Local emergency services confident in high-rise fire response plans

City of Ottawa officials say they're confident first responders are prepared to handle a high-rise apartment building fire.

This comes after a fire completely engulfed a 27-story building in London, England as residents slept Wednesday morning killing at least 12 and leaving dozens injured.

Anthony Di Monte, General Manager of Emergency Services, says a fire of this magnitude is not likely but they can happen, and so crews have to be ready.

"The city has an emergency plan and it's very much co-ordinated with fire being the lead agency in this type of event, but the medical response to that, the police response to that, even Red Cross support," he said. "Those plans do exist. We've had a couple of incidents in Ottawa where we've had to put them in place but certainly nothing like what we're seeing in the UK."

Di Monte says there are several "tabletop exercises," which he describes as a simulation of resource and asset co-ordination for a major emergency situation.

"It's something that's practiced regularly and we have a solid plan and feel very confident," he said. "Hopefully it never happens and we never have to put it in practice."

Ottawa's soon-to-be tallest building, the Claridge Icon, is now under construction on Preston where it'll stand 45 storeys. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he's not concerned about the safety of those living on the upper floors.

"The building code really deals with the sprinkler system in high-rises and it's a very stringent building code. It's probably one of the most stringent in the world," he says.

Di Monte says landlords play a big role in making sure that code is strictly followed, including ensuring there's an evacuation plan that residents are familiar with.

If an upper-floor resident finds themselves trapped in their unit, there are measures they can take to protect themselves while they wait for firefighters, according to Assistant Deputy Fire Chief John Gillissie. He says response times for high-rise fires are estimated at one minute per floor. If you're on the ninth floor of the building, it'll take about nine minutes for firefighters to rescue you. If you're on the 27th, it will take 27 minutes.

"What we want them to do is to feel their apartment door. If it's not hot, open it up just a little bit and see if there's smoke in the hallway. If there's smoke in the hallway, then we'd like them to close their door, put a wet towel at the bottom and maintain safety within their own unit," he says. If there's no smoke, Gillissie says you can get to the nearest stairwell and make your way down to safety.

"It's all part of the training with recruits right on," he says. "There's high-rise training. We have high-rise manuals. All the information and all that training is consistent right through a firefighter's career."