VICTORIA – Firefighters in British Columbia will soon have access to information to help identify neighbourhoods where the risk of home fires is greatest in an effort to prevent more needless deaths, says the province’s fire commissioner.
The commissioner’s office will partner with Statistics Canada this summer to create an interactive tool that provides statistical and geographic information to help firefighters identify areas at highest risk of residential fires, fire commissioner Brian Godlonton said Wednesday.
The launch of the interactive tool comes as deaths due to fires in the province rise, he said at a news conference.
Fire deaths are up 119 per cent since 2020 in B.C. and the worrying trend is continuing with 33 fire-related deaths already reported this year, with half of the year still ahead, said Godlonton.
The average number of fire deaths between 2011 and 2019 was 28.
“This geospatial dashboard will provide the most up-to-date intelligence for the local government, the local fire services to take what limited resources they have in their communities to make the most difference,” Godlonton said.
The dashboard will identify areas most at risk for fires, allowing officials to focus fire prevention and safety programs at those locations, he said.
The efforts are expected to prevent fires and injuries and save lives, Godlonton said.
Surrey fire Chief Larry Thomas said in a statement that the dashboard will allow departments to focus their education and smoke alarm programs in the areas where people are at higher risk of dying in a fire.
Godlonton said the tool will be “transformational” for communities and fire departments.
“This will protect the residents, our firefighters and reduce the social and financial impacts to the communities resulting from those fires,” he said. “The information will be used to provide safety information targeted to the areas most in need.”
Coquitlam, Surrey and Port Alberni will launch the pilot project next month, with a provincewide rollout expected next year, said Godlonton.
He said the most recent data from the Office of the Fire Commissioner’s annual report says working smoke alarms were found in only 42 per cent of B.C.’s reported residential building fires in 2021.
“Working smoke alarms remain the most effective measure for preventing injury and death,” Godlonton said. “Working smoke alarms could reduce the risk of fire deaths by 50 per cent.”
He said the fire data also shows people over 65 years old are overrepresented in fire-related deaths in B.C., 30 per cent higher than any other age category.