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Fact Sheet: Smoke Detectors

Ontario Statistics (1995 to 1997)

Fewer people die in home fires when a smoke alarm/detector is present and activates:

  • Smoke Alarm Present and Activated: 12 deaths/1000 home fires
  • No Device / Alarm Did Not Activate: 17 deaths/1000 home fires

In some cases, people die in fires even though the smoke alarm activated. Here are the explanations:

  • 13% - suicides/homicides
  • 21% - clothing fires
  • 26% - device not in area of origin
  • 20% - victim is physically challenged
  • 16% - alcohol a factor
  • 1% - victim re-enters fire scene
  • 1% - unattended infant
  • 2% - unknown

In some fires where people died, smoke alarms were present but did not activate. In 85% of the cases where the smoke alarm did not activate, it was due to a dead or missing battery/power source.

The leading fire death scenarios continue to be the following:

  • Home fire caused by smoking materials that ignite upholstered furniture in a living area at night.
  • Home fire caused by smoking materials that ignite bedding in a sleeping area at night.
  • Home fire caused by cooking equipment that is left unattended in the kitchen at night.
  • In these scenarios, a working smoke alarm can make a difference between life and death.

Studies Supporting Smoke Alarm Usage

  • Canada Safety Council, 1996 Angus Reid "Smoke Alarm" Study
    "88% of Canadians believe that smoke alarms are important to life safety"
  • NFPA, "U.S. Experience With Smoke Detectors and other Fire Detectors", Aug. 96
    "Homes with detectors have a 40 - 50% lower death rate"
  • CMHC, "The Costs and Benefits of Smoke Alarms in Canadian Houses", Mar. 90
    "Smoke alarms are saving lives and present a great life-saving and cost-saving opportunity"
  • Ontario Housing Corporation, "LHA Fire Statistics for 1990"
    "36 lives saved in 1990"
  • The National Housing and Town Planning Council 1990, "Cause for Alarm - Smoke Alarms in the Home" (British Study)
    Concludes that "300 lives could be saved and 4500 injuries could be avoided per year" and recommends the nationwide introduction of smoke alarms in the home
  • OFM, "A Review Regarding Opportunities for Legislating Smoke Alarms in Ontario"
    Literature search of studies supporting the effectiveness of smoke alarms
    Coroner's Jury Recommendations supporting smoke alarms
    OAFC and OMFPOA resolutions supporting mandatory smoke alarms

Stories to support the effectiveness of smoke alarms:

1991 Fire Safety Action Award winner (New Liskeard)
Fourteen year old Sophie Brisson of New Liskeard alerted the fire department when she heard a smoke alarm going off in one of the homes along her paper route, preventing a very serious fire.

1994 Fire Safety Action Award winner (Garson)
Blane Gervais age 6 of Garson, Ontario, was awakened by a smoke alarm at 4:25 a.m. He then took his brother and crawled downstairs through a smoke-filled room to awaken his parents, who were sleeping in the basement. His school had taught him the proper response to fire emergencies.

1995 Fire Safety Action Award winner (Owen Sound)
Danny Sandbrook O'Conner age six of Owen Sound who bought his baby-sitter a smoke detector and pestered her until she installed it in her home. The smoke alarm later alerted the woman and her husband and allowed them to escape a fire that destroyed their home. Danny had been taught about the importance of smoke alarms in school as part of the LNTB program.

1998 Fire Safety Action Award winner (Haileybury)
Daisy Denomme, 12-year old from Haileybury was babysitting her two young brothers last July when the fire alarm activated. Daisy immediately got her brothers out of the building through a rear exit, then went to a neighbour's home to ask them to call the fire department.

1999 Fire Safety Action Award winners (Arthur)
Fifteen-year old Cynthia Dobben and her 13-year old sister Teri, of Arthur, Ontario have been credited with saving their family's lives during an early morning fire last April. The drama began when the smoke alarm in their farmhouse sounded just before 8 a.m. With the stairwell full of smoke and the family trapped upstairs, quick-thinking Cynthia climbed out of the window, onto a porch roof and down a tree. She then retrieved a ladder from the garage so her family could escape to safety. This was part of their planned and practised home escape plan. Fortunately, Teri had participated in The Great Escape program at her school a few months earlier and had insisted that her family develop and practice a fire escape plan. Although the family lost everything they owned in the fire, the result might have been far more tragic had it not been for the sisters' foresight and action.

1999 Fire Safety Action Award winner (Plattsville)
Nine-year old Jordan Earl, of Plattsville, Ontario, was awakened by the sound of the smoke alarm in his family's Plattsville home. A pot had caught fire on the stove causing thick, dense smoke to spread throughout the house. Jordan immediately got his three-year old sister, Jocelynn, and took her to a pre-arranged meeting place. After learning about home escape planning during a visit to his school by the Blanford-Blenheim Fire Department, Jordan insisted that his family develop and practice their own plan. Thanks to his persistence and his quick actions during the fire, Jordan ensured his sister's safety and his family managed to escape from the burning house.

Family Makes Great Escape (Pickering)
A smoke alarm and a mother's heroic actions are credited with saving a family of five from a fierce townhouse blaze yesterday. The fire started when heat from a burning candle melted the holder and hot wax seeped into a TV as the family slept. The mother and four children escaped the two-storey townhouse without injury.

"If it wasn't for the smoke alarm, we wouldn't have a life," the mother said. "At one time, I didn't think smoke alarms were such a big deal, but lately I've concentrated on keeping it in order," she said. "Thank God, it worked."

Source: Office of the Fire Marshall (Ontario).