A family of four died on Easter weekend in a tragic house fire in East Gwillimbury near Newmarket. The victims were a husband and wife and their two teen-aged sons, all of whom were found in the second floor master bedroom of their home.
Initial press coverage attributed the deaths to the time it took volunteer firefighters to respond to the fire which was phoned in by one of the victims around 5:30 am. But subsequent investigation by the Ontario Fire Marshal provides a different and better understanding of what led to this tragedy. That understanding might someday help save our own lives or others close to us.
From the Ontario Fire Marshal:
“Preliminary findings have revealed that the fire originated on the home’s main floor, in the laundry room. As the fire developed, smoke and flames were drawn up a large central staircase to the second storey – trapping the family in the master bedroom. When a family member made the 911 call, the fire conditions on the home’s main floor had already blocked all avenues of escape.
The delay in the detection of this fire can be attributed to two factors. First, the lack of a smoke alarm on the main floor, and two, while there was a security/fire alarm system in the home that provided coverage for the second storey and basement; this system’s wiring ran through the main floor laundry area where the fire originated. The OFM team has established this wiring was compromised early in the fire and this would have rendered the entire system inoperable.”
At a recent press conference, the Ontario Fire Marshal went on to say “There have been suggestions across the media that fire department response time was a factor in this incident…” “Response time is not a significant contributing factor.”
One of our members, George Dixon, has been studying fire fatality statistics:
- The death rate from fires has declined from 30.9 per million in 1980 to 6.8 per million in 2005;
- This 78% reduction in just 25 years is mainly due to household smoke alarms;
- We are 20 times more likely to be killed in a car crash than in an accidental fire where there is a working smoke alarm;
- We are 137 times more likely to be injured in a car crash than in a fire;
- Almost half of all fire deaths occur between 10 pm and 6 am;
- 25% of all fire deaths today are intentional – arson, homicide or suicide;
- Over half of the remaining deaths occur when there is no working smoke alarm;
- Firefighter arrival time on scene is not a significant factor in preventing most fire deaths;
Here is George’s best advice for our members and for others you may wish to relay this to:
- You are at much higher risk of dying in a fire that goes undetected when you are asleep and do not have working smoke alarms;
- Never rely on a fire department to rescue you from a fire inside your home. You need early warning that a fire has started so you can save yourself by getting out first and then calling for help;
- 3. According to the Fire Marshal “In addition to smoke alarms, everyone must know what to do when the smoke alarm sounds – developing and practising a home fire escape plan is your best chance of surviving a fire in your home.” Get out then “…call the fire department from outside the home, from a cell phone or neighbour’s home.”
- If you have physical or other limitations, avoid sleeping above the ground floor unless you have two means of escape and the ability to use either in an emergency;
- Make sure you have working smoke alarms at all times on each floor of your home – home alarms need to be replaced every 10 years;
- Create redundancy in your system – for example, if you have electrically powered smoke alarms add battery powered ones too – they are cheap and might save you and your loved ones;
- Airplanes have redundant systems on board for your safety – why not redundant smoke alarms for safety where you sleep every night?
- Never rely only on detectors connected to home alarm systems which often use thin gauge wires that can be damaged early in the course of a fire;
- Never remove a battery because you burned the toast or you need one for the remote;
- 10. Think about the unthinkable so you are ready if it happens.