Ministry of the
Solicitor General

Smoke Alarm Program Saves Lives in Apartment Building in Whitchurch-Stouffville

Smoke Alarm Program Saves Lives in Apartment Building in Whitchurch-Stouffville

Mitigating risk in Ontario communities continues to be a focus of the Office the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management. In this article, as written by Jennifer Cooper of Whitchurch-Stouffville Fire & Emergency Services, fire prevention officers enhance community safety every day through their inspection work. Calculating just how much of a difference, as Cooper outlines, is not as easy as it would seem.

By Jennifer Cooper, Fire Prevention/Public Education Officer,
Whitchurch-Stouffville Fire & Emergency Services

During the summer of 2012, the Whitchurch-Stouffville Fire & Emergency Services fire prevention team targeted businesses and apartments within the older downtown core of Stouffville, as part of the departments’ annual smoke alarm program. As part of the program the inspectors inspected all businesses and the apartments above them to ensure they met all of the Ontario Fire Code requirements, including emergency lighting, ensuring there were no blocked exits, portable extinguishers and early warning systems, such as fire alarms and smoke alarms.

During their inspections, the fire prevention staff were approached by the owner of one apartment building with a troubling problem. He said that his tenants were continually disabling or removing the batteries in their smoke alarms, despite having it specified in each lease not to remove the batteries or disable the smoke alarm in any way. He went on to tell staff that each time he checked the smoke alarms, and the tenants had removed the batteries or disabled the smoke alarm in some way, he would request the Fire Prevention Officers’ assistance in dealing with the problem.

Five out of Six Smoke Alarms Disabled

Staff continued their comprehensive inspection of the building and identified that five out of six smoke alarms in the apartments had been disabled. As part of the fire service protocol, the duty crew immediately installed new smoke alarms and batteries where needed and five $235 tickets were issued to offending tenants who disabled their smoke alarms in one form or another.

Of the five tickets that were issued, one tenant disputed the fine which required the fire prevention division to attend court regarding the charge. The court ruled in the fire service’s favour, however given it was a first time offense, lessened the fine to $175.

The Call

It wasn’t until October 2013, that Whitchurch-Stouffville Fire & Emergency Services responded to a call for a structure fire at the same location after a resident in the apartment building reported hearing the smoke alarm going off in another unit. He gathered his family to exit his apartment just as smoke starting coming in under the front door. He called 9-1-1 from outside the apartment building. He was the only resident in the building at the time of the fire.

When fire crews arrived on scene, heavy smoke was coming from a second floor apartment. Fire crews entered the unit to find it was fully charged with black smoke. After extinguishing the fire, it was determined that the cause was two pots left on the stove. The resident was not in the apartment at the time of the fire.

"If it wasn't for the smoke alarm alerting the neighboring resident to evacuate his family and call 9‑1‑1, the outcome of this could have been devastating," said Jennifer Cooper, Fire Prevention/Public Education Officer.

Although fire prevention and public educational programs can be time consuming and labour intensive the fact of the matter is it’s difficult to measure what we prevent and it’s rare to actually see the results of a prevention or educational program. We know we are making a difference, we just never know who we have helped to safely escape or prevent from having a fire in their home or business.

Editor’s Note: The Risk Management Tool being developed by the Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management in collaboration with Ontario fire service stakeholders continues to be tested.