By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The cause of the fire that killed a 53-year-old Oshawa man is yet to be determined, but Oshawa Fire Services are saying that a $20 purchase could have saved his life.
In a news conference on Monday, Oshawa firefighters explained that there were no working smoke alarms at 32 Brock St. W. when it went up in flames early in the morning on Feb. 9.
Oshawa Fire Services were called to the address around 2 a.m. to a fire that was described as “extremely intense.”
“There were reports of heavy heat and smoke as firefighters fought their way up to the second floor,” explained Derrick Clark, the city’s interim fire chief.
Four tenants had escaped the building prior to the arrival of the firefighters. However, Sherman Lessard, 53, was forced to jump from the second floor window to escape the blaze. Durham police and paramedics assisted the man who was rushed to hospital in Oshawa before being transferred to Sunnybrook in Toronto. Lessard would later succumb to his injuries. His death is the city’s first due to a fire in over six years.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of working smoke alarms on fire safety escape plans in the event of a fire,” Clark said.
According to Lessard’s aunt, Sheila Lessard, Sherman was a kind and loving man who often would lend a hand to those in need.
“There were times when he stopped to help people on the street,” she says.
A picture tacked to his memorial shows a smiling Sherman holding a baby rabbit. Shiela explained the young animal had been orphaned and Sherman had taken it in.
Ontario Fire Marshals are currently investigating the blaze to try and determine its cause. Following that, Clarke says Oshawa Fire Services will be laying multiple charges against the property owner under the Provincial Offences Act, the maximum penalties for which can be $50,000 and up to a year in jail.
The name of the property is not being released at this time.
Regulations require rental properties to have working smoke alarms on every level of a residence, as well as outside of sleeping areas.
“I want to send a message to the landlords in this community,” said Mayor John Henry. “Eventually you are going to be caught. You’re either going to be caught during an inspection or you’re going to be caught during a fire. Either way, it’s not a good thing.”
The fact that some homes and properties are still without these devices is frustrating, said deputy fire chief Steve Boyd.
“The law has been around for some time now. People know that they need to have working smoke alarms and we find it extremely frustrating when this kind of thing happens.”
This also wasn’t the first time this residence was without working fire safety equipment. In February 2014, an inspection found that the building was missing smoke alarms, along with having other malfunctioning equipment.
“Both of those issues were rectified at the time and the building was given an all clear,” Boyd explained.
Currently, the city has active inspection schedules for residences inside the Residential Rental Housing Area, which mostly consists of homes converted for student rentals around Durham College and UOIT. Rental properties in other areas of the city are handled on a complaint basis.
“We have a capacity that we can only handle right now,” Boyd explains, noting the city has approximately 63,000 residences and only nine inspectors.
“We try and prioritize as best we can,” he says. “Our first priority is our complaint inspections.”
Inspectors generally respond to complaints within 24 hours.