Late sleepers got a rude awakening at Occupy Vancouver Tuesday morning, as firefighters rousted some from their tents and demanded their sleeping quarters be moved, to comply with court-backed safety orders.
The half dozen or so members of the fire department doing the 9 a.m. tent checks were watched by a number of police, while an array of officers gathered nearby, in case they were needed.
Occupants, however, were co-operative, albeit with some grumbling.
When a firefighter told one occupant his tent was not the required six feet from the wall of the Art Gallery, a groggy voice from within the tent responded: “Have you got a tape measure, man?”
The tent was eventually moved into a safer position, with the assistance of both firefighters and protesters.
The fire department has been expressing frustration at the lack of consistent compliance with a number of orders to ensure safety at the crowded site on the Vancouver Art Gallery plaza.
When they are on site, compliance is good, they say, but the moment they leave, conditions regress.
Over the morning, at least five unoccupied tents were removed, and fire officials insisted many tents be shifted to create wider passages.
The uniformed officers walked from tent to tent with Occupy’s security volunteers.
“Hello, anyone in there?” shouted Krista, a security team member.
She helped the officers check individual tents for flammable materials. They also made sure tents were occupied, a sufficient space apart, and not covered with tarps.
Yann Savard and other volunteers filmed the inspection. It’s important to film it so that we can prove we’re complying with their regulations, said Mr. Savard.
Later, Vancouver Fire Chief John McKearney told reporters that Occupy Vancouver is about 90 per cent in compliance with fire safety orders.
He said the the major problem remains a minority of occupants who ignore the orders, despite the best efforts of on site Occupy Vancouver volunteers.
“A number of people here are very committed [to making the site safe] but in my view, it’s very difficult for [it]to stay compliant,” Mr. McKearney said.
“Certainly, I am frustrated, and they [Occupy Vancouver volunteers]are frustrated, too. They work very hard, but it changes so quickly on site.”
He said more tents will be moved, and unoccupied tents taken down, along with all tarpaulins at the site.
Security volunteer and occupier Cory Seger said these are the first extensive tent checks by officials since last Friday.
“Usually, they just come and tell us what to change, but now they’re actually making us comply,” Mr. Seger said.
Firefighters said this more aggressive approach was a stepped-up tactic in their struggle to reduce fire risk at the sprawling tent city.
Meanwhile, a shiny new geodesic dome has arrived at Occupy Vancouver, its purpose unknown, but indicative of the protesters’ determination to stay for a long time.
A court hearing on the city’s bid for an injunction to clear the site of all tents is set to begin Wednesday.