Fire study reveals alarming results

Penticton Fire Department urging residents to ensure they have a working smoke alarm and a plan to get out of their home

Operations assistant Jody Fotherby of Penticton Fire Rescue holds a smoke detector which can help save lives by alerting people to a possible fire in a residence.

Operations assistant Jody Fotherby of Penticton Fire Rescue holds a smoke detector which can help save lives by alerting people to a possible fire in a residence.

Years of reminders of the importance of smoke alarms are still not sinking in, said Penticton fire operations assistant Jody Fotherby.

“When I teach kids in school it is surprising, one of the very first questions I have been asking is how many children and parents have actually practised your plan at home. Meaning your parent pushes the smoke alarm to make sure it is working, roll out of bed, crawl to your own window or door and go to your meeting place. On the average, for a 20-child class, it is three,” said Fotherby. “I’m really surprised at that.”

Despite all of the public education, almost 70 per cent of the houses that caught fire in B.C. in recent years did not have a working smoke alarm. Many of those were low-income homes, rental units, many on aboriginal reserves and other rural locations, according to a study of residential fire reports done by the University of the Fraser Valley.

“It shows in the study that although people have smoke alarms, they are not necessarily maintained. It is one thing to have a smoke alarm installed, it is another thing to test it monthly,” said Fotherby.

According to the report, seniors, disabled people and young children were at greater risk of dying in a house fire. The Penticton Fire Department have conducted neighbourhood visits since 2005 to check on this demographic. Fotherby said the fire department will talk about smoke alarms, check to make sure a resident’s smoke alarm works, that they are not over the 10-year expiry date and go over other possible household hazards. Seniors, Fotherby said, sometimes don’t have anybody to help them check their alarms or even just change the batteries. She welcomes them to call the fire hall.

“We would be more than happy to help them. Several seniors come to the fire hall that have problems with their alarm and we give them a new one, or ask if they need help putting it in, and it is not a problem. We are happy to go into their home and help them. One smoke alarm can save a family’s life,” she said.

Fotherby said studies show that a smoke alarm will go off within 90 seconds of a fire starting.

“Really that doesn’t give you much time to get out of the house. You have normally three minutes to get out of the house. By the time your smoke alarm activates, potentially it could take four to five minutes before your house is burned. Having said that, it is really important to have a working smoke alarm and definitely have a plan to get out,” said Fotherby, who stressed the importance of also practising that plan regularly.

Smoke alarm maker Kidde Canada donated two dozen new smoke alarms to the Penticton Fire Department to hand out to residents during the community checks. The company is donating 5,000 units with a retail value of $75,000 to be distributed to B.C.’s most vulnerable populations this fall. And Black Press, whose publications reach 1.2 million B.C. homes, has pledged a public awareness advertising campaign worth $350,000 to remind people to install or upgrade their smoke alarms. The B.C. government has launched a  campaign to get a working smoke alarm in every home in the province.

Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of B.C., said the study used data from B.C.’s Office of the Fire Commissioner from 2006 to 2011. The study suggests that 69 lives could be saved each year if homes across Canada had working smoke detectors, he said.

“Smoke alarms give you time to escape from the fire — it seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?” Garis told a news conference at the B.C. legislature. “High-risk members of society are most likely to have a fire and least likely to have a working smoke alarm.”

The UFV study extrapolated that 69 deaths across Canada could be prevented each year if all Canadian homes had working smoke alarms. The research also predicts that working smoke alarms could reduce annual fire deaths by as much as 32 per cent.

“This is a very poor report card on the state of functioning smoke alarms in our province and country. As a fire service, we now have the opportunity to work together and make a real difference on this important safety issue. We’ve tackled this before, but this time we’ll be looking for permanent, sustainable solutions,” said Garis, who emphasized that all smoke alarms should be replaced after 10 years, and batteries changed annually.

Further details about the campaign will be publicized in Black Press publications during 2012. More information about the research and the program are available at

-With files from Tom Fletcher, Black Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The proposed Skaha Lake Road housing project will be modelled after the Burdock House on Winnipeg St., said BC Housing.
BC Housing panel peppered with questions about Skaha housing project

Virtual meeting involved questions about crime, level of supports, timelines

(Stock photo)
EDITORIAL: COVID-19 restrictions continue to affect us all

Canada has recorded more than 700,000 confirmed cases of pandemic

Landmark Cinemas Penticton was forced to close down when the provincial government ordered all theatres to close when new COVID-19 restrictions were brought in Nov. 19, 2020. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Despite ‘devastating’ losses the show will eventually go on at Penticton theatre

Landmark Cinemas has been offering movie popcorn since having to close in November

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, administers a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Ann Hicks, 77, in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-Pool
61 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

Twenty-nine people are in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care

This is rendering of what the playground of the new provincially funded child care centre could look like on Edmonton Ave.
Public hearing for childcare centre rezoning Feb. 1

The Edmonton Ave. facility would add 116 more childcare spots

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

A couple living at the Summerland Waterfront Resort is trying to sell their unit because of strata changes which will require them to pay significantly higher strata fees or have their unit included in the resort’s rental pool (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Couple living at Summerland resort facing increases

Permanent residents of Summerland Waterfront Resort told fees will more than double

(Big White Ski Resort)
28 more cases of COVID-19 linked to Big White cluster

More than 200 cases have been identified since the cluster was announced

Police are seeking further witnesses after an elderly woman who was struck by a vehicle in Salmon Arm succumbed to her injuries. (File Photo)
Salmon Arm pedestrian dies after being hit by truck along Highway 1

Collision took place on Jan. 15 in downtown Salmon Arm, police looking for witnesses

A cow moose wanders around the Silver Star Elementary School neighbourhood Tuesday, Jan. 19. (Contributed)
Moose chases two people near North Okanagan school

Conservation and dog control attending to the situation

The sale of the Kirschner Mountain Development for $22M marks the largest in Realtor history, in the Okanagan. (Contributed)
Kelowna mountain development sold for $22M

The sale of the 640-acre Kirschner Mountain development has made the history books

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

Most Read