A fire last week at the provincial prison in Maple Ridge amounted to no more than a smouldering, fire-retardant mattress, an incident that was handled by the correctional officers themselves.
The Jan. 20 incident in the segregation unit at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre was responded to quickly by staff, said Cindy Rose, of B.C. Corrections.
“The alarm went off and immediately alerted the local fire department. However, their attendance was not required, as there was no fire to put out,” Rose said.
“After the fire department was alerted, centre staff told the fire department that the smouldering mattress was no longer smouldering and there, in fact, was no fire, so fire personnel did not attend.”
The fire suppression system automatically detected the smoke and alerted the fire department, she added.
The sprinkling system, which was functioning, wasn’t activated because there were no flames or heat.
“Staff did an exceptional job, followed policy, and quickly and calmly moved the inmates, who were very cooperative, to another part of the centre,” Rose said.
But Maple Ridge Fire Chief Dane Spence said there’s no record of any call coming into his department.
“I’m very concerned that a call could be made and I don’t have a record of it. And I’m looking right now to see how that could happen,” he added.
“I’ve looked at every conceivable way that this could have come to us and we don’t have a record of it.”
He is looking at emergency and non-emergency lines and checking with dispatch.
But firefighters did respond to the prison later that night, at 10 p.m., for an unrelated medical call, Spence said.
Apart from that, “the last call we had there was September 2015.”
According to Dean Purdy of the B.C. Government Employees Union, 19 correctional officers were treated for smoke inhalation, suffering headaches and burning lungs. One guard was treated at the hospital emergency.
The fire was set by an inmate in an attempt to get at another inmate.
The segregation unit is where inmates who are facing discipline go for breaking prison rules.
Rose said all guards who may have been exposed to the smoke were checked out, while the one who removed the mattress hasn’t returned to work.
She added the correctional centres follow the one extinguisher rule – staff must evacuate a fire location if they can’t put out a fire with a single extinguisher.
“Correctional officers are not expected or required to fight fires and do not perform firefighting,” she said.
“Suppression of the fire and fire rescue is the responsibility of the fire department.”