'We want Scugog to be as safe as possible'

SCUGOG — Scugog is looking to ramp up a program aimed at ensuring every home in the township has working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, just in time for Fire Prevention Week this fall.

The Scugog Fire Department launched its Alarmed For Life program in 2003, which sees local firefighters visit homes and check for working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms — safety devices made necessary through provincial legislation.

Scugog residents, however, seem to have somewhat of a carefree attitude toward fire safety, according to figures compiled by the township’s fire department.

Fire Chief Mark Berney told councillors in late June that he was “very disappointed” when 54 per cent of homes checked in 2018 did not have the necessary alarms.

Last year, the Scugog Fire Department focused on the northwestern side of the township, visiting homes on Scugog Line 12 and 14, as well as Blue Mountain Road. By the end of July 2018, Berney said firefighters had visited 221 homes and secured permission to enter 67. Once inside, they had to install 37 smoke alarms and 10 carbon monoxide detectors, and replace 20 batteries.

“It’s terrifying,” said Berney last summer, noting a “large majority” of homes that weren’t compliant.

Both types of alarms are now mandatory in Ontario households. In March 2006, the province implemented a new law that made smoke alarms necessary on each storey of a home, as well as outside all sleeping areas. Eight years later, in October 2014, carbon monoxide detectors became mandatory near all sleeping quarters for all homes with fuel-burning appliances or an attached garage.

Scugog’s new fire prevention officer, Kristy-Lynn Pankhurst, hopes to see the number of homes compliant with the laws swing upwards this fall when she rolls out a new strategy for the Alarmed For Life program to coincide with Fire Prevention Week in October.

“Obviously that demonstrates a need for the program and highlights the need for doing it,” she said of the 54 per cent figure from 2018. “It shows we need to educate people.”

In some cases, firefighters encountered homes where smoke alarms had been removed and tucked away in drawers, or had their batteries removed, because of nuisance alarms.

“A common misconception is to put (a smoke alarm) in the kitchen,” said Pankhurst. “I would never put one in the kitchen because the chances are higher for a nuisance alarm.”

Unfortunately, she continued, most people “never think (a fire) will happen to them” and they give little regard to their safety.

And that’s what makes the Alarmed For Life program so valuable, she said.

“It’s a huge win to get into a house and talk to people and make sure they comply,” said Pankhurst.

While some residents may be hesitant to allow firefighters into their home — perhaps fearing a stern lecture or fine if they’re not compliant — Pankhurst stressed that Scugog is more focused on talking to homeowners than writing tickets.

“Traditionally that hasn’t been the route we’ve taken,” she said of issuing fines. “We’re working to educate people first. Nobody’s in trouble.”

Added Pankhurst: “We want Scugog to be as safe as possible.”

If a home is found to not have working alarms, Scugog firefighters will supply one for free with the caveat that the homeowner purchase a replacement and bring it to the fire department. Most people are thankful for the township’s gesture and replace the device they’re given, said Pankhurst.

“It could be their neighbour that gets one next,” she said.

The Alarmed For Life program fits into the first leg of the fire department’s “three lines of defence.”

Public education is the first step, followed by the enforcement of codes and standards. Fire suppression is the third.

“It’s the most important thing we can do, honestly,” said Pankhurst of the public education aspect of the Alarmed For Life program. Fire suppression, she continued, “should only happen if the first and second steps fail.”

Helping keep Scugog residents safe in their own homes is a “dream come true” for Pankhurst — both professionally and personally.

She grew up just over the northern Scugog border on Washburn Island in Kawartha Lakes, but now lives in the township. Pankhurst followed in her father’s footsteps — he’s now the Kawartha Lakes fire chief — and became a volunteer firefighter there four years ago. During her studies at Ontario Tech University (formerly University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT))

she began taking courses at the Ontario Fire College and was hired as a fire prevention inspector with Ajax in December 2017.

“I loved it (in Ajax), it was great, but my dream was to work in my home community,” said Pankhurst, who was hired to replace Gord Gettins, Scugog’s longtime chief fire prevention officer, who retired earlier this year. “I always joked with Gord that when he retired, I’d get his job.”

Pankhurst has already made an impression on her industry as she was selected this March by the National Fire Protection Association as a 2019 NFPA Star for her dedication to effectively reach the public with fire-safety education. As a Star, Pankhurst attended a conference in Texas in June, where she participated in training sessions and other events.

When she’s not focused on fire safety, Pankhurst is also a member of the Port Perry Snow Angels synchronized skating team.

“When I drive to work, I can’t believe this is my life,” said Pankhurst.

For more information about the Alarmed For Life program or fire safety, visit www.scugog.ca or call 905-985-2384.

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