Fire Prevention / Fire Safety

Even a small fire could seriously disrupt the lives of many residents as a result of smoke and water damage or as a result of serious damage to critical building services.  In August of 2018, a fire in a building on Parliament Street in Toronto was started by a failure in the building's electric services. The damage, predominately to the electrical system resulted in residents being displaced from the building for well over a year. In November of 2019 a fire in an apartment building on Gosford Blvd. Toronto resulted in one fatality and residents of the building being displaced for several months. With very little research many fires in multi-unit residential buildings can be found where the lives of the residents were significantly impacted with loss of life, loss of property and in some cases loss of their home for weeks, even months.

The good news is while the occurrence of a fire can be devastating, the frequency of fires in residential buildings including apartments like Coté Terrace is relatively low. You need to be knowledgeable to prevent fires and you need to be prepared to act if fire does occur to be safe!

The Office of the Fire Marshal statistics for the year 2018, the most recent available at the time of writing, states there were 5,182 residential structure fires resulting with losses in property or life or both.  There is no statistical data for the number of residential structures in the province but with a population of just under 14.4 million, this means 1 person in less than 2,800 experienced a loss in a structure fire in 2018. With 78 fatalities in residential structure fires in 2018 and again with the population of approximately 14.4 million people, this means there was approximately 1 chance in 187,000 that someone would die as a result of a residential structure fire.

To put this in prospective Ontario Lottery & Gaming states the chance of a ticket winning the 649 lottery top prize is 1 in 13.9 million.  It may seem crazy but the chance of a person dying in a residential structure fire is approximately 75 times greater than the chances of their lottery ticket winning the top prize.

There is more good news, almost all fires can be prevented. This page and other 'safety' pages in the 'Tenant Resources' section of the website will help you keep your home safe and provide guidance should an emergency incident occur. 

Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be safe!

Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal reports that between 2009 and 2018 the ignition sources in structure fires were a loss occurred were:

  • 18% cooking;

  • 9% electrical distribution equipment – wiring;

  • 8% heating/cooling;

  • 8% miscellaneous ( which includes fires - natural causes and chemical reactions);

  • 7% cigarettes;

  • 4% appliances;

  • 4% other electrical, mechanical;

  • 4% Exposure fires;

  • 4% other open flame tools (excluding matches, lighters);

  • 2% lighting - excluding candles;

  • 2% candles;

  • 1% matches or lighters (excluding arson fires);

  • 1% processing equipment;

  • 19% reported as undetermined.

This section is intended to give some fire safety tips, food for thought, to help you keep your home safe from fire.  Only the causes (ignition sources) considered to be the greatest risk in your apartment are discussed below. But there is a wealth of fire safety information available if you have specific concerns or questions​. Halton Hills Fire Department, Fire Prevention Division is a good source of additional fire safety information.

Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be safe!

Cooking Fires

The statistics indicate almost 1 in 5 residential structure fires result from cooking accidents. This includes everything from grease fires to forgotten pots to things like dish towels left too close to elements that are on. All cooking fires are preventable. Many cooking fires result when the cook is distracted or not paying attention to what is on the burner.

For example, you are frying bacon for breakfast and the phone rings or someone knocks at the door.  Even a few minutes of distraction can result in burnt bacon or worse, a grease fire on the stove. Simply turning the element down or removing the pan from the element while you answer the phone or door will prevented a potential fire.

We have been told for years that covering a fire in a pan on the stove and removing it from the heat is a good way to extinguish a fire and is true. But placing a lid that is the same size as the pan over it can be dangerous if there are open flames. A good alternative is to have a cookie sheet or something similar that is much larger than the pan near by to put over the pan. It is a potentially safer way to extinguish the fire. Be Prepared, Be Safe.

Similarly, you have some potatoes boiling on the stove and decide to read or watch television while they cook.  You lose track of time, the pot boils dry, your potatoes are ruined or worse, you have a fire on the stove top.   A simple solution to prevent a potential catastrophe is a kitchen alarm. Set it for the cook time and an alarm sounds when the time is up.

There is a wealth of fire safety information available on line about kitchen safety and cooking fires. There is also printed information available through Halton Hills Fire Department, Fire Prevention Division as well as other community safety organizations and insurance companies.

Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be safe!

Electrical Distribution Equipment / Wiring

There is little or nothing the residents of the Parliament Street apartments could have done to prevent the electrical distribution system disaster in 2018. The equipment and wiring was part of the building wiring.  But there are things residents can do to prevent potential threats from electrical distribution equipment / wiring they use within their apartment.

First you must know what electrical distribution equipment / wiring within your apartment is a potential threat and what you can do to eliminate the risks.

Possibly the most common threat is multi-receptacle adapters that change a two receptacle wall plug into a 3, 4, 6 or more receptacle.  People think because these devices are sold and have ULC and/or CSA labels on them they are safe - and they are safe IF used following the manufacturer's directions.

A wall receptacle is wired to supply 15 amps of electricity. As long as you plug in appliances that together require less electricity, it is safe.  If you plug in appliances that require 15 amps or more you are creating a potential fire hazard. For example, if you use a receptacle like the one pictured here to power your cell phone charger, computer, monitor, modem and cable box you likely are well below 15 amps and have not created a potential problem.  Conversely, if you used the same receptacle for a toaster oven, electric fry pan, microwave, and coffee maker you would potentially be way above 15 amps and be creating a very real fire hazard.

A similar problem can be created using a power bar plug into a single wall receptacle and have 4, 6, 8, 10 or more receptacles on the bar.  Again, if you plug in 6 or 8 appliances that together use below 15 amps there is little or no risk. However, as with the multi-receptacle above, if you plug in appliances that use 15 amps or more you are creating a risk and potential fire hazard.

The problem for most people is that they have no idea how many amps of electricity any of their appliances use. All too often the use of the multi-receptacles and power bars becomes a 'trial and error' experiment - they plug in appliances until the breaker trips or something goes wrong. Safety with these devices is really quite simple - if you don't know how many amps the appliance requires, don't use it with a multi-receptacle or power bar. Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be safe!

If you need to use a wall receptacle for more than 2 appliances, use a good quality power bar that has surge protection and a 10 amp breaker built into the power bar. It will cost more than the other options but your safety, the safety of your neighbors and fire safety of the building is worth it.

Extension cords can be overloaded just like the multi-receptacles and power bars described above and create the same fire hazards. Extension cords also create other potential hazards.  The most common problem is the cord being damaged because of how it is used. Placing it under or behind furniture positions it were the furniture legs can pinch or cut it when the furniture is moved. Placing it under a rug can result in abrasions to the protective coating.  Both can create fire hazards but perhaps more concerning both can create a bare wire that becomes a severe shock hazard.

There is a wealth of fire safety information available on line about electrical safety and electrical fire hazards. There is also printed information available through Halton Hills Fire Department, Fire Prevention Division as well as other community safety organizations and insurance companies.

Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be safe!

Heating Appliances

Many fires are caused by appliances and regrettably many of those fires are the result of the way the appliance was being used.

One of the appliances that often causes a fire because of the way it is used is the electric space heater.  Some people find some areas of their home cool and like a little extra heat where they sit to watch television or near doors or windows where they feel a draft. Space heaters can be the ideal appliance if they are used safely following the manufacturer's directions.

Space heaters come in many designs and sizes from the large fire place style to the small table top models. Each space heater has different benefits and shortcomings including how safe they are when compared to each other.

Generally, the fire place design has the heating element more shielded and is more safe than a model with an exposed electric element. Space heaters that have an internal oil heater and look like a water radiator are safer than a model with an exposed element. Though the fire place design and the oil heater may be a safer choice, they take longer to give off heat and may not give off as much heat.  Finding the best space heater option for you - the heater that meets your needs for heat and is as safe as possible - may take some research and time.

Be Knowledgeable, Be Safe!

Good quality modern space heaters come with safety features that should always be considered. Heaters that will automatically shut off if they are knocked over, have fans that run until the heater cools down after the heater is shut off, heaters that have temperature sensors to shut down if the heater gets too hot and every other available safety feature should be considered important when you are considering a space heater.

Space heaters, especially heaters with open electric elements, become a threat when they are placed too close to something like draperies, newspapers on a side table or chair upholstery.  Periodically place your hand on furniture, bedding, drapes and any other material in front of a space heater when it is turned on to ensure the material is not getting hot.

One way to perhaps make your space heater safer is to get one with a built-in timer so it shuts off after warming the area for a set time. This is and ideal way to take the chill out of a bedroom and not risk falling asleep with the heater still on.

There is a wealth of fire safety information available on line about appliance safety and space heater fire safety. There is also printed information available through Halton Hills Fire Department, Fire Prevention Division as well as other community safety organizations and insurance companies.

Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be safe!

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