Uxbridge Fire steps up enforcement of fire code violations
Uxbridge Times Journal

UXBRIDGE — Residents without a working fire alarm can expect to face a fine as the fire department steps up fire code enforcement.

Fire departments across the region are moving to stricter enforcement after 2018 saw seven fire-related deaths in buildings without functioning smoke alarms in Durham, with working smoke detectors present in only about half of homes visited by fire services during the same time frame.

“It’s very disappointing,” Uxbridge Fire Chief Phil Alexander said of the fact that firefighters continue to encounter homes without proper fire protection.

“This really needs to be treated like impaired driving, it needs to be absolutely unacceptable behaviour if your alarms aren’t working.”

In the past when Uxbridge firefighters responded to a home or building without working detectors they would issue a warning and install a new smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector if necessary. In 2018, 34 smoke alarms were installed due to missing or disabled detectors, with an additional 14 residences identified as having smoke alarms present, but past their end life. The department also provided 24 carbon monoxide detectors due to missing detectors, with an additional six residences identified as having detectors past their end life.

In total, seven provincial offences tickets were issued for missing or disabled smoke or carbon monoxide detectors from July to December 2018. So far in 2019, the department has issued eight.

“We just can’t keep rewarding bad behaviour when people are not getting the message,” Alexander said, noting there was recently a very close call in the community where a family was able to escape their home safely during a gas leak due to working carbon monoxide detectors.

“We’ve had a few close calls here in town both with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and we just can’t afford not to be going to the next level and enforcing this with ticketing because nothing else seems to be getting through.”

The fire code has been updated recently to include mandatory carbon monoxide detectors. Smoke alarms are also required on every storey of a home or building, and outside all sleeping areas. In addition, both hard-wired and battery-operated alarms are required to be replaced after 10 years.

“There is a new level of compliance with carbon monoxide detectors but people have had to change the batteries in their smoke alarms for 30 years and they still don’t do that, they still take them down when they annoy them and don’t replace them, tenants still take them down and landlords don’t check to make sure the ones they installed are working,” Alexander said when asked what possible causes may be for the lack of compliance.

“It’s a bit perplexing honestly, I don’t know where the message is getting lost. It’s very frustrating.”

That frustration is shared by fire chiefs across the region, who came together in October to mark Fire Prevention Week with a joint plea for residents to ensure their home is fire safe.

“We want residents and landlords to know we are serious about smoke alarm enforcement,” said Dave Speed, Whitby fire chief, at the event in Oshawa. “In the past five years in Whitby, one out of every two homes that experienced a fire did not have working smoke alarms. In today’s home fires, people only have one or two minutes to escape. Working smoke alarms on every level give the early warning needed to escape a fire in your home.”

Alexander is quick to point out that the department is still eager to work with residents. Anyone with questions about the fire code or what’s required in their own home is welcome to contact the fire department at 905-852-3393.

“We are happy to help, we will always answer questions,” Alexander said. “People are welcome to call us or stop by the fire hall.”

The department will also continue with public education efforts to make sure residents are aware of what’s required.

“We want to work with people and get our message across,” said Colin Clark, public education officer for the Uxbridge Fire Department.

“In the fire service we have three lines of defence, the first is public education. The second is fire code and enforcement, and the last is fire suppression. We always hope with public education we can stop it there, but when that doesn’t work we have to move on to fire code violations and enforcement.”

He also noted that even with enforcement, firefighters will always ensure a home is properly protected.

“If we respond to a call and there’s a deficiency with their alarms we’re going to make sure they’re protected,” he said. “We want to leave people protected but we also want people to understand it’s their responsibility, it’s a landlords responsibility and if you’re a tenant it’s your responsibility to notify the landlord if there’s a deficiency.”

Clark said public education efforts such as open houses and school visits will continue.

“We’ll still be out there delivering the message,” he said. “It’s a very simple message, just make sure you’re in compliance with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in your home for the safety of your family.”

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