More than one in six Nelson homes didn’t have a working smoke alarm when Nelson Fire Rescue contacted them as part of a phone survey earlier this year.
Between March and October Nelson firefighters spent more than 200 hours dialling every local number listed in the phone book. If somebody answered the call, the firefighter would ask them to test their smoke alarm while they were on the phone together.
If the smoke alarm wasn’t working — perhaps because of a dead or missing battery, or because the alarm had been removed and placed on a shelf or in a cupboard — the firefighter would either stay on the line until the resident could get fix the problem or make a home visit to help resolve the issue.
Of the 714 residents who tested their smoke alarms over the phone, 132 required some form of intervention to get the alarm working. About 45 per cent of the problems weren’t easily remedied over the phone and required the firefighter to go to the house to help, in some cases bringing with them a new working alarm to install in the home.
About one-fifth of Nelson homes were reached by phone during the survey.
Nelson Fire Rescue has been promoting the importance of working smoke alarms for years, and the survey was a chance to see if the message has been getting across.
“We’re still a long way from seeing a working smoke alarm in every home,” Nelson fire chief Simon Grypma said.
According to statistics by the National Fire Protection Association, some 20 per cent of homes across North America aren’t protected by a working smoke alarm.
“The good news is Nelson is below the national average, and we’re going to keep working to get our numbers down,” Grypma said.
The department is developing a new strategic plan for the ongoing effort to monitor residential smoke alarms use. Part of the plan is to partner with home care workers to have them regularly testing alarms for their elderly clients. Firefighters will also do annual outreach in residential neighbourhoods, going door-to-door testing smoke alarms.
However, the phone campaign won’t likely be repeated because it’s too time consuming, Grypma said. The firefighters phoned 20 homes each per shift, spending about 3.2 hours per week on the task. The bill for the work — if the department had hired somebody to make the calls rather than using on-shift firefighters — would have been $7,252, which works out to an equivalent of $55 per alarm problem fixed.
“It’s not hard to test a smoke alarm, but people tend to forget about it,” Grypma said. “We need to be in their face all the time to remind them, but we don’t have an unlimited budget to do that and we need to be creative.”
The department recently put big smiling smoke alarm images on the back of its fire trucks in hopes drivers who see it will think to test their alarms.
Grypma stressed that if anyone is having trouble getting their smoke alarm working, they can call the department at any time for help.
“We would prefer to come and fix your smoke alarm than have to pull you out of a fire,” he said.
If you require assistance with your smoke alarm, or cannot afford to purchase one, call Nelson Fire Rescue at 250-352-3103.