A 2011 map of Surrey showing the 'hot zones' in orange

Smoke alarm program saving lives

The 2012 initiative saw 2,100 alarms installed province-wide to B.C.'s highest risk of dying in a fire.

At least a dozen people in B.C. are alive today thanks to a novel program with a goal of getting smoke alarms in every home.

The results of the first year of the B.C. Smoke Alarm Movement have just been released, and they show a drop in fire fatalities last year of 44.4 per cent, or 12 people, as well as a marginal decrease in the number of fires.

In 2008, a similar program was launched by the City of Surrey that saw fire fatalities drop by 40 per cent during the three-year pilot.

That initiative was launched after Surrey’s fire chief visited the United Kingdom where a similar scheme was under way.

A subsequent study by the University of the Fraser Valley showed two-thirds of the residential fires in this province occur in buildings without a functioning smoke alarm.

It also points out “smoke alarms don’t remain functional forever,” and that a continuous campaign would be necessary to affect meaningful change.

The provincial program was launched in March, 2012, and included several private partners including Black Press (which publishes The Surrey-North Delta Leader).

During the last year, the initiative saw more than 21,000 new smoke alarms installed in high-risk homes province-wide.

They included homes with young children or older adults, people with disabilities, low-income families, and in particular, First Nations communities.

“They (aboriginals) show a 2.8 times greater likelihood of dying in a fire than the rest of the population,” said Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis.

After an education campaign and the installation of the smoke alarms, the province saw a 5.1-per-cent decrease in fires along withe the huge drop in deaths.

Garis, also the president of the B.C. Fire Chiefs Association, had high hopes for the program, but even this exceeded his expectations.

“I was hopeful that we would make a difference in Surrey, based on what I saw in the U.K. and the research that was done,” Garis said. The outcomes, he said, has left him astounded.

Add to the bonus is that it costs the taxpayer virtually nothing because the private sector has stepped up, he said.

He noted that while the group reached a 44.4-per-cent reduction in fatalities, statistics indicate getting more than 50 per cent is not likely.

“Statistically with sprinklers and smoke alarms, you’re not going to get zero (fatalities),” Garis said. The best that could be achieved is to cut the number of deaths in half.

“And we’re almost there,” he said.

He noted that to be successful, the program needs a continued and sustained push.

“This win is fragile, and it runs the risk of returning if we don’t maintain it,” Garis said. “It’s like an inoculation (program), you need to do it forever.”

Anyone who wants to become involved in the B.C. Smoke Alarm Movement can call the Surrey Fire Department at 604-543-6700.

@diakiw

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