Death of pair partly due to failed smoke alarm, report

Studies show seniors are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to fire and malfunctioning smoke alarms

Surrey fire that took two lives on Sept. 5.

Two Surrey seniors are dead, in part, because of a non-functioning smoke alarm, a recent investigation has found.

On Sept. 15, fire crews responded to a fire near 94A Avenue and 157 Street, where it was believed a couple was trapped.

An elderly couple – a 75-year-old man and 77-year-old woman – were extracted by fire fighters, but were pronounced dead at the scene.

They had lived in the home for more than 20 years.

Since then, the city has received an electrical report from an engineering firm that studied the smoke alarm found in the rubble of the home.

The firm found the alarm had not been functioning, and was similar to models made 24 years ago.

The fire investigation results are consistent with recent findings from a UBC study on fall and fire prevention among frail older adults.

Findings from the almost 1,000 seniors who responded to a survey on smoke alarms, indicated that while most had a smoke alarm, almost half didn’t know how old it was. Another 15 percent said the alarm was more than 10 years old – beyond the typical lifespan of a smoke alarm.

In about 20 percent of cases no light was visible to show the alarm was working, and only about half arranged for or knew that the alarm was checked at least once a year. It adds to mounting evidence highlighting the importance of working smoke alarms in saving lives – and particularly those of vulnerable populations such as seniors.

Another study led by the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) of almost 11,100 residential structure fires in B.C. from 2006 to 2011 showed that 79 per cent of the 170 fire-related deaths occurred in homes without a working smoke alarm. The study further showed that seniors made up 32 per cent of those deaths – despite only making up 15 per cent of the general population.

“This is a very vulnerable group, and we clearly need to do more,” Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis said. “We learned from the two studies that many elderly people are not thinking about their own safety. It’s incumbent on all of us to ensure the seniors we come in contact with – through our work or in our private lives – understand why they need a working smoke alarm in their home.”

The Surrey Fire Department is still offering free home inspections and free smoke alarms to those who need it. The program is fully paid for by corporate sponsors.

Order an inspection by calling 604-543-6700.

Information and resources about working smoke alarms can be found at:



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