Capt. Dorian Boudrot, front, and Layne Polnick are two of the city’s firefighters who will be visiting Nanaimo’s 1,600 mobile homes to ensure each residence has a functioning smoke alarm. (CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin)

Fire Prevention Week’s focus is on smoke alarms and fire escape plans

Nanaimo’s firefighters bringing fire safety brochures, batteries and smoke alarms to mobile homes

People don’t die from heat and flames in a structure fire. It’s poisonous gases emitted by the things that are burning that kill them, often in their sleep before they are ever aware there’s a fire.

All of Nanaimo’s fatal structure fires in recent years had something in common: none of the homes had working smoke alarms, giving the victims no chances to save themselves.

This year’s theme from the National Fire Protection Association for Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 6-12, is, “Not every hero wears a cape. Plan and practice your fire escape,” and Nanaimo Fire Rescue wants to ensure every home has a working smoke alarm and that residents have a fire escape plan that they practice.

“The bottom line is you have to know when to escape, so how are you going to know that when you’re sleeping?” asked Umesh Lal, Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire prevention officer. “You have to have working smoke alarms. That’s why for the last three years we’ve done a door-to-campaign and this year we’re targeting mobile home trailer parks.”

Nanaimo Fire Rescue wants to be sure every mobile home in Nanaimo will have a working smoke alarm by the end of Fire Prevention Week, which means firefighters will be visiting all 1,600 mobile home addresses within the city limits, starting with addresses in south Nanaimo and moving north as the week progresses.

Lal said this year’s focus is on mobile homes because they suffer more severe damage from fires and have higher numbers of injuries and deaths because of the materials they’re made from, how they are constructed and because of relative closer proximity to other mobile homes.

With modern homes containing high quantities of plastics and other combustible synthetic materials, fires have the potential to be more dangerous than in years past. Lal said with two minutes to get out of a burning building, but an average response time of four minutes before firefighters will arrive, people have to know how to help themselves until fire crews are able to get on scene.

“In the legacy buildings you had time to get out,” Lal said. “In this day and age, with all the things that burn you’ll be lucky if you have two minutes to get out of the building … it all comes down to awareness and a device alerting you.”

Every home and workplace should also have two escape routes and each route must be an unobstructed path, clear of toys, furniture and other obstacles.

In the case of a recent early-morning house fire on Ney Drive, all six residents, living in suites upstairs and downstairs, escaped unhurt, thanks in part to smoke alarms that sounded and alerted occupants to the danger, according to Capt. Ennis Mond, Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s chief fire prevention officer, who investigated the fire which had fully engulfed the home by the time firefighters could get to the scene.

“Working smoke alarms save lives. It’s as simple as that,” Lal said. “You don’t have time – and you don’t have time during a fire to plan your escape plan. You have to practice before.”

Residents of homes with working smoke alarms should test them once a month by pressing the ‘test’ button on the device. Smoke alarms that require replaceable batteries should have them replaced twice a year, unless it’s a smoke alarm with a 10-year lifespan battery, in which case the entire unit is replaced with a new one.

People have a 76 per cent higher probability of surviving a fire in homes with working smoke alarms, the fire department says.

“Over the past few years there have been a number of fatalities and working smoke alarms, potentially, could have saved their lives,” Lal said.

Firefighters on the Fire Prevention Week door-to-door campaign will arrive with fire safety literature and will, with the resident’s permission, inspect smoke alarms to ensure they’re working and replace batteries if necessary or even install a new smoke alarm if one is missing or outdated.

Modern safety codes call for a minimum of one smoke alarm per floor of a building.

“The bottom line is we want to leave their home safer than it was when we arrived,” Lal said.
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