Surrey firefighters urge residents to test and replace smoke alarms

Smoke alarm won’t save your life if it doesn’t work, says Surrey fire department

Assistant fire chief Steve Robinson.

Assistant fire chief Steve Robinson.

SURREY — If there’s one thing Steve Robinson likes to stress more than the importance of having a smoke alarm in your home, it’s the importance of having a “working” smoke alarm.

Surrey’s assistant fire chief, fire prevention, says that having a working smoke alarm reduces the risk of injury or death by about 74 per cent.

“It’s a big number.”

But you should test yours every month to make certain it’s still working, and replace alarms that are 10 years or older.

If you live in a single detached house, the Surrey fire service will send out a crew for test your smoke alarm for free, and give you a new one, installed, free of charge if you don’t have one. This service is for single detached family only. There are different protocols for townhouse complexes, condos and apartment buildings, Robinson noted.

“We really focus on single family detached homes.”

In 2012, when the Surrey fire department launched its smoke alarm program, firefighters noted that working smoke alarms were present in only 32 per cent of the house fires they responded to. That number climbed to 59 per cent in 2015.

“This can be directly attributed to the work that the fire crews in the City of Surrey are doing, for testing and installing, and the campaigns that we’ve done to increase public awareness about the importance of having a working smoke alarm,” Robinson said. “Obviously we want to see this rise even more.”

So far this year, Surrey firefighters have tested 4,283 smoke alarms. Sometimes they’ll test smoke alarms during medical calls to make sure they’re working.

“If they’re not, we’ll put one in on the spot.”

Last year, there were two fire fatalities in Surrey.

“Both of those, there was no working smoke alarm present,” Robinson recalled. “They were both disconnected.”

There have been no fire deaths so far this year in Surrey.

“We discovered that a large per cent of the houses had a smoke alarm but it wasn’t working, so we went out and wanted to change that. One of the things we also realized is the death rate from fire, when there is not a working smoke alarm, is almost four times higher than when there is a working smoke alarm.”

Robinson said Surrey firefighters responded to a fire last year where the 911 dispatcher heard a smoke alarm in the background and made sure everybody escaped safety from the house.

“When we looked back at the records, one of our crews installed that smoke alarm.

“It’s an excellent feeling.”

Frustratingly, Robinson said firefighters have also fought blazes at houses where they had installed an alarm but for some reason, the resident removed it.

“If we go to a fire where there was no working smoke alarm, we will try to saturate the neighbourhood and talk to all the people to make sure that they all have working smoke alarms in that area,” Robinson said.

Low income residents are less likely to have working smoke alarms.

“That’s why we provide free ones. We do a campaign every year at the food bank. Fire is non-random; there are some demographic issues around fire, so we will provide for smoke alarms. We don’t want anybody not to have one for the sake of they can’t afford it.

“You can get a smoke alarm for twenty bucks, and it saves your life. If you can’t afford one, we will buy one for you.”