A sharp increase in fire fatalities across the province so far in 2020 has the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association urging citizens to practise fire safety while they’re staying home during the pandemic.
With more Ontarians at home during the last four months to protect themselves from COVID-19, and more people cooking at home as opposed to dining in restaurants, the factors are ripe for an increase in residential structures fires, where the vast majority of fatalities occurs.
“At this rate, Ontario is on track for approximately 116 fire deaths in 2020 which would be the highest in over a decade, by far,” says Carmen Santoro, recently-elected President of the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA). Tragically, there have already been 68 fire fatalities in Ontario this year, an average of almost 10 per month. The average number of annual fire fatalities in the 10-year period of 2009 to 2018 was just under 85, according to the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal.
Fire fighters are asking Ontarians to ensure they have working smoke alarms on every level of their home, and exercise extra caution when dealing with other common sources of ignition:
· Ensure smoking materials are properly extinguished
· Ensure all cooking activities are adequately supervised
· Keep matches and lighters out of reach of children
· Make sure electrical appliances are in good repair and electrical outlets are not overloaded
· Be cautious when using candles, insect repellent devices and other flame sources
· Ensure BBQs, fire pits and other outdoor appliances are in well-ventilated areas and adequately distanced from your home or any other combustible surface.
“Fire fighters would like to see Ontarians work together to be fire safe and to turn around the tragic trend we have seen so far this year,” Santoro says. “Fire fighters are ready to respond when fires occur, but the safest and best scenario is always when a fire can be prevented in the first place.”
Recent large blazes in Richmond Hill and Stoney Creek are evidence that despite modern fire prevention practises, large fires can still occur. Contrary to popular belief, today’s homes actually burn hotter than 50 years ago due to the types of construction materials used and other factors. Santoro adds that another problem exists in a growing number of communities whose frontline fire department resources have not kept pace with booming growth, which ultimately affects emergency response times and may impact personnel availability in the critical first few minutes of a fire.
Santoro, an Oakville fire fighter, was elected to lead the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association in June. The OPFFA represents over 11,600 fire fighters in 82 cities and towns across Ontario who are the first line of defence in virtually any kind of emergency including fires, medical emergencies, water rescues and more. The OPFFA is the official voice of Ontario’s professional fire fighters and a leading public safety advocate.