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Fire officials frustrated with lax views on smoke alarms

Despite the damaging and deadly fires so far in 2018, Oshawa Fire Services continue to be frustrated with the lack of working smoke alarms in Oshawa homes.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The message is out there, but how well it is getting through is a whole another issue.

Since the beginning of 2018, Oshawa Fire Services has responded to 10 fires at nine homes and one business.

In all, these fires resulted in the loss of four lives and $4 million in property damage.

Deputy Chief Steve Barkwell says while the number of fires the service has responded to isn’t overwhelming, what’s concerning is the discovery that in 80 per cent of these fires, smoke alarms were either not installed or without working batteries.

“That is extremely high,” Barkwell tells The Oshawa Express. “Smoke detectors are very important for early detection.”

The Oshawa Fire Service is very proactive in its approach to spreading awareness of the importance of smoke alarms.

Fire officials often engage in door-to-door campaigns and regularly remind residents to test their smoke alarms.

After a fire on Centre Street North in January led to the deaths of four people including two children, Oshawa fire officials took to Twitter with the #MySmokeAlarmWorks campaign.

Residents are asked to use the hashtag and post pictures of themselves checking their smoke alarm.

While Barkwell says they’ve received favourable responses to these initiatives, the message hasn’t sunk in with as many people as they’d hope.

“Unfortunately, it’s one of those issues that seems to be overlooked,” he says.

Barkwell says Oshawa Fire Services constantly reviews its public education initiatives.

“We change as the world changes, we just started our Twitter this year. The more people see us, the better.”

But as many public awareness campaigns as there are, provincial law is very clear regarding smoke alarms.

It is required by the Ontario Fire Code that all landlords and homeowners have working smoke alarms on every storey of the home in addition to outside all sleeping areas.

Failure to do so can lead to a fine of up to $50,000 for individuals and/or one-year imprisonment.

Barkwell says he can’t personally comment on the number of people who receive the maximum punishment for smoke alarm violations.

“It’s all regulated by the courts. It basically depends on the judge or the justice of the peace in each case,” he states.

Due to the nature of fighting fires, Barkwell says it is extremely difficult for officials to pinpoint exact reasons why people choose not to install smoke alarms.

And while this all causes severe frustration for firefighters, he says they will not stop hammering the point home.

“We just keep pushing forward,” he says.

For more information, contact Oshawa Fire Services Prevention Division at 905-436-3311 or visit