Firefighters’ condition changed to stable after North Winnipeg blaze: union president

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A Winnipeg firefighter’s condition has improved after he was taken to hospital in unstable condition following a blaze on Tuesday morning that saw crews battling flames in extremely wet conditions, a said the president of the firefighters union.

Winnipeg United Firefighters President Tom Bilous said he could not comment on the nature of the firefighter’s condition, but said he had been told the man was in stable condition and that he was kept in the hospital for observation.

“[It’s] more or less cautious at this stage. So [I’m] very happy,” Bilou said on Tuesday afternoon.

Two other firefighters were also taken to hospital in stable condition to be treated for symptoms of heat exhaustion after battling the blaze on College Avenue. They have since been released, Bilous said.

No other injuries were reported, the city said in a news release earlier Tuesday.

Crews arrived at the burning house on College Avenue between Aikins and Charles streets in north Winnipeg just before 8:30 a.m. At that time, the fire at the vacant one-story house and a half was already well underway, the city’s release said.

The fire also spread to one floor of a nearby two-and-a-half-story house that had people inside. Crews were able to get everyone out immediately and also evacuated a second nearby property as a precaution, the statement said.

The vacant house where a fire broke out on Tuesday morning is expected to be a total loss. A nearby house that was occupied suffered major structural damage in the attic, as well as smoke and water damage throughout, according to the city. (Rudy Gauer/CBC)

Bilous said the heat and humidity of the day presented an additional challenge for the crews. At the time of the fire, the temperature recorded at the Winnipeg airport was 19°C, with relative humidity around 95%, according to Environment Canada. The city also saw rain later in the morning.

“When you’re dealing with the obvious heat of fire and you have this ridiculous humidity, guys are fighting the elements, right?” Bilous said.

“It’s pouring rain and so on, so you’re sweating. … It can sometimes be too much to bear. And the body starts to, you know, shut down.”

He said that even though crews have things at fire scenes to help them cool down, like water coolers, cooling chairs, fans and foggers, sometimes that’s still not enough.

“We’ve learned from past injuries and so on and we’re getting better. But even with all that progress…injuries are still going to happen. It’s dangerous work we do,” Bilous said.

Firefighters launched a defensive attack on the vacant home and an offensive on the two-and-a-half-story home, and an aerial ladder was set up to help, according to the city’s statement.

Water pools on the sidewalk in front of a home that has been badly damaged by fire.
Water pools on the sidewalk in front of a College Avenue home that was badly damaged by a fire on Tuesday. (Rudy Gauer/CBC)

Crews also used fans to keep smoke and heat away from the house, which was evacuated as a precaution. The technique, called pressurization, can reduce the likelihood of a fire spreading, said Scott Wilkinson, assistant chief of community risk reduction for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, in a statement emailed later Tuesday.

Emergency social workers were called in to help 16 people from the occupied house find temporary accommodation. The two-and-a-half-story home suffered significant structural damage to the attic, as well as smoke and water damage throughout, the statement said.

By early Tuesday afternoon, crews had extinguished both fires but were still tending to hot spots.

Residents of the other neighboring property should be able to return home once crews have finished working, the city said.

The vacant house, which had suffered damage in previous fires, is expected to be a total loss.

The cause of the fire is under investigation. No damage estimate is yet available, the statement said.

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