Whitehorse fire department responds to an incident on April 19. Whitehorse firefighters responded to a fire at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter in June. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Whitehorse fire department responds to an incident on April 19. Whitehorse firefighters responded to a fire at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter in June. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Fire at Whitehorse Emergency Shelter sends 2 workers to hospital

June 15 fire in private unit led to Connective seeing its first full evacuation since taking over

A fire inside the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter sent two workers to hospital last month.

A July 18 email response to the News’ questions from Gigi McKee, Connective’s assistant regional director for the Yukon, sheds light on the incident at 405 Alexander St. McKee was not available for an interview due to being in and out of cell service.

On June 15, the building’s fire alarm went off at 1:02 a.m. and staff immediately went into evacuation mode, McKee said. Staff called the Whitehorse fire department, and an automatic notification was also sent to the department via the building’s alarm monitoring system.

McKee said the fire took place in a private supportive housing unit on the third floor.

Connective’s on-site paramedic did initial first aid and assessment.

Per McKee’s email, two workers affected by smoke went to the hospital out of precaution. No injuries were reported. Both staff members were discharged from the hospital within a couple of hours. One worker returned to work after attending the hospital, while the other went back for their next scheduled shift.

The shelter’s services and programming were not impacted.

McKee said it’s the first time that a full evacuation of the building has been required since Connective took over shelter operations in October 2022.

“As with every incident, we look at it with a critical eye to assess what we did well and how we could improve our response in the future. In this case, when we debriefed with the fire department, they concluded that we were well-prepared, and Connective staff did a good job of following evacuation procedures,” McKee said.

“We are fortunate that no one was injured and grateful to Connective’s staff and the onsite emergency medical services personnel who dealt with the incident in an extremely calm and professional manner.”

READ MORE: 4 shelter deaths occurred under Yukon government’s watch; 3 people died under new management

No one from the city’s fire department was available for interview.

According to a July 18 email from city communications manager Oshea Jephson, the fire department was dispatched to the shelter on June 15 at 12:59 a.m. for alarms ringing and smoke.

Within four minutes, crews arrived on the scene, where staff had already started evacuating clients and workers from the building, Jephson said. RCMP and emergency medical services also responded.

Jephson said fire crews found the source of the smoke in a room on the third floor, where they found a small fire that was quickly extinguished. Two workers were brought to the hospital for inhaling smoke from going into the room to remove a lone occupant prior to the arrival of fire crews.

Per Jephson’s email, the fire was caused by smoking material that was not properly put out. Cigarettes and matches were found near the location of the fire, which is how the cause was determined.

On behalf of Connective, McKee clarified that smoking is not allowed within the shelter.

“While we do not permit smoking of any substances inside the building, individuals are permitted to make their own lifestyle choices as tenants, and our services provide supports to individuals with complex needs,” McKee said.

“Our goal is to work alongside tenants to maintain their housing, and we do this by education and support alongside compliance with lease agreements.”

A June 16 letter from Whitehorse Mayor Laura Cabott implores Health and Social Service Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee to seriously consider “every and all options available to you to fully address the situation” around the shelter, citing safety concerns and decreased business in the area.

READ MORE: Fear, frustration mounting over alleged criminal activity outside shelter

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com