A jury in a coroner’s inquest into the Winters Hotel fire in Vancouver, which resulted in the deaths of two people, recommended that public funding for single-room-occupancy hotels in privately owned buildings be discontinued. Among the more than two dozen recommendations was that BC Housing work with operators and owners to enforce higher fire safety standards in SRO buildings beyond the minimum requirements.
The inquest focused on the deaths of Mary Ann Garlow and Dennis Guay, who were found in the remains of the hotel a week after the fire. The Winters Hotel was one of about 150 SRO buildings in Vancouver, housing some of the city’s most vulnerable residents, many of whom are on the verge of homelessness. Although the hotel was operated by Atira Property Management with funding from BC Housing, it was owned by Peter Plett.
About 70 tenants resided in the over 100-year-old building at the time of the fire, which was caused by lit candles left on a bed. The jury heard that the building lacked modern fire safety protections and its sprinkler system was inoperable since a smaller fire three days earlier.
One of the recommendations from the jury was the establishment of a “resource team” to provide additional staffing and support during critical incidents in SRO buildings. The jury also proposed that the Vancouver Police Department collaborate with SRO operators to develop best practices for locating missing individuals and ensuring their safety.
Additionally, the jury suggested full funding for assistive devices for residents with mobility or hearing disabilities, as well as the implementation of a buddy system and backup fire extinguishers for fire safety. They also recommended the creation of a full-time mobile team to support firefighters responding to critical incidents in Vancouver, with staff trained to meet the complex needs of rooming house tenants.