TORONTO — A veteran fire captain was critically injured and a colleague broke a leg after they fell from a roof while battling a downtown blaze, authorities said on Saturday.
The pair were part of a team trying to douse a fire in a derelict building when they fell three storeys, Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg said.
“There really isn’t a phone call that a fire chief will ever get that bothers me more than one indicating that members of our team have been hurt,” Pegg said. “This really is the worst case scenario for me.”
Pegg described the critically hurt firefighter — a 36-year veteran — as highly experienced and well respected. The second firefighter was expected to recover.
The two were working to drill holes in the top of the building to let heat and gas escape so crews could enter and search for anyone inside, Pegg said.
“They were working very hard under very challenging conditions,” Pegg said. “It’s dark, there’s a large volume of smoke that’s emanating from a very aggressive fire.”
An investigation was underway to determine the cause of the fire in the boarded-up building and how the accident transpired.
District Chief Stephan Powell said it’s possible the men thought they had safe footing because the roof had several levels.
“It is a tough day, and, any point in time when any member of our service is injured, it’s something that all of us feel,” Pegg said. “There’s a real sense of a concern almost from a family level here.”
Pegg said the operation was particularly difficult because the building was abandoned and it was unclear whether anyone was inside.
“Our first goal always is, and will always be, the rescue of people that may be trapped,” Pegg said. “Dealing with and responding to fires…especially when we cannot confirm if everyone is accounted for and safe, means that our people will assume and take on a considerable amount of risk.”
Mayor John Tory was at the scene Saturday morning in a show of support and said firefighters looked shocked at what had happened that morning.
“The captain is obviously someone they had very much looked up to,” Tory said in an interview. “You could tell that by the look on their faces.”
The mayor said there have been several fires in recent months at similar empty heritage buildings awaiting some sort of construction. This one might have been caused by someone who managed to get inside despite the boarding up.
“We just can’t have firefighters or other people put at risk by unauthorized access to these heritage buildings while they’re awaiting a transition, so we’re going to have to do more to secure them,” said Tory, adding fencing was one option.
Premier Doug Ford tweeted in support of the firefighters Saturday morning.
“Keeping these brave Toronto firefighters in my thoughts and praying for their full recovery,” Ford said. “Grateful for their selfless service and the service of all first responders across Ontario who work around the clock to keep our communities safe.”
The Toronto firefighters association thanked those who responded to the injured men in a tweet.
“We are thankful for all who have and are still looking after them as they recover.”