Fire Smart: Don’t give fire a chance to happen

Deputy fire chief Lawrie Skolrood calls on residents to be active around the home

When people ask me what I do, I like to say, “My job is keeping people and their property safe by preventing fires from happening in the first place.”

Believe me, there is no magic involved. It is, however, what fire prevention is all about. In my business, fire prevention education, fire inspections and fire investigations are considered the weapons of choice. Interestingly enough, provincially by law, a municipality is only required to perform fire inspections and fire investigations. Consequently, it is only the local government of a city or town that decides whether or not they want to put a fire out. Deductive reasoning, therefore, suggests that in B.C., firefighters are tasked with dealing with the consequences of a fire basically as a result of the failure of the fire prevention part of the business.

It, at the very least, emphasizes that fire prevention is where the province believes we should focus our efforts when it comes to protecting ourselves and families from fire.

Over the years, I have lost count of the number of times people have told me that with the improvements in building and fire codes we should be making structure fires almost extinct. So why worry about fire prevention? Well to tell you the truth, I can’t say that I have noticed any change at all in the number of structure fires Vernon Fire Rescue Services and our regional fire departments attend per year. Besides, the fire code administers B.C.’s Fire Service Act which deals almost exclusively with public buildings and is really meant to deal with catastrophic reform or the elimination of large fires with multiple fatalities.

As well, the B.C. Building Code has a standard of requirements for large or specific use buildings relative to a community’s capacity to fight fires. This is called the firefighting assumption, which is really frustrating to a prevention person because it appears to encourage the relaxing of the code thus allowing a greater risk of having a structure fire based on a fire department’s capacity to put it out!” All that being said, the fire code and building code still represent a high standard of minimum fire safety requirements that a building must have for its construction and use in B.C.

Validation for the value of having these codes insuring an acceptable level of fire safety can be seen by the incredible disasters that other countries are experiencing as a result of not having them. Unfortunately, even with that type of evidence, we still have people who will try everything they can and make every excuse possible to not follow them.

So what is it we in prevention are doing wrong? Sadly, it seems that in this instant, everything world, meeting deadlines and tight schedules have made us too busy to worry about fire safety and only too quick to accept fire as something that happens to someone else. The perception that basic fire prevention is too costly in time and money relative to the small risk of fire these days is wrong. Especially when we consider that Vernon just recently had six structure fires in three weeks and even three in one day, most of which were totally preventable. We appear to be content in believing that, “Fire is something that we can do nothing about. If it is going to happen, it will happen after all that’s the reason we pay to have a fire department, isn’t it?”

No matter how you look at it, responding to fires has become expensive and those costs are continuing to grow across North America.

The value of a fire department has become a controversial comparison of what was saved to what was lost. Unfortunately, the dirty little secret is that people really want fire to be someone else’s problem.

We prefer to ignore the fact that the most effective and cost efficient means of keeping people and property safe is by never having fires in the first place which by the way just happens to be everyone’s responsibility. Surprisingly enough, in this weakened and suffering economy, we can scrutinize budgets and question the costs of firefighting but no one ever considers that if we put more effort individually into fire prevention, everyone can save some money.

The cruel reality is that most fires are preventable and a small amount of effort in fire prevention equates to a huge investment in the protection of your family and property. Changing from a mindset of, “It will never happen,” to “It could happen,” can literally make a world of difference.

My father summed it up perfectly when he said, “Fire makes a wonderful servant but given the chance, becomes a terrible master,” and that, “It is up to us to make sure it never gets that chance.”

It is really time for all of us to take some responsibility for our own safety. I encourage you to become fire smart and don’t give fire a chance to happen in the first place.

Lawrie Skolrood is a deputy fire chief with Vernon Fire Rescue.