A coroner’s inquest at the Montreal courthouse heard emotional testimony from survivors of a deadly fire this past March in Côte-des-Neiges that killed two women.
The inquiry is looking into the circumstances of the fire, in which the fire alarm system didn’t appear to be working and the fire department got its signals crossed.
Emmanuelle Leclerc, 21, and Selam Fantaye, 26, died in the March 2 fire.
A Montreal fire department investigator testified that the central alarm system at 2500 Van Horne wasn’t working the night of the fire March 2 and that the bell alarm couldn’t be heard. Pierre Desmarais said that strangely enough, the button in the control panel that activated the sound was off. He said the fire started in the basement in a room containing storage lockers and laundry facilities but he couldn’t say for sure what caused the fire.
The roommate of one of the victims testified hearing the alarm go off and they both scrambled down the emergency exit stairs in the dark. But Lea Gagnon-Lemay said she turned back because of the choking, black smoke and she couldn’t breathe, adding she couldn’t see her roommate in front of her. Lemay ended up jumping off the second floor balcony. The victim’s family could be seen crying during the testimony. The family of the second victim took up several seats in the packed courtroom.
Another tenant, Leveesa Lessey, tearfully testified about the thick smoke, the pitch darkness, and falling down the stairs frantically trying to get out of the building with her five-year-old son Marchius. Her sister Nicola Lessey and her sister’s boyfriend were rescued by firefighters, as were her niece, nine-year-old Danika Essel-Quao and her brother, nine-year-old Nile Modesta Smith. The two children had to be hospitalized for a week.
While the coroner can’t assign blame, Nicola Lessey says someone has to take some responsibility.
“I never imagined myself being in a situation like this. I hear the ambulances everyday but I never imagined myself being in a situation, …I can’t explain it. Who should I be mad with? I don’t know….the owner of the building,” Lessey told reporters.
“If you’re the landlord, he’s supposed to make sure that the security of his building is safe for the tenants living there. Of course, he’s responsible for his building.”
Fire department officials said at the time there was a mixup in dispatch calls involving a computer software glitch that delayed the arrival of firefighters.
Firefighter Sylvain Giguère with Station 20 downtown on St. Urbain testified he was surprised they got the call because they were pretty far from the scene.
Firefighter Sylvain Lévesque with Station 27 closer to the scene testified their notification alarms went off three times that night for that same fire. He said that doesn’t happen very often.
The inquest is exptected to last two days and hear from nearly 20 witnesses.