After Oakland, what's the future for warehouse parties in Toronto?
The recent warehouse fire in Oakland hit home for many in Toronto - not only because some knew the victims but also because parties in off-the-beaten path venues and warehouses seem more common than ever in Toronto's party scene.
But are these parties safe?
Mario Angelucci, Acting Chief Building Official for the city of Toronto says warehouse parties in the city are mostly legal, as long as they adhere to Ontario Fire Codes.
"When events are proposed in warehouses, the City reviews the proposal to ensure the buildings meet all of the fire and life safety requirements." Angelucci explains.
"These requirements include... exits, emergency lighting, early warning systems, smoke control measures, and fire and life safety plans," he says. These are tools to get people out of the building safely in case of emergency.
Angelucci says often temporary measures to ensure life safety are put in place or one-off events in warehouses, which are treated with the same diligence as any event in a non-traditional space.
They have alternatives to help organizers install things to make sure people are safe the night of the event
The city also works really closely with Toronto Fire Services who say they’ve definitely felt the effects of what happened in Oakland.
Deputy Chief of Fire Prevention Jim Jessop says “Events like that galvanize us and reinforce our proactive fire prevention program within the city of Toronto. We are the most proactive fire service in Canada when it comes to enforcing the fire code and ensuring inspections are based on risk.”
Jessop and the city are very confident the inspection systems Toronto has in place are very strong and that a building like Ghost Ship wouldn’t have passed their strict inspections.
City council seems to be taking things very seriously as well. In the last year alone they’ve added significant increase in resources to fire prevention and inspections. In the last three years they has added 80 fire inspectors.
Toronto’s Promise party collective often throw parties in warehouses and took it upon themselves to have their own life safety action plan. They purchased their own lit up fire exit signs and fire extinguishers that they bring to any unconventional space.
“We have a very different scene than in Oakland,” David Macleod, co-founder of Promise says. “There are some networks of small studios and lofts that people live in and they have small events there ... they’re really important.
“But anyone that has a small event is going to think about their preparedness. I don’t think it has to be really expensive or over developed, everyone is going to think about it now.”
Macleod says promoters can even contact them directly to borrow their safety equipment for a really low fee.
Toronto warehouses and the people who throw events inside of them seem to be really safe. Often our city's warehouses are used for film and are completely fireproof because they're made from cement.
But still, some members of the community are actively trying to update their spaces so that things like clear exit signs and rules around capacity and safetly are at the top of the list. There's definitely a sense that safety at these events is more important than ever before.
One member of Toronto's underground arts community, who preferred not to be named in this article, says like Oakland one of the reasons parties happen in one-off spaces is because real estate prices have become way to expensive. The struggle to find safe, up-to-code, affordable underground spaces is a reality the city needs to understand.
"This is about arts and culture and DIY events being pushed to the edges," they say. "As the city has become more expensive, access to space is more limited."
Some say The Toronto Music Advisory Council's Music Strategy, a policy that makes things easier for artists, promoters and venues to throw music events, is a step in the right direction. But whether it sees the light of day will depend on the 2017 budget.
In the meantime, the main point hitting home for Torontonians after the Oakland fire is trying to make safe space options as available as possible. There's nothing like a mysterious warehouse party, let's just make sure they're safe.
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