School Department Sues Fire Department for $90 Million

The Toronto District School Board has filed a $90 million lawsuit against the Toronto Fire Services and the Toronto Police Services Board claiming their failure to extinguish and properly overhaul a fire in 2019 led to the destruction of the York Memorial Collegiate Institute. The building was destroyed displacing nearly 900 students.

Firefighters responded originally to a fire in building on 2:15 p.m. on May 6, 2019. That fire was located in an auditorium hallway and was reportedly contained. Investigators from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office responded and planned to return the following day to complete their investigation.

Global News quoted from the statement of claim:

  • “After all visible fire has been extinguished, the area must be checked for residual fire, including any fire that could have extended into areas not originally involved, such as floors, walls and ceilings. Incomplete overhaul may allow the fire to rekindle.”
  • “However, in this case, inadequate or no overhaul was conducted of the floor below the stage or the ceiling of the ground floor below the center stage and hallway in the area of the fire.”
  • “The decision of the TFS, TPS and OFM to abandon the building on the evening of May 6, 2019, without ensuring a proper fire watch was in place, was driven primarily by cost concerns of senior personnel, including a desire to reduce overtime costs, and purported lack of adequate resources.”

The suit alleges confusion about responsibility for posting a fire watch, and the training of those security personnel responsible for standing by. A security guard preportedly noticed a haze the following morning between 1 and 1:30am. He did not report the fire for another two hours when he saw a flicker of light in the auditorium. Fire crews were called back to the scene the and the fire ended up going to six alarms.

The fire department concluded that the May 7, 2019 fire was separate from the May 6, 2019 fire, as it started below the auditorium stage. The School Board contends that “the final report of the OFM Report was drafted so as to downplay, mislead, conceal and suppress evidence of negligence and gross negligence on the part of the TFS and OFM.”

Here is more on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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