and the main floor area contained eight beds.
389 Cooke Cres, another building originally constructed as a one-storey single residential with two bedrooms, was being used to provide accommodations for 16 persons, with a shared kitchen and shared washrooms. The basement contained nine beds and the main floor area contained seven beds.
A two-storey residential dwelling at 1209 Crossfield Ave containing three bedrooms was being used to provide accommodations for nine persons, with a shared kitchen and shared washrooms. The basement contained one bed, the main floor area contained two beds, and the second floor contained six beds with one additional mattress in an upstairs bedroom.
A three-bedroom property at 1409 Crossfield Ave was being used to provide accommodations for 14 persons with a shared kitchen and shared washrooms. Eight beds were located in the three bedrooms on the second floor, six beds were located on the ground floor, and six additional bed frames were located in the garage. The basement contained sleeping accommodations for one person.
The fire inspections found that the basement windows at these properties did not meet the minimum size for egress required by the Ontario Building Code, and that the basements contained sleeping accommodations but lacked adequate means of egress. The single exit stairways leading from the basements to the ground floors were not properly fire-separated from the remainder of the building, and the stairs lacked fire-rated doors with self-closing devices. The properties were found to have no emergency lighting units or exit signs in the corridors and exit stairways of the properties, and no fire alarm systems were installed in the buildings. The buildings also did not have approved fire safety plans.
“The Commission is satisfied that (the Fire Inspector) was correct to conclude that there were serious fire safety concerns raised by the conditions,” said the Fire Safety Commission in its written decision. “(The Inspector) also noted that in many of the sleeping areas…there were mattresses lined up on the floor with no space between them. The Inspector described that a mattress is a significant combustible, because a small burn (from a cigarette butt for example) can smolder for several hours before the mattress ultimately ignites.”
The written decision also notes that “…given the number of people sleeping in various locations throughout the house, there was a serious risk that in the event of a fire, it would be difficult for emergency responders to safely locate and remove all the residents. The living arrangements and the scarcity of exits pose a serious risk to those living in the homes, as well as to emergency responders who may be required to attempt a rescue in the event of fire.”
Realgoal appealed the orders that resulted from Kingston Fire & Rescue’s inspections. However, following a hearing on November 20 2019, Kingston Fire & Rescue’s findings and requirements were largely upheld by the Ontario Fire Safety Commission, with some amendments. The Commission’s decision was released on February 24, 2020. The company was given between 45 days and four months to correct each of the deficiencies. Realgoal’s counsel noted at the hearing that it had already complied with a number of the orders and was working towards compliance with the outstanding items.
Editor’s note: this article has been updated to include the dates of the OFSCO’s hearing and release of its decision.