Research reveals a strong link between working smoke alarms and reduced fatalities from residential structure fires.
A study of almost 50,000 fires in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario from October 2006 to 2011 showed:
- The death rate per 1,000 fires was 74% greater when a working smoke alarm was not present than when one was present.
- Greater risk of fatality from residential structure fires for households with at least one young child, older adult, or person with disability; rental units; and households in low-income areas, rural communities and First Nations reserves.
- Fire damage was reduced by 19% when a working smoke alarm was present.
Given that these three provinces are home to 62% of all Canadians, it was extrapolated that 69 deaths (a decrease of 32%) could be prevented each year if all Canadian homes had working smoke alarms.
Smoke alarm legislation varies from province to province. Since mid-2010, the B.C. Fire Code has required all homes, hotel and motel rooms to have a working smoke alarm (battery-operated or hard-wired). However, this is not systematically enforced on residential properties. Smoke alarm function is another challenge. Models with removable batteries can be easily disabled during cooking, and also require the occupant to be diligent about replacing batteries at regular intervals. While this problem is addressed by hard-wired and long-life lithium battery models, their seemingly "care-free" status may result in neglected maintenance and use beyond the functioning lifespan.
A coordinated, sustained and multi-faceted approach – consisting of education, enforcement and changes to the environment – is required to ensure every Canadian home has a working smoke alarm.
B.C.'s Office of the Fire Commissioner and the Fire Chiefs' Association of BC, with assistance from the Surrey Fire Service and other champions, are spearheading a local, provincial and national movement in 2012 to achieve this goal. This will include a national injury reduction forum on October 12, 2012, hosted by Surrey Fire Service in partnership with the Canadian Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.