Last week happened to be fire prevention week across North America.
But for most firefighters, every week is fire prevention week, because they know all too well what can happen when a fire goes undetected in a home.
Langford Fire Rescue hosted their annual open house on Oct. 4 and spent the remainder of the week visiting local schools and reminding children how to stay safe.
Paul Obersteller, a Langford firefighter and safety inspector, said the most obvious device for keeping your family safe is often overlooked. He could not stress enough how important it is to make sure smoke detectors are working correctly.
“People don’t think about them until something goes wrong,” he said. “It’s not the fire that kills people; it’s the smoke that kills.”
On average, eight people die in fires every week in Canada, with residential fires accounting for 73 per cent of the fatalities. On average, one British Columbian is injured by fire every 44 hours.
Obersteller said new building codes require working smoke detectors in every bedroom, outside of common sleeping areas and on every level of a house. He also added that most alarms can now be connected so when one goes off they all go off.
The push for more alarms, he said, was because often people sleep through alarms and a number of people sleep with their bedroom doors closed. He said children are especially likely to sleep through alarms because they don’t know what they sound like.
He suggested that smoke alarms should be tested every month, even those that are wired into a home, and batteries should be changed twice a year. A good way to remember to change the batteries, he said, is to do them every time the clocks change, which is next month. Smoke alarms should also be replaced every 10 years from the date of manufacture.
Between 2009 and 2014, dead batteries were found in smoke detectors involved in 302 residential fires, according to B.C.’s Office of the Fire Commissioner. Thirty-nine people were injured and seven were killed in those fires. Research from the Fire Chief’s Association of British Columbia suggests that fatality rates rise 74 per cent when a working smoke alarm is not present.
“That’s why we’re always pushing,” said Obersteller.
He warned there is also another alarm that is often overlooked by homeowners. Carbon monoxide alarms are also an important component to keeping a home safe and Obersteller recommended a separate device that could be placed next to smoke alarms.
He said on the day of their open house they were called to a residence after the carbon monoxide alarm went off.
“It was actually leaking into the trailer,” from the meter outside, he said. While the owner had been complaining about not feeling well, Obersteller said they hadn’t realized something was wrong until the alarm went off.
“When they go off you need to get out of the house,” he said. “They’re very sensitive.”
In this case, the residents were lucky, and working alarms likely saved their lives.
Obersteller said if Langford residents cannot afford smoke alarms they can be provided. He also said the city’s fire prevention division is happy to answer any questions or take a look at any devices that may not be working correctly. He noted this applies to all West Shore departments, not just Langford.