John Chaisson was planning to go for a bike ride and help a friend at his business, but a fire in the apartment suite below his changed all his plans and his future.
Langley City Fire Rescue called in Township firefighters for the three-alarm fire near 201A Street and 56th Avenue as of just before 9 a.m. on Friday morning.
“I heard the alarm go off but I didn’t think anything about it until I looked out my window and that’s when I seen smoke coming up and that’s when I decided to get out of the building,” Chaisson said. “So now, I’ve got no place to live.”
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3rd alarm apartment fire 56 and 201A @LangleyCity_ 56 ave shut down
— Langley City Fire (@LangleyCityFire) November 29, 2019
He has lived in the building about eight years and likes living there, says the other residents are mostly friendly and the building has security.
Chaisson, who is on a disability, paid $820 per month plus Hydro, and is doubtful he can find anything affordable. But he’s grateful he and everyone got out.
“I lost everything,” he said. “To me my life is more important than what valuables is. Pictures and stuff, I can replace that.”
As smoke detectors bleated inside the apartment building, residents and the public stood on the sidewalk and watched fire crews douse the suites to knock down the fire.
The fire was in an older low-rise apartment building, and appeared to be concentrated in a second-floor unit, with smoke and damage to the balcony. Chaisson said the people in the unit below his, which appears to be the starting location of the fire, had only lived there a matter of months.
The building is not the same one where a fire that broke out in the early evening on Thursday, Nov. 29 around the same general area.
The building is called the Villa Fontana and had more than 30 units.
A tenant meeting was held Monday morning.
Cran Campbell lived in a ground floor suite furthest from the fire but noted that all the tenants have been displaced as officials investigate no only the cause of the fire but possible reconstruction.
“I really feel sorry for the people there,” he said. “I think a lot of people there have lost everything.”
He’s in a unique position compared other residents, having tenant insurance which meant he was able to get help promptly, but he said the way other tenants were handled was problematic.
“I found it very dysfunctional,” he said. “They couldn’t find a place for people to live.”
The 71-year-old said the system to help victims of emergencies has to change. Campbell explained that some tenants are living with family elsewhere but the vouchers for necessities such as clothes are only good for Superstore in Willoughby so those tenants would have to travel back.
The fire department helped him get into his suite for a few minutes Friday to “grab a couple of things” such as medication. Campbell said he’s heard tenants will be allowed to retrieve their possessions next week but because there’s no specifics yet, he can’t hire movers.
Campbell, who worked in construction for about 15 years, said he’s concerned about old buildings with asbestos. He said they have to be made safe for people, noting he watched his brother die from cancer caused by asbestos exposure.
“They’ve got to be updated,” he said of older buildings. “They should not be having tenants in them.”
Campbell’s other concern is the fire alarm system.
“I never heard the fire alarm and other people didn’t either,” he told the Langley Advance Times. “This was the second time I never heard it in my apartment.”
He mentioned this to fire officials and said the alarm systems have to be configured differently.
“Although, there is an inspection every year on the alarm systems in the hallways it doesn’t necessary mean the tenant can hear the alarm in the suite,” Campbell said. “What got my attention on the day of the fire was the assistant manger banged on my apartment door and I went over and opened the door to find out who was doing the banging and I heard the alarm. What does this mean? The alarm old systems are not adequate and need updating in these older buildings not in the future but now. People with hearing problems would even be more disadvantaged. The alarm bells need to be in the suites and more located in the hallways and spread out. It’s funny how backward we have become and have settled for this illusion we are safe when in reality we can’t think pass the past into the future what is safe and secure, and humane.”