A pilot program to empower neighborhoods where abandoned and vacant properties become safety hazards is already showing positive results, according to Edmonton Fire Services.
The Community Property Security Team (CPST), jointly administered by the city’s Community Standards branch and EFRS, seeks to proactively address the fire risk that vacant and unsecured buildings pose to communities.
Under fire code regulations, residential and commercial owners must ensure that buildings are secure and that no unauthorized persons live on site.
Based on a similar program used in Surrey, BC, the EFRS uses a phased-in model to ensure landowners secure vacant sites.
“Every fire incident at an unsecured vacant property poses an unacceptable risk to firefighters and other first responders as well as our residents and is completely preventable,” said Rob McAdam, Deputy Fire Chief of Safety. public.
If community members notice a property becoming unsecured and vacant, they can report it to 311. The CPST can issue orders to secure the site and if ignored by the owners, the city can do the work necessary and bill the owner.
The pilot program began on April 11 and will run until the end of 2023. It was triggered after the EFRS completed an annual audit of fires in the city, noting that fires in empty houses killed two people last year and caused a near-miss for a responding firefighter.
“We specifically looked at which are the most dangerous fires in Edmonton,” McAdam said, “and unsecured vacant properties topped the charts by far for the first time in history.”
In an update Friday, McAdam said the program is already showing results, with 24 orders issued – focusing on Alberta Avenue, McCauley and other northeast Edmonton neighborhoods.
Of those, McAdam said 10 abandoned sites have been secured and 10 will have sealed access within the next two weeks. Two properties were demolished after receiving an order from the CPST and four others submitted demolition requests to the city.
Growing orders include boarding a property to city specifications, which can cost around $5,000.
“It’s not as simple as putting a piece of plywood in place,” McAdam said. “It’s easily broken.”
A home at 119 Avenue and 78 Street in Edmonton where firefighters have responded to four fires in the past few months. (CTV News Edmonton)
Instead, homeowners should cover all potential access points with wooden materials and secure them with framing, glue, screws and bolts. Then the lid is painted white so inspectors can easily spot if a site has been breached.
If inspectors find that the site has been breached again, the CPST can order the fencing and securing of the property.
“Very, very few properties make it to the demolition stage,” he added. “(But) we can’t put people’s lives and firefighters’ lives at risk.
“It’s very bold. If we want to use the word brutal when it comes to human lives, that’s fine with me.”
“GONE FOR WAY TOO LONG”
Jody Hogan has lived on Alberta Avenue for most of her life and says the area has been a hot spot for fires in vacant homes since she was a child.
“The first fire that happened was in the garage and it almost spread to my parents’ garage,” she recalls. “It was scary.”
“There shouldn’t be a fire in a vacant house,” Hogan added. “There shouldn’t be people living there who could hurt themselves or others. It’s dangerous.”
For Ashley Salvador, Métis Neighborhood Councilor, the CPST program introduces a higher level of accountability for property owners than ever before.
“I can’t wait to see the results and I think for the first time in a long time residents are starting to feel more optimistic,” she told CTV News Edmonton.
“It’s been going on for far too long,” added Salvador. “Residents are really looking for tangible action, which is why I’m very excited about CPST. I think it’s a really bold approach that we’ll see results from.”
A welcome side effect of the program is a potential boost to neighborhood redevelopment projects, the councilman said.
“Instead of having vacant and derelict sites that pose fire hazards,” Salvador said, “we can start to see some turnover and start to see new projects being built to breathe new life into these areas”.
Justin Lallemand, acting director of community standards, said unsecured vacant sites are creating “extraordinary” demand for emergency services.
“Whether occupied, derelict or vacant, problematic properties have a significant negative impact on the health and safety of those who live there as well as the surrounding community,” he said.
As the pilot program progresses, Lallemand expects the city to make a dent in the problems posed by abandoned properties.
“(Already) I’m seeing more satisfaction from the community, that the problematic properties we’re getting to aren’t becoming recurring problems,” he added. “So when we get there, we actually close those properties and they stay closed.”
With files from Jessica Robb of CTV News Edmonton