Smoke Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Safety

British Columbia’s fire statistics reveal a strong link between working smoke alarms and reduced fatalities from residential structure fires. Numerous evaluations have been conducted by the Fire Service using decades of data and the results are consistent. Working smoke alarms save lives.

Statistics show that smoke alarms help save lives, reduce fire related injuries, reduce the spread of fires, and reduce the damage caused by fire. International studies show that your chances of dying in a home fire may be reduced by 50 percent if a working smoke alarm is present in your home.

Most fire deaths happen in homes as a result of people breathing smoke and toxic fumes while they are asleep. Smoke alarms are an effective early warning device that can awaken sleeping occupants and help provide time to safely exit the building.

Smoke alarms are mandatory in all dwellings (homes and sleeping rooms). Under the British Columbia Fire Code, all homes - and all sleeping rooms within boarding and lodging houses, hotels and recreational cabins, are required to be protected by smoke alarms.

Dwelling units constructed before the British Columbia Building Code required smoke alarms in 1979 are also required to have a smoke alarm. Smoke alarms are permitted to be battery operated in a dwelling unit constructed before the March 31, 1979 British Columbia Building Code inception date or in a building which is not supplied with electrical power.

Dwelling units constructed after the 1979 building code changes require the smoke alarms to be permanently wired to the home’s electrical system and interconnected.

All smoke alarms should be replaced after ten years to take advantage of current technology and to reduce the chances of failure due to product deterioration. When smoke alarms are being replaced the installation must not reduce the level of protection. In other words existing electronically interconnected smoke alarms should be replaced with similar type smoke alarms that provide the same or higher level of protection. If additional smoke alarms are being added in the home they may be battery operated. Always check local government bylaws for any further installation requirements.

Homeowners – have a responsibility to install and maintain their smoke alarms. Homeowners should also consider installing smoke alarms that have carbon monoxide (CO) detection built in, or add a separate stand alone CO detector. This will also help to provide early warning in the even that an unsafe CO level in the home is reached. For more information here is a link to the Technical Safety BC Carbon Monoxide Safety webpage.

Landlords/apartment managers – have a responsibility to install smoke alarms as required by the year of construction and test them to ensure they are in working order prior to tenant occupancy. The landlord is also required to maintain the smoke alarm in working condition. Smoke alarms should be inspected whenever tenancy changes to ensure the smoke alarms are working properly.

Tenants – should notify their Landlord immediately if they do not have the required number of working smoke alarms. In the event there is inadequate smoke alarm protection the tenant should consider installing their own battery operated smoke alarm. In some situations a tenant may use a battery operated smoke alarm to provide additional protection in an inadequately protected dwelling.

Owners of recreational cabins - must ensure their smoke alarm is working. Consider bringing a working battery operated smoke alarm with you when you travel, especially if your cabin is remotely located and access to a replacement smoke alarm is not convenient.

Local fire departments that conduct property inspections - should check the building maintenance records to help verify all smoke alarms have been maintained in working condition.

For more information about this bulletin, contact the Office of the Fire Commissioner.