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Burnaby fire hero now homeless
Last month, Remigiusz Janus risked his life to pull an elderly neighbour from a burning suite in his Inman Avenue apartment building.
Eight days later, Janus was being recognized by the Burnaby Fire Department for his heroics.
By then, he was already sleeping out of his aging Volkswagen van.
With their suites damaged, Janus said he and other victims of the April 16 fire at Kingsway Court were put up at the Best Western Kings Inn on Kingsway for a week. On April 23 B.C. Housing provided him with temporary accommodation in one of its Burnaby apartment buildings on Kingsway.
But Janus said he found it intolerable, especially as he's still suffering from smoke inhalation due to the fire.
He said the unit wasn't clean, it smelled bad, he couldn't open the windows due to the noise and pollution, and the carpets were still wet from cleaning chemicals.
"I stayed one night, I couldn't sleep."
So he decided to sleep in his van where he could at least be guaranteed of fresh air.
It's been a long road for Janus, 59, who originally hails from Poland where he worked as a firefighter in his younger days, skills that proved useful last month.
After migrating to Greece then Germany, he settled in Canada in 1991 where he worked in carpentry and woodworking.
But two workplace accidents in 1998 changed his life, he said. The falls left him with a broken leg, two damaged knees, an injured hip, back problems, three operations and now, heart disease, likely caused by his use of painkillers.
He now makes ends meet on government disability benefits.
Janus spends much of his time at medical appointments and treatments, visiting his elderly mother who lives in a New Vista apartment in the Edmonds area, and at Eileen Dailly Pool where the jacuzzi helps soothe his aches.
He noted with a laugh that when his photo and a story of his heroics made the front page of the NewsLeader, he showed it to the counter clerk at the pool and said, "Hero no pay today?"
Janus smiled at the fact the clerk waived the $6.50 fee that day, a relatively small amount but significant on his limited income.
He coughs heavily throughout the interview with a reporter, and says the smoke inhalation was exacerbated when he spent a couple hours in his old apartment packing up some of his belongings. He's waiting to see a specialist.
What he needs, and what he says his doctor recommends, is a one-bedroom apartment that allows him space for his physical therapy, and an environment that doesn't aggravate his respiratory ailment.
In the meantime, Janus sleeps in his van where he's set up a mattress on a homemade wooden stand, and hangs sheets in the windows.
When he wakes up, he grabs a coffee at a Starbucks, using their restroom to wash up.
He then continues his efforts to recover his health, find an affordable place to live, and seek help from B.C. Housing.
And even as he was being feted by the fire department, while already homeless, the irony didn't escape Janus.
"Maybe this is a worse situation."
In an emailed statement, a B.C. Housing spokesperson was unable to address Janus' case directly other than that it continues to work with him.
"It would be inappropriate to discuss specific details due to privacy considerations," he said.
"We have taken measures to ensure that the individuals displaced as a result of the fire at Kingsway Court receive suitable, alternate housing. In these emergency situations, only bachelor units are provided to single occupants. We have worked closely with this individual to help provide an appropriate housing solution."