Ministry of the
Solicitor General

Smoke Alarm Status in Home Fires

Ontario Smoke Alarm Status in Residential Fires

 1991 -- Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp (1991) reports

"In 1987, 277 people died in fires in one and two family dwellings across the country - the vast majority of them in homes built before 1980….

In fact, since the total number of homes had grown, this represents a drop in fire deaths to 4.5 per 100,000 homes in 1987 from 7.9 in 1980. There are a number of reasons for this improvement in safety… but is generally agreed that one major difference is the advent of inexpensive battery-operated and wired in place smoke alarms.

New homes, which have been required by building codes to have mandatory wired in smoke alarms since early in the 1980's, are much safer (estimated 1.4 deaths per 100,000) than the general housing stock."

1975 -- Ontario homes required to have smoke alarms outside sleeping areas

1980 -- Ontario fire death rate 30.9 per million population.

1990 -- Statistics Canada survey reports 85% of homes have smoke alarms.

1990 -- Ontario fire death rate 13.9 per million population.

1996 -- Canadian Safety Council survey reports 95% of homes in Canada have smoke alarms.

1996 -- Ontario fire death rate 11.5 - down 62% from 1980.

2005 -- Ontario fire death rate 6.8 - down 41% from 1996

March 2006 - smoke alarms required on every storey of dwellings in Ontario

Fire departments are asked to report on the presence and operation of smoke alarms and suppression devices in every structure fire they attend.

The data collection was revised in 2009 to accommodate new smoke alarm regulations and to make the reporting more accurate.  The results in 2009 were consistent with prior years, prior data collection.

The report covers smoke alarms on the floor/suite of fire origin of residential property fires with loss - $ loss, injury or fatality – excluding residential non structures (tent) and detached garages, from 2010 to 2019.

Residential Loss Fires: Smoke Alarm Operation

The following data covers smoke alarm presence/operation on the floor/suite of fire origin, in residential property fires where a loss occurred - dollar loss or casualty (excluding residential non structures (i.e. tent) and detached garage) between 2010 and 2019:

  • Smoke Alarms operated in 45% of these home loss fires. 
  • There was no smoke alarm in 17% of home fires.
  • The presence of a smoke alarm was undetermined in 16% of home fires.
  • Where the smoke alarm was present, it's operation was undetermined in 8% of home fires.
  • The smoke alarm was present but did not operate in 14% of home fires.

In the incidents where there was a smoke alarm on the floor/suite of fire origin, but it did not operate (14%):

  • 4% of these did not operate because they had no battery or no power,
  • 5% of these did not operate because they were remote or separated from the fire,
  • Less than 1% each: unit failure was suspected, improper installation, tampering (vandalism),
  • 1% various other reasons for non operation,
  • 3% undetermined/unknown reason.  

Residential Loss Fires: Smoke Alarm Operation

Residential Loss Fires: Yearly Smoke Alarm Status*

*Undetermined presence excluded

Where smoke alarm presence is Unreported or Undetermined, data is not reported in this graph.

Smoke alarm presence and operation has been consistent over the years. In 2019:

  • 56% of residential loss fires, the smoke alarm operated.
  • 9% a smoke alarm was present, but the operation was unknown.
  • 14% the alarm did not operate and,
  • in 21% of the fires there was no smoke alarm.  

Residential Loss Fires: Yearly Smoke Alarm Status

Residential Fatal Fires*: Smoke Alarm Operation 

*Arson fires excluded.

The following data refers to fatal fires that occurred between 2010 and 2019 in residential properties (excluding arson fires, detached garages and residential non structures (i.e. tent)).

In 34% of residential fires (arson fires excluded) where there was a fatality, there was no smoke alarm warning (in 13% there was no smoke alarm, and in 21% the smoke alarm did not operate.)

In 33% of these fires there was a smoke alarm that operated.

In 7% of these fires a smoke alarm was present, but the operation of the smoke alarm could not be determined.

The presence of a smoke alarm could not be determined in 20% of fatal residential fires, and 6% of fires were under investigation at the time of this report.

In the residential fatal fires where there was a smoke alarm that did not operate (21%):

  • 10% (51 fires) were not connected to power - no battery (7%, 38 fires), dead battery (3%, 13 fires).
  • 4% (20 fires) the smoke alarm was beyond the smoke/fire reach.
  • 7% (39 fires) other reason.

Residential Fatal Fires*: Smoke Alarm Operation