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Province rings up $1.6 million to rattle British Columbians about smoke alarms

Smoke alarms can cut risk of death by 50 per cent, but not enough homes in B.C. have them

Smoke alarms sound jarring to save lives and the province hopes that $1.6 million will help more British Columbians hear their message.

The funding is part of a provincial partnership with the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit to reduce fire-related injuries and deaths in B.C. by educating the public about smoke-alarms among other measures to reduce fire risks.

“We are taking action to overturn the alarming trend of increasing fire-related deaths in our province,” Mike Farnworth, minister of public safety and solicitor general, said in announcing the funding. Once a fire starts, people have very little time to get out of their home safely, making a working smoke alarm a critical tool for saving lives. I’m urging everyone to test their smoke alarms at least once every six months to keep their home and family safe.”

This appeal comes after the release of new figures from the Office of the Fire Commissioner. Its annual report shows that 9,087 fires caused 86 deaths and 212 injuries in 2022.

B.C. ranks second behind Ontario in Canada when it comes to fire-related death and injuries.

RELATED: As fire deaths trend up, Langford Fire Rescue stressing importance of working smoke detectors

Most fire-related deaths and injuries occurred in homes but death rates were lower in homes with working smoke alarms, where 26 per cent of incidents resulted in death. Homes without a working smoke alarm, including those without an installed alarm or unknown status, accounted for three out of four deaths at 74 per cent.

Overall, research shows working smoke alarms can reduce the risk of fire deaths by 50 percent, but only 45 per cent of the reported residential structure fires in 2022 had a working smoke alarm.

Fire commissioner Brian Godlonton said that number is too low. While the number of people with working smoke alarms in their residences has fluctuated a few per cent up or down over the years, it is nowhere near where it needs to be, he said.

Available numbers underscore this point. From 2015 to 2021, 37 per cent of residential fires had working smoke alarms, while 12 per cent had smoke alarms that did not activate and 13 per cent lacked smoke alarms.

Godlonton said some European countries have rates of residential smoke alarms in the low to high 90s, adding that some people are starting to tune out messaging about the importance of smoke alarms.

“If there (are) not on-going public education and awareness efforts around that, then it wears off,” he said. “People forget and take it for granted.”


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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