Victim's family seeking answers more than one month after fatal Montreal apartment fire
Residents of a Montreal high-rise, who are still mourning a beloved 93-year-old neighbour who died after a fire, are raising concerns about the time it took for first responders to be called.
The fatal fire on Nov. 25 has shaken the people living at the Marina Centre, a 16-storey apartment building on Gouin Boulevard in the city's Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough, in the West Island. Some are asking whether Suzan Tourian, who lived on the 14th floor, would be alive today had the fire department been called to the scene sooner.
CTV News has spoken to residents who say they heard the building's fire alarm go off as early as 5:05 a.m. the morning of the fire, but a spokesperson for the City of Montreal said the fire department only received a 911 call about an hour later, at 6:10 a.m.
The apartment building is just one block away from the fire station, making the woman’s death that much more difficult to comprehend for the people who live there.
"I really would like answers like everybody else. Why did it take an hour and 20 minutes for the fire department to show up?" said Vija Molloy, who has lived in the building for 24 years.
Molloy said she woke up to use the bathroom the morning of the fire and as she got up, she heard the alarm sound in the hallway. She recalled looking at her bedroom clock. It was between 5:00 a.m. and 5:05 a.m.
"I check it every time I get up. Just a habit of mine," the 86-year-old said in an interview last month.
She didn't smell any smoke. Since she has mobility issues and uses a walker, she decided to wait it out and see if it was a real fire. She figured she would know if she heard sirens. She can see the fire station from her apartment window, but there was no activity.
Around 6:20 a.m., she said she remembered hearing firetruck sirens outside.
"About time. What took you so long?" she recalled thinking. "You're only a block away.”
She never left the building. As the alarm continued to sound, she said a firefighter made it up to her floor, and told her there was a real fire in the building.
About an hour earlier, a desperate rescue ensued a couple of floors above her.
NEIGHBOUR BROKE DOWN DOOR TO SAVE WOMAN FROM FIRE
Allison Comeau, who has lived at the Marina Centre for about four years, said she recalled hearing a "beeping" sound from outside in the early morning hours the day of the fire. A few minutes later, she said she woke up to the smell of smoke. "I think it was around 5:20, 5:25 a.m.," she told CTV.
When her boyfriend turned on the lights, their apartment was filled with smoke.
They went to the hallway where they saw a building employee trying to find the source of the fire. That's when they noticed Comeau's next-door neighbour's front door was turning black.
The employee didn't immediately have a key so Comeau's 26-year-old boyfriend asked if he could break down the door. One kick with his bare foot cracked the door, then he used the weight of his body twice to knock the door down.
Inside the apartment, "Suzie," as they called her, was still alive.
"She was in a ball in the corner right at the door," Comeau said, adding that her boyfriend laid her down in the hallway until it started to fill with smoke. She recalls someone on her floor calling 911 when her boyfriend was rescuing the woman.
"And then he brought her down to the 11th floor where there was no more smoke. And he stayed with her for another 10 to 15 minutes until the fire department took her."
Even as she was pulled out of her scorched apartment, her face blackened by the thick smoke, she apologized to her next-door neighbours because she was worried the smoke would harm Comeau's pets.
"She squeezed his hands and she just kept apologizing. I'm assuming it's because she knew the wall was connected to us and she knows that we have a lot of animals," said Comeau.
"She just kept apologizing and he just kept reassuring her that everything was okay."
The elderly woman was rushed to hospital in critical condition. Hours later, she succumbed to her injuries.
BUILDING OWNER DEFENDS FIRE RESPONSE
In the days after Tourian's funeral on Dec. 10, her loved ones and her neighbours began wondering what could have been done to save her sooner.
The building's landlord, Vincenzo Barrasso, told CTV that he was not there the day of the fire, but he denied claims that the fire alarm went off an hour before the fire crews arrived.
When asked about the approximate time that the fire started, he said he didn't know.
"The firemen did a great job, my staff did a great job, the alarm [went off] right away. Everything's under control," Barrasso said when reached by phone on Monday.
According to the city, most high-rise buildings in Montreal must be connected to a private alarm centre, which notifies 911 when an alarm is triggered.
Barrasso said that's how the fire alarm system is configured in his building, and in the case of the Nov. 25 fire, the fire department "came right away."
VICTIM'S FAMILY: 'OUR HOPE IS THAT IT DOESN'T HAPPEN AGAIN'
Tourian's family is still in the dark more than six weeks after the fatal fire.
Nathalie Abdelhadi said the fire in her grandmother's apartment was deemed accidental, likely caused by her Christmas lights. But getting answers about the response from emergency crews has been a struggle.
She's been overwhelmed by the support from people in her grandmother's building who have offered rides to neighbours so they could attend the funeral. Others left flowers and personal notes in a memorial in the building's lobby.
But she's also heard from some residents who worry about the next time there's a fire in the 16-storey building.
"What happens next time to an elderly person when it's going to take an hour for the fire department to get there? Not not only elderly, children, families [too]," she said.
"I think there's something broken in whatever happened that day. And I'm sure it happens in other places, there's a system broken, whether it's the fire department or building, there's some disconnect there that can't happen again."
"Nothing is going to change for us," Abdelhadi said, "but hopefully, it'll change for somebody else."
QUESTIONS REMAIN UNANSWERED
CTV asked the city if there were any delays in the response of the Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal (SIM) the morning of the fire. A city spokesperson declined to comment on the incident because the case has been referred to Quebec's coroner's office to investigate.
The spokesperson only confirmed that the first fire crew arrived that morning at 6:13 a.m., three minutes after it received a 911 call.
The coroner's office said its investigation into the woman's death is confidential and that while it's ongoing, "no information regarding the causes and circumstances of a death is disclosed," spokesperson Jake Lamotta Granato wrote in an email.
The coroner will publish a report once its probe is completed and "if deemed appropriate, he or she may also make recommendations to prevent similar deaths."
When reached for comment last month, Pierrefonds-Roxboro Mayor Dimitrios Jim Beis said that he intended to look into the response to the fire to determine if there were any delays.