Fire Fighting in Canada

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Inmates return after fire at overcrowded Arctic prison

Nov. 13, 2012, Iqaluit, Nunavut – RCMP in Nunavut are investigating a suspicious fire that forced dozens of inmates from their cells at a notoriously overcrowded and rundown Arctic prison.

November 13, 2012
By The Canadian Press

Nov. 13, 2012, Iqaluit, Nunavut – RCMP in Nunavut are investigating a suspicious fire that forced dozens of inmates from their cells at a notoriously overcrowded and rundown Arctic prison.

There were no injuries in the Monday night blaze at Iqaluit's Baffin Correctional Centre and firefighters doused the flames quickly with the help of the building's sprinkler system, said fire Chief Luc Grandmaison.

But all inmates in the medium-security prison had to be removed over smoke inhalation concerns.

"The whole building had to be evacuated," said Grandmaison.

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Some of the inmates were housed overnight at the RCMP detachment. Five of them had returned to the prison by Tuesday afternoon and 18 remained at the detachment.

"RCMP responded, taking in a few inmates at detachment cells," said Cpl. Yvonne Niego

Another 30 prisoners had to be sent to a gym at Nunavut Arctic College, where they were guarded overnight by corrections staff and police.

Niego said the fire broke out in one of the residential portions of the prison.

Police say they consider the fire suspicious and are investigating it.

The prison, which is the only one in Nunavut, was built for 40 people but routinely houses more than twice that number.

The territory's former fire marshall lost his job in 2010 after he complained the facility was so overstuffed and run-down that sending offenders there amounted to criminal negligence.

In June 2009, Tony Noakes filed a 60-page report on the prison to the territorial government. The document contained 50 recommendations to bring the prison up to fire code.

At one time, the territory's justice minister told the legislature the prison was dilapidated with faulty fire suppression systems.

But Grandmaison confirmed on Tuesday that the building's sprinkler system did kick in the night of the fire.

"The sprinkler system activated and extinguished the fire."

A new prison for Nunavut is scheduled to open soon in Rankin Inlet. The territorial government is also considering building a temporary prison out of a "sprung structure" – buildings constructed from an aluminum frame and covered with an insulated membrane.

Territorial officials have suggested that neither structure will solve prison overcrowding in Nunavut, the only jurisdiction in Canada with a rising crime rate. They expect prison numbers to increase about another 15 per cent as a result of the federal government's justice reforms.