Fire-related fatalities in Southwestern Ontario have fire prevention officials thinking about their message
Fire-related fatalities in Southwestern Ontario have fire prevention officials thinking about their message
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
June 7, 2017
Article by: Bruce Chessell
 
A Woodstock Fire Department vehicle sits out in front of a Dundas Street home on Monday, where on Sunday 72-year-old Dianne Coomber died in a house fire. (BRUCE CHESSELL/Sentinel-Review)

A Woodstock Fire Department vehicle sits out in front of a Dundas Street home on Monday, where on Sunday 72-year-old Dianne Coomber died in a house fire. (BRUCE CHESSELL/Sentinel-Review)

 
After nine fire-related fatalities in southwestern Ontario in recent months, fire prevention officials are trying to figure out how to get the message of fire safety through to homeowners.
 
On Sunday, a fire at 258 Dundas St. in Woodstock took the life of 72-year-old Dianne Coomber, who was removed from the home and transferred to hospital where she later died.
 
The Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office (OFM) completed its investigation into the fire Wednesday and determined the cause had been accidental due to an unattended lit candle. It was further determined the property had no working smoke alarms, which prevented any early warning of the fire and played a major role in Coomber’s death.
 
Acting fire Chief Jeff Slager said working smoke alarms on every level of the home can be the difference between life and death.
 
“This event is a reminder to everyone that, while candles can add ambiance, if left unattended the results can be tragic,” Slager said.
 
This death follows two other fire-related deaths in Woodstock, which occurred late last year in December. The first death happened on Dec. 6 at an apartment on Devonshire Avenue while the second was a mere six days later at a home on Kensington Street.
 
The latter victim was an older man, believed to be in his 70s. The OFM told the Sentinel-Review in December that adults over 65 have a higher risk of dying by fire than any other age group.
 
OFM public relations officer Carol Gravelle said this recent fatal fire in Woodstock shows there is still work to be done in reaching out to the community to make fire safety part of their conversations.
 
“The delivery of fire protection is a municipal decision and is dependent on that community’s unique needs and circumstances,” Gravelle said. “From our perspective, the fire service has been very good at finding new and innovative ways to reach out to audiences with key messages on a variety of issues to make them topical, particularly on the requirement for smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (alarms) in Ontario homes.”
 
Slager said he respectably disagreed with the OFM on the need for more work, adding that responsibility needs to be put on the occupants of the home at some point.
 
“We can put a message out and actively pursue all of the information that we’ve got out there. We go door to door and we do all of these other projects. But ultimately, the owner is the one who is in care and control of what goes on in their home,” Slager said. “If a fire department makes the effort to ensure that the smoke alarm is installed properly and up to date at that point, we do not live in the residence. We are not responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of that.”
 
Slager said the department is going to continue to spread the message of fire safety in hopes that people will realize its importance.
 
“I just want people to stop giving me the opportunity of having to highlight this because of situations like we’ve just gone through,” he said. “It’s extremely sad for the family – it’s something that we don’t want anyone to go through – but at the same point it was a preventable situation.”
 
Earlier this year, St. Thomas chief fire prevention officer Bill Todd spoke to the St. Thomas Journal after one man was killed in a house fire in that jurisdiction.
 
“We spend a lot of time trying to educate and, if you have a working smoke alarm and it’s located in the right location, your odds of getting out when there’s a fire are pretty good,” Todd said. “But unfortunately, in a lot of these cases, we’re finding that the smoke alarm is in the wrong location, not working or has its batteries removed.
 
“It’s frustrating in certain ways, that’s for sure. It’s sad that a number of (fatal house fires) don’t have working smoke alarms. It’s that simple.”
 
Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, also speaking about fire safety, agreed with Slager’s comments that the onus should be put on the occupants at some point, but added more work could be done to spread the message of safety.
 
“It’s obvious that there is a lack of concern on behalf of the citizen that allow these things to happen,” Hardeman said. “I think we need to do more awareness, but I’m not saying the firefighters aren’t doing a good enough job. I think there’s always need for more education for people.”