Only a working fire alarm can save your life

Since 1975, it has been a written law that every residential home in Ontario must have a smoke alarm outside sleeping areas. For almost 50 years, Fire departments across Ontario have been educating residents, often starting at the young age of only four, about the importance of having working smoke alarms and what to do when your smoke alarm activates.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, the number of fire deaths in the province soared. In 2019, there were 67 fire deaths reported in Ontario. In 2020, that number nearly doubled to 114, and 2021 is on track to be another record year. So far, as of only March,  there have been 50 fire-related deaths in 2021. Far too often, fire investigations show that an outstanding number of these deaths are linked to homes not having working smoke alarms.

While we are all doing our part to help stop the spread of COVID-19, we all need to do better to ensure our families are safe, by ensuring we have working smoke alarms outside of all sleeping areas and on each level of our homes. Far too often, our community risk deduction staff and volunteer firefighters find homes that either have expired alarms or no working alarms at all. When asked, most homeowners indicated that the alarms were chirping, so they took it down or removed the battery. Removing the battery renders the smoke alarm useless. If the brakes in your car got squeaky, would you just remove them? As the fire prevention & public education officer, I am very uneasy when I am made aware of these situations, often thinking to myself, what would have happened if this fire started when the residents were sleeping? Would they have got out in time? Would they have been alerted of a fire before it was too late to escape safety?

There is no excuse for not having a working alarm on every level of your home these days. It’s like saying you didn’t know you had to wear a seatbelt when driving your car. Smoke alarms can be purchased for as little as $12. Think about that, for the same price as a fast-food meal, you can ensure you and your family members are kept safe and given enough time to escape your home in an emergency.

Smoke alarms need to be tested monthly by pressing the test button, which can be done in less than 10 seconds. Smoke alarms, even alarms that are hard-wired into your home, still have battery backups. Often, we hear from people who get frustrated by their alarm “chirping” and remove the alarm to make the sound stop. When a smoke alarm “chirps,” it is telling you there is an issue with the alarm. Likely this chirp indicates that the battery needs to be replaced or the device is expiring. Sometimes alarms become dirty from dust particles in the air and need to be cleaned. Cleaning your alarm can be solved by simply using a vacuum to clean dust or debris.

One of the most significant issues we have been noticing recently is discovering alarms that are expired. Smoke alarms are designed to last for about 10 years. After 10 years, they can become less effective at detecting smoke or fire. Some alarms have a small sticker on the side indicating the year it has to be replaced by. Other alarms may have to be taken down from the ceiling to see the date on the back of the alarm. If you can’t find a sticker or date on your alarm, it is time to buy a new one. Remember, Only WORKING smoke alarms can save your life.

While most of us have become frustrated with being stuck at home during COVID and various lockdowns, Niagara-on-the-Lake Fire & Emergency services is asking all NOTL residents to do their part and ensure you and your families are properly protected. Now is the time to test your alarms, make sure you have the proper alarms installed in the correct locations, and change the batteries annually to ensure the alarms are working. 

Fire safety is often the last thing on most people’s minds as they believe a fire won’t happen to them. Consider this, if there was a fire in your home tonight, would your alarms work? Would you have enough time to escape? Remember, the cost of losing a life far outweighs the cost of a $12 smoke alarm.

As always, if you have questions regarding the alarms in your home, call us at 905-468-3266, or email

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