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Ontario’s ‘devastating’ number of fire deaths prompts plea to test smoke alarms

Ontario’s top fire official is taking a new step to prevent fire-related deaths as the province faces the highest number of such fatalities in 20 years.

On Wednesday, Ontario Fire Marshal Jon Pegg announced Sept. 28 will be the province’s first Test Your Smoke Alarm Day. The designation comes after 133 people died as a result of residential fires in 2022.

Most fatal fires occur in homes without working smoke alarms, and people often have seconds to get out of their homes to save their lives, Pegg said.

“Over the past year, we have witnessed a tragic increase in fire-related fatalities in our province,” he said.

“These were not mere statistics. These were real people, including children with families and loved ones who are now forever impacted by these devastating events. What makes these losses even more heartbreaking is that many of these fires occurred in homes without working smoke alarms.” 

Pegg said the day is meant to encourage all Ontario residents to test their smoke alarms and every month thereafter. Testing simply involves pressing the test button to make sure an alarm is in good working order, he said.

Smoke alarms have been legally required to be installed on every storey of a residence in Ontario since 2006, but Pegg said compliance has been lacking.

“If you don’t have a working smoke alarm, your chance of survival is very, very low.”

A firetruck seen outside of a home where a fatal fire killed one person and left two others including one child in life-threatening condition.
A mother and a child died following a fire in this home in Brampton on June 2. One person is in hospital in serious condition. There were no working smoke alarms on the first floor and basement where the family lived. (Alexis Raymon/CBC)

Number of fire deaths ‘mind-blowing,’ official says

Pegg said in an interview that Ontario residents are becoming complacent about fire safety. He added that it is “mind-blowing” to see that number of fire deaths in Ontario given the technology available today to alert people of a fire.

“Is it complacency? It absolutely is. People just don’t get the message,” Pegg said.� 

“For whatever reason, Ontarians just don’t believe that it will happen to them. It’s a combination of no working smoke alarms and not having the plan in place when a fire does happens to know what to do and how to get out. It’s devastating and we need to change it,” he added. 

“Smoke alarms are the deciding factor in people’s lives. It is the one device that will give you the early notification you need to get out. You literally have seconds. The only thing that will save your life is a working smoke alarm.”

Pegg said smoke alarms are not expensive and a battery-operated smoke alarm can be bought for $10.

‘We need to reverse the trend,’ fire chief says

Rob Grimwood, president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, said it’s important to change how Ontario residents think about smoke alarms. He said the number of fire deaths in 2022 is disturbing.

“It has to stop. We need to reverse the trend,” Grimwood said.

“Being confident that you have working smoke alarms only happens if they are tested once a month, batteries are replaced once a year, and the alarms are not older than 10 years,” he said.

The announcement comes after a two-day summit, Operation SAFER (Smoke Alarms For Every Residence) in Vaughan that drew more than 350 delegates representing Ontario’s fire services.

Test Your Smoke Alarm Day will take place the week before Fire Prevention Week, which runs from Oct. 8 to 14.

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