For 20 years Nelson Fire and Rescue has been telling residents the importance of working smoke alarms.
So last March when the Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC announced a campaign to get one into every home in the province, our local department already had a head start.
And if there’s one thing fire chief Simon Grypma learned from two decades of making presentations to elementary school students and special interest groups annually during Fire Prevention Week, it’s that what they’ve been doing isn’t enough.
“We needed a way to get into people’s homes and test their smoke alarms, the same way police set up road blocks to see if drivers are wearing seat belts,” said Grypma, who is a zone director for the Fire Chiefs’ Association.
The way the department decided to do this was with a phone call to every Nelson number listed in the phone book. Each night, the 10 firefighters on shift call 20 phone numbers and ask each person to test their fire alarm while they’re on the line.
“If they call someone that doesn’t have a working smoke alarm, we’ll bring them one that night. We don’t want them to go a single night without one,” Grypma said.
The firefighters are about half way through the alphabet and have given away about 100 smoke alarms. For people whose smoke alarms do work, their names are entered in a draw to win fire insurance (donated by RHC, BCAA, Poulin and Kootenay insurance agencies).
For residents without a land line, or with an unlisted phone number, they can call the fire department and show they have a working alarm to enter the contest, or request a free alarm if they can’t afford one or don’t know how to install it.
“We’d much rather visit a home to put in an alarm then go there to rescue someone from a fire,” Grypma said.
The Nelson Star is collecting new smoke alarms to be given away during this campaign. This month anyone who drops off a smoke alarm at the Star office, at 514 Hall Street, will be entered to win two rounds of nine-hole golf at Granite Pointe.
Indeed, the fire department has had no trouble finding community partners to help expand its fire prevention campaign.
Last month The Bridge radio station asked elementary school students to call in and demonstrate, on air, that their smoke alarm was working. The first caller through won a ride to school for them an four friends in a fire engine.
“We always target kids because they’re the ones that will go home and bug their mom and dad about having a smoke alarm,” said Grypma.
The department also wanted to reach Grade 12 students with a message they would carry with them into their first apartments and student housing, the type of living situations where fire safety is sometimes forgotten.
For this demographic, the department was inspired by the Keep A Breast Foundations “I Love Boobies” bracelets, and decided to come up with their own statement to put on a rubber bracelet. With money donated by the Chahko Mika Mall, 1,000 bracelets were printed with the slogan “I never sleep alone — smoke alarms save lives,” to remind teens not to go to bed without a smoke alarm nearby.
The bracelets were given out at L.V. Rogers high school and the students were encouraged to put a photo on Twitter of themselves wearing the bracelet while testing a smoke alarm and mention @nelsonfirerescue for a chance to win an iPod, donated by Walmart.
“With the partnerships we’ve developed, we’ll be able to continue offering these incentives year after year,” Grypma said. “People need to check their smoke alarms every year, so this can’t just be a one off thing. We need to weave the prevention element into the fabric of what it means to be a fire fighter.”
Nelson was recognized earlier this year by attorney general Shirley Bond for being the first municipality to put a reminder to test smoke alarms on the municipal tax notice.
And fire departments across the province may also follow Nelson’s lead on this smoke alarm campaign. The department was invited to share the its strategy at a meeting of the Fire Prevention Officers Association of BC.
“Nobody should die in a fire because they don’t have a working smoke alarm,” Grypma said. “It takes five seconds to check it, and it could save your life.”
For more information, contact Nelson Fire Rescue at 250-352-3103.
Smoke Alarm Facts
• In Nelson, nine people have died in fires in the past 20 years
• Provincially there were 11,000 residential fires in the past five years, and nearly 70 per cent of fire scenes examined had either no smoke alarm or one that wasn’t working.
• Researchers from the University of Fraser Valley predict working smoke alarms could reduce annual fire deaths by as much as 32 per cent.
• It’s a homeowners’ responsibility to provide a working smoke alarm for homes, whether owner-occupied or rented.
• If the fire department responds to fire where there isn’t a working smoke alarm, the owner may be fined up to $400.
Source: Nelson Fire Rescue, Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC