Rise in fire-related deaths prompts launch of community risk dashboard in B.C.

·3 min read
Debris and rubble from the demolition of the Winters Hotel in Vancouver after a fatal fire in April. After a large rise in fire-related deaths in B.C., the province says it is rolling out a new community risk dashboard. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Debris and rubble from the demolition of the Winters Hotel in Vancouver after a fatal fire in April. After a large rise in fire-related deaths in B.C., the province says it is rolling out a new community risk dashboard. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

B.C.'s fire commissioner says a new community dashboard set to be rolled out in select cities this year will help communities better understand risk amid a spike in fire deaths during the pandemic.

The Community Fire Risk Reduction Dashboard is due to be rolled out with Statistics Canada in July as a pilot project in Coquitlam, Surrey and Port Alberni. The rest of B.C. will receive access by early 2023, according to the province.

Fire Commissioner Brian Godlonton, who heads the government agency responsible for fire safety, said the initiative was prompted by an increase in the number of fire deaths nationwide.

It will help fire services identify areas that are at greatest risk of home fires and allow them to target safety information at those areas, Godlonton said at a news conference on Wednesday.

"This will protect the residents, our firefighters, and reduce the social and financial impacts to communities resulting from those fires," he said.

Fire-related deaths in B.C. 2019 - 2021

Godlonton said the dashboard will help fire inspectors doing premises inspections, as well as firefighters during emergency situations. Census data incorporated into the dashboard will also help officials triangulate locations and homes most at risk of future fires, he added.

Spike in fires

Godlonton also presented his 2021 annual fire report at the news conference, with statistics on where and how fire deaths occurred.

In 2021, there were 59 fire-related deaths in the province — a five per cent increase from the previous year. But it was more than double the figure in 2019, when 28 deaths were reported.

Godlonton attributed the spike in deaths to people spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, 38 per cent of the fires in B.C. were structure fires, which accounted for the majority of reported deaths and injuries. Most of the fires were either caused by cooking equipment or by smokers.

Number of fires attended by first responders in B.C.

Death rates were significantly lower in homes with sprinklers and smoke alarms, Godlonton said.

But he said only 42 per cent of reported homes had a working smoke alarm, and 11 per cent had no smoke alarm at all.

He said smoke alarms should be tested regularly — at least once every six months — and replaced after 10 years.

He advised those with sensory disabilities to install special alarms with strobe lights or bed shakers.

"If you need advice or help related to smoke alarms, please contact your local fire department," the commissioner said.

"While the recent fire trends are indeed concerning, I am confident through continued public education, targeted education and through the new community fire risk reduction dashboard, we can prevent future injuries and save lives."

Location of fires attended by first responders, 2021

In 2021, B.C. firefighters attended 9,166 fires, which resulted in 180 injuries and 59 deaths, the report said.

The majority of fires — nearly 60 per cent — were reported in the Lower Mainland.

The 2021 figures are a 25.9 per cent jump over the previous year's numbers, when 7,277 fires were reported in total.

A number of fire deaths have been already reported in 2022, including a child in a Vancouver house fire earlier this year, and two people in a large fire at the low-income Winters Hotel.

The fire commissioner said there was an additional announcement coming soon, in conjunction with national firefighting bodies, on a rise in arson attacks nationwide.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting