Ottawa fire sees spike in false alarm calls in 2023

CTV News

A spike in false alarm calls in the City of Ottawa is being blamed on a lack of maintenance on fire alarm systems in buildings.

The Ottawa Fire Services 2023 Annual Report shows firefighters responded to 11,942 false alarm calls in 2023, up from 10,494 in 2022 and 8,966 calls in 2021.

"The increase is significantly related to the lack of maintenance on fire alarm systems in buildings where they are required under the Ontario Fire Code and when testing is not previously reported to fire dispatch," says the report for the June 17 emergency preparedness and protective services committee meeting.

In February, Council approved a new false alarm fine for repeated nuisance false alarms at buildings and properties required to have a fire alarm system.  The fine is $500 for a second false alarm in a calendar year, $1,000 for a third false fire alarm and $1,500 for any subsequent false fire alarm.

The report shows Ottawa firefighters responded to 33,114 incidents in 2023, up from 28,631 calls in 2022 and 23,875 in 2022. False alarms account for 36 per cent of all calls.

"The year 2023 saw Ottawa Fire Services responding to a higher number of incidents compared to previous years, with a total of 33,114 incidents addressed. This marks a notable 16 per cent increase from the incidents handled in 2022," the report says.

"Several factors contributed to this increase, including population growth, urban intensification, advancements in construction techniques, and the ongoing demand for medical response services. These trends highlight the evolving needs and challenges faced by fire services in serving the community."

Here is a breakdown on the responses for Ottawa firefighters in 2023:

  •  Fire: 1,299 (1,179 in 2022 and 1,113 in 2021)
  •  Fire related: 2,657 (2,282 in 2022 and 2,337 in 2021)
  •  False alarm: 11,942 (10,494 in 2022 and 8,966 in 2021)
  •  Hazmat: 1,921 (1,899 in 2022 and 1,254 in 2021)
  •  Rescue: 4,224 (3,924 in 2022 and 3,171 in 2021)
  •  Medical: 7,011 (5,651 in 2022 and 4,273 in 2021)
  •  Aid agreements: 5 (10 in 2022)
  •  Miscellaneous: 4,055 (3,192 in 2022 and 2,732 in 2021)

Miscellaneous calls include calls cancelled, assisting other agencies and the incident not found.

The report notes Ottawa firefighters responded to a growing number of "complex and severe incidents" in 2023, including tornadoes and extreme weather.

"In July, the Barrhaven Tornado added to the demands, along with the August rainstorm, flooding, and subsequent power outages," the report said. "The Findlay Creek tornado further compounded these challenges. The October General Hospital fire and resulting power outage presented yet another significant test for Fire Services staff."

Response Times

Despite the increase in calls, firefighters met its response time standards in 2023.

The report notes construction projects, road closures, extreme weather events and urban traffic congestion can affect travel and response times.

"Ottawa’s growing population and increased urban density contribute to more congested roads," staff say.

"Efficient routing and real-time traffic updates are crucial for timely responses."

The report shows firefighters responded to "Fire: High Risk" calls in 5 minutes and 35 seconds in 2023, beating the baseline time of 7 minutes.

Response time averages for fire calls were 10 minutes and 46 seconds, down from 11 minutes and 42 seconds in 2022 and below the baseline of 11 minutes and 29 seconds. For medical calls, the response time average was six minutes and 39 seconds, below the baseline of six minutes and 52 seconds.


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