There is no excuse for being without working smoke alarms
There is no excuse for being without working smoke alarms - Do yourself and your family a life-saving favour before Christmas and test your smoke alarms.

While you are at it, have a quick chat with the kids about a fire escape plan. Even though you may have discussed it before, it never hurts to give them a reminder.

If you have one of the old alarms that goes off when you are cooking, consider replacing it with a new model that can discern the difference – that way no one in your family will be tempted to disable it at times.

With cold weather approaching, the use of space heaters and fire places add to the potential for fires, as do candles and Christmas tree lights during the holidays. So awareness should be heightened at this time of year.

Most fires can be prevented with diligence and planning.

I took a quick look at Ontario statistics on fire deaths to see what the trends might be.  I was surprised to see that they have changed very little in the past decade and always seem to hover somewhere between 75 to 100 deaths. In 2003 there was a high of 110 deaths and in 2010 a low of 79. Those numbers don’t include vehicle fires, just structure.

A St. Catharines family was lucky to escape with their lives early Wednesday morning and according to the fire chief, it appears there were no working smoke detectors in the home.

St. Catharines Fire Chief Mark Mehlenbacher said the four occupants, a couple and their two children, barely made it out of the fire, he said.

“They were lucky to escape with their lives,” said Mehlenbacher. “They barely got to the front door.”

Emergency officials were called to the home shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning. When they got there, the couple and their daughters, ages nine and 12, had managed to escape from their home, which was by then fully engulfed in flames.

It appears the fire started in the basement, and by the time they realized there was a fire, it was well involved with lots of toxic smoke, said the chief.

“They’re lucky they got out,” said Mehlenbacher.

The family was taken to St. Catharines General Hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation. The two girls were treated and released within a couple of hours, while the parents remained in hospital for treatment as of Wednesday morning.

It is a terrible time of year to be burned out of your home. Donations are being collected at Dalewood School to help out the family. Additionally a trust account has been set up and donations of funds can be made at any FirstOntario Branch, chequing account 622379.

The fire caused at least $100,000 in damage.

The Ontario Fire Marshal’s office was on scene Wednesday investigating, together with staff from the St. Catharines fire prevention office. Until their investigation is complete the chief said he is not able to comment on the possible cause of the fire, although he agreed the origin was likely the basement.

Mehlenbacher said a smoke alarm on the upper level of the home was disabled.

And as of Wednesday morning, fire officials had not found any type of evidence that there was a smoke alarm on the lower level of the home.

It is also possible that charges will be laid.

Mehlenbacher said that because there were no working smoke alarms in the home, the owners could be facing fines but a decision won’t be made until the fire investigation is complete.

“It’s completely incomprehensible,” said Mehlenbacher. “People need to think of their loved ones. It’s a $10 smoke alarm that will make a difference. There should be no question.”

And he is right of course.

That tiny, often overlooked device may be the only thing standing between your family and tragedy, treat it with respect.

by Katherine Nadeau

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