Dramatic drop in fire deaths: Report

Surrey's fire chief is a co-author of a study showing smoke alarm program is working well

The number of fire fatalities has dropped dramatically in the province since the launch of a campaign to bring smoke alarms to the most needy.

Fatalities from residential fires dropped by 65 per cent last year in B.C., according to a study just released by the University of the Fraser Valley, Centre for Social Research.

The study, co-authored by Len Garis, Joseph Clare and Sarah Hughan, was released in September and provincial statistics from 2012 to 2014.

In addition to the decline in fatalities, “present and functioning smoke alarms per 1,000 fires increased by 26 per cent,” the report states.

“Fires without any smoke alarms decreased by 17 per cent.”

It follows a program launched in 2012 called the B.C. Smoke Alarm Movement, whereby more than 41,000 smoke alarms were distributed to homes throughout the province.

About half of those were given to First Nations communities and many of them to seniors.

Prior to the initiative, 90 people died in residential fires. That dropped to 60 at the time of the study.

Garis, Surrey’s fire chief, said Thursday he was surprised by some of the results but also expected a lot of what he saw.

“First off, I wasn’t surprised because I saw the United Kingdom death rates decrease substantially over 10 years,” Garis said. “I was surprised to see it happen so quickly (in the local program).”

From here, Garis said the city will ramp up the delivery of educational material and the smoke alarms, using tax offices and food banks as mechanisms to get the devices to those at risk.

The report comes just a day after Surrey fire crews battled a huge blaze at an apartment complex at 108 Avenue and King George Boulevard.

About 200 people were evacuated, but no one was injured.

Garis said the smoke alarms and fire sprinklers all worked the way they were designed.

“The unfortunate thing is the fire started on the outside of the building and it spread quickly on the outside of the building to the roof,” Garis said. “The important thing is the safety systems were designed to get people out safely, and that’s what happened.”

He’s looking forward to building legislation requiring sprinklers on balconies, which would have greatly mitigated the damage at fires such as the one on King George.

Ten per cent of fires begin on balconies, Garis noted.

The report is being released in time for Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 4 to 10