There was a recent article in the National Post and Ottawa Citizen by Christie Blatchford that was inspired by three fatal fires that occurred in two days in mid August, the most prominent being the Alexandria fire that resulted in the deaths of a young mother and three children. The main focus of her article was that fire departments throughout Ontario have to take a much stronger stance against homeowners who continue to flagrantly disobey the laws concerning smoke alarms. This sentiment was also echoed by Deputy Chief Jim Jessop of Niagara Falls whose department has become one of the most vigilant in Ontario with regards to pursuing convictions for fire code violations. Deputy Chief Jessop feels that too many fire departments want to be regarded as “nice guys”, unlike the police who simply apply the laws in accordance with their mandate. Similar comments have been attributed to Rob Simonds, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, who says that while fire departments and the public all recognize the deadly link, “With respect to enforcement of non-compliance, there’s a degree of ambivalence.… We’re not getting voluntary compliance.”
Even in Russell we are seeing a degree of ambivalence towards smoke alarm compliance. This past spring during our annual door to door campaign we found that 18% of the homes visited did not fully comply with the smoke alarm laws. We were not just disappointed by these results, but also shocked. Especially considering the survey was done in the Tweed / MacDougall area, the same area that had a major house fire the previous year! The most common issue we found was one alarm in the home without power, usually a dead battery. In most cases the homeowner fluffed this off as a minor issue and installed a new one once the matter was brought to their attention. However, this same “minor issue” was also one of the key elements in the fatal Alexandria fire, along with no means of egress. Statistics provided by the Office of the Fire Marshal show that between January 2006 and June 2010, 42 children and 16 adults perished in 31 fires in the province of Ontario, in 60% of those fatal fires it was found that smoke alarms were either not installed or weren’t working. A shameful statistic for a population that should know better. The Russell Fire Department has already taken a tougher stance towards the smoke alarm laws, in January of 2010 two fines were issued for smoke alarm violations, obviously this is something that may need to become more common place in the future.
Published in the Villager newspaper September 28, 2011
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