Town's fire chief speaks out amid spate of home blazes

·2 min read

A local town's fire officials are warning that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are required by law in all homes after a man was fined for intentionally disabling one.

Emergency crews were called recently to an apartment at 243 Wellington St. in downtown St. Marys, northeast of London, where firefighters found smoke coming from a bathroom in one of the units, the town's fire chief, Richard Anderson, said.

Firefighters determined the source of the fire was a cigarette burning on top of a Tim Hortons coffee cup on the back of a toilet, Anderson said.

An investigation into the home also found the smoke alarms in the apartment were disabled and disconnected, he said. A 49-year-old St. Marys man was charged $360 for intentionally disabling a smoke alarm, the fire department said.

The recent fine has prompted officials to remind residents of having working fire and carbon monoxide detectors in homes.

“It's just a simple act of having them, testing them, and making sure that they're on all levels of your house,” Anderson said. “It’s a difference between life and death.”

Mandatory in Ontario for nearly 50 years, smoke alarms are required on every floor of a dwelling and outside all sleeping areas.

Anderson is reminding the public about three key takeaways:

Anderson said homes without a smoke alarm and those with disabled alarms are more common than people think, citing a big house fire in January.

"In one case, in particular, a family of three at 6 a.m. in the morning did not have smoke alarms," he said. "They had a full fire in the house, and only by chance, the one occupant got up to go to the bathroom and discovered his house was on fire."

He said the department had to start doubling down on charges against residents without working devices in their homes.

The town of 7,000 saw five major fires between December 2020 and January 2021 – an amount that Anderson says is "almost unheard of."

"My deputy fire chief has 39 years here . . . and he told me that he has never seen so many house fires in such a short amount of time."

Anderson encourages anyone without a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm to reach out to the fire department, which offers devices to residents free, he said.

Carbon monoxide detectors are also mandatory in all Ontario homes built after 2001. The law was passed after a Woodstock police officer and her family were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press

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