Alarming Developments That Could Help You Survive a House Fire

The tinned food was exploding on the kitchen shelves by the time she got downstairs, baby girl on her hip; the smoke alarm screamed its high decibel warning: “Fire! Fire! Fire!” She didn’t remember this till later as the horrifying details played over and over again in her mind. It had been less than a minute since her son had come up to tell her he saw flames on the back deck. It had spread so fast.

Outside watching from the sidewalk, the fire and then the fire-fighters mutually conspired in the destruction of their home, their belongings, their photos, her wedding dress, treasures… But they were safe. She and her children were safe and her son was a hero that day.

This happened to family members; the cause, arson. This is not a story about absent fire prevention equipment – fortunately, they had it and it was working. This story is offered as a reminder of the terror and tragedy caused by house fires and as a motivation to make sure your fire protection systems are in place and working.

As home inspectors one of the most common safety issues we find are non-functioning smoke alarms – usually because the batteries have died or been removed. It’s one of those things… to be gotten around to sometime. Soon. Not right now.

Battery powered smoke alarms met building safety requirements until 1979 when the building code changed. These detectors are a great first line of defence; they are simple to install and are still commonly found in homes throughout the Greater Vancouver region. Replace batteries once a year, or whenever a ‘chirp’ warns that batteries are failing.

Changes to the Building Code in 1979 required that detectors be hard-wired into the electrical system and that all units in the home be interconnected. Too often battery powered smoke alarms were disabled or non-functioning and these changes were designed to address that.

The City of Vancouver enacted a residential fire sprinkler ordinance in 1990 and has seen a significant reduction in fire-related deaths as a result. All new construction, including renovations, must have fire sprinkler systems installed. Several urban centres around Vancouver have also enacted fire sprinkler provisions. These measures add to construction costs, aren’t especially pretty, but are proven life-savers.

Combination smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are the norm in any new construction, however plug-in CO detectors are readily available and effective. Carbon monoxide is very difficult for people to detect; it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Its effects range from confusion, headache and dizziness to toxicity of the central nervous system, unconsciousness and death. Sources of carbon monoxide include house fires, cigarette smoke, and fuel-burning appliances such as gas stoves and fire-places that are faulty, improperly installed and not ventilated correctly.

Changes to the British Columbia Building Code in 2012 require that smoke alarms are installed on the ceiling of every level in the home, including basements, in every sleeping room, and in the hallways between sleeping rooms. Most fire deaths are caused by inhaling smoke and toxic fumes while sleeping.

Make sure you and your loved ones are protected. Fire protection equipment saves lives; it reduces fire-related injury, reduces the spread of fire and reduces damage caused by fire. Smoke and CO detection alarms are affordable and can be easily installed. If you have equipment that you know is not working or haven’t tested it in a while DO IT NOW! Surviving a house fire may be as simple as having alarm systems that work.

For more information: Emergency info BC

As Vancouver home inspectors, we check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they are working. Contact Us for a home inspection today and keep your family safe.