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Toronto Fire Services to share more fire safety information with tenants

Open data advocate says it's not enough, calling on them to post serious fire code violations for multi-residential buildings online as soon as possible.

Toronto tenant Mark Legate spent over a year trying to chase down results of fire inspections in his North York building. He was told to FOI due to privacy concerns.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Toronto tenant Mark Legate spent over a year trying to chase down results of fire inspections in his North York building. He was told to FOI due to privacy concerns.

Toronto Fire Services has vowed to make it easier for tenants to access fire-safety information, after Metro told the story of a man who spent over a year trying to find reports about his own building.

Mark Legate was told by both the fire department and city staff that he had to file an onerous freedom-of-information request for the results of fire inspections at his North York building, raising questions about transparency in the wake of the London tower fire.

"We've looked at the situation and quite frankly we don't disagree that tenants have a right to know if their buildings are safe," Toronto Fire Services deputy chief Jim Jessop said Wednesday.

Jessop said that, as a short-term solution, fire services will provide information to tenants who request it by email, including copies of inspection reports and orders, starting sometime in the fall. Toronto Fire Services will also incorporate access-to-information concerns into a report to council next year.

Fire inspection reports are subject to provincial privacy legislation, according to the city, which adds another wrinkle.

"We would make recommendations and see where council wants to go with a longer-term transparency process," Jessop said, adding tenants should know that "Toronto Fire Services will not leave a building if it is not safe."

While some fire inspection results are kept in software, which the service is working to upgrade, others are printed on paper and sitting in boxes, he explained.

Open-data advocate Mark Richardson said he's far from satisfied with the steps Fire Services has taken, calling on them to post serious fire code violations for multi-residential buildings online as soon as possible and follow up with non-critical, historical records later.

The fact that "mission critical" data is not captured in an easily accessible format is a problem, he said.

San Francisco is one city that has managed to get its fire inspection reports online, eliminating the need to make access-to-information requests. Jessop said he doesn't want to rush the process, and big changes need to be vetted by the city, but that kind of model is "conceivably" where they would like to end up.

Legate said the most important thing is that tenants are informed of inspection orders and their contents.

According to the office of the fire marshal and emergency management, only orders made by fire services need to be posted, not violations for more minor offences.

"My initial impression is that it's nice but it doesn't go far enough," said Legate of the changes. "Unless you really dig for it, you're not going to find it."

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