Region holds an Emergency Measures Exercise - How do we get People out of a High Rise when it is on Fire?

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 27th, 2019



We seldom think about a fire in a high rise – when we do, I think most of us shudder and say – this doesn’t effect me – I live in a house or a four story apartment building.

However, fires do take place in high rise buildings and Burlington appears to be in the process of putting up as many of them as possible.

Evacuation HAber to High Rise 1

Halton Region Paramedic Services Operations Superintendent Michael Mitchell plans next steps.

The Region, which is responsible for the Emergency Measure Operation Centre, held an Emergency Evacuation exercise on November 22 with the city to assess the Region’s plans.

The scenario focused on a fictional fire in a Burlington high-rise building, which required residents to leave their units and take shelter at the Region’s Emergency Evacuation Centre located at Haber Community Centre.

“This exercise was another step forward in our ongoing work to help protect individuals and families during emergencies,” said Halton Regional Chair Gary Carr. “Testing our response allows us to improve the way we deliver essential services and supports to residents. Our strong partnership with the Local Municipalities, first responders and community organizations ensures we are ready for emergencies in Halton.”

Haber to high rise 2

Halton Region Children Services Supervisor, Stephanie Houghton, acting as the Haber Evacuation Centre Commander, briefs Canadian Red Cross volunteers.

The exercise, “High-rise to Haber”, tested specific response processes, including how the Region and City would communicate with residents, partners and staff at the evacuation centre. Participants assessed their joint response to identify strengths, challenges and areas for improvement.

The following participants supported the emergency exercise:

• City of Burlington Recreation Services Department
• Canadian Red Cross
• St. John’s Ambulance Burlington
• The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)
• Halton Region Paramedic Services
• Halton Regional Police Service

In addition to exercise “High-rise to Haber”, which was the largest scenario planned for 2019, the Region also participated in 12 smaller exercises and drills earlier this year. Emergency preparedness is a shared responsibility that involves residents, businesses, all levels of government and the community.

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7 comments to Region holds an Emergency Measures Exercise – How do we get People out of a High Rise when it is on Fire?

  • Terry Rose

    Surprising that no Fire Departments were present at this event. Or was this an oversight in the reporting?

    Editor’s note: The Gazette wasn’t reporting; all we were able to do was pass along what the Region sent us. Media was not invited. This is the second time this has happened. We will follow up on that.

  • Helen Donohoe

    The Grenfell fire in the UK, generally known as a country with high safety standards, should be a warning as to what can happen in a high rise fire.

  • Stephen White

    This initiative is long overdue.

    One reason I am so strongly opposed to residential buildings beyond 12 storeys is that in a fire or medical emergency the chances of survival past twelve floors is considerably reduced. In an office building under either the Canada Labour Code, Part II (for federally regulated employers) or the Occupational Health & Safety Act of Ontario (for provincially regulated employers) there are provisions for conducting workplace inspections, first aid attendants, health and safety training, etc. In a residential high rise the requirements are nowhere near as stringent. Sure, the common areas of a high rise may be inspected by the property management firm, but they aren’t conducting monthly inspections of residents’ units to detect fire hazards, improper wiring, smoking violations, dangerous storage of chemicals, etc. All you need is one really careless tenant and suddenly the lives of hundreds of tenants are at risk.

    The other issue is the intense concentration of high rise developments downtown. Depending on where the unit in a high rise is situated it could be extremely challenging to get fire and rescue services to some residents. The fire at the Toronto Badminton Club a couple of years ago is an example of what happens when you can’t fight a fire from the street level. First responders had to go to neighbouring apartment and condo buildings to try and extinguish the fire from a different angle.

    Perhaps in future planning consultations such as the Amica development consideration should be given to having the EMO as a regular participant providing feedback on the impact of proposed high rise developments on rescue viability.

  • Penny Hersh

    Many condos have only 1 or 2 elevators. It is very important that the Planning Department at City Hall make certain that there are enough elevators to accommodate the residents in 26 storey buildings.

    Also many people may not realize that when the power goes off the emergency generator kicks in. What this allows is that one elevator works ( this could be different in some condominiums and rental buildings) and the emergency lights in the hallways and stairwells come on.

    The developers tend to install diesel generators, these have a limited timeframe to operate. What could and should be mandated is that gas generators be installed. This would mean that they would operate as long as necessary. The reason why diesel generators are installed is because it is less expensive to do so.

    In an emergency situation the quicker one can evacuate the building the better, however, we have to make sure that everything is in place to make this as seamless an operation as possible.

  • Gary Parker

    Our fire department currently has no ability to reach beyond the 12th floor of a high rise building. In the event of a fire residents living on floors beyond that height are dependant on the buildings sprinkler system and that in turn is only effective if sufficient water pressure is maintained. Ever here of a resident of a high rise building say: “No shower for me this morning, our building’s water system was temporarily out of service”? That scenario is unlikely to coincide with the rare occasion of an emergency but, given enough time, it will.

  • Terry Rose

    Congratulations to the Region on this initiative.

    Amica has applied to build a seniors campus housing 600 elderly residents (average 80+) less than 200 metres of the QEW. 50% of the units will house residents who are physically and/or mentally challenged. Access for Emergency Vehicles is via a single 6m wide driveway providing access to the east side of the building only. The structure has two towers (56m and 40.5m) from which these elderly residents will need to be evacuated.

    But fire is not the only hazard. Trucks carrying hazardous chemicals do use the QEW and this section (@ North Shore Blvd) is particularly accident-prone. Perhaps the MTO should be invited to take a closer look at this proposal as a hazardous spill would come under their jurisdiction.

  • We have in the past both taken part in these type of exercises called Disaster Planning at the time. The most important part is the after discussion to see where the holes in the plan are so they can be plugged. Congratulations to all who took part and all those who worked hard to determine how best to respond to an event we never hope to happen in Halton.