Legislation requires all homes to have working fire alarm

A new law came into effect Oct. 15 requiring Ontario homes to have at least one working carbon monoxide detector.

An event held in front of a display of detectors at Capital Home Hardware in the Glebe, brought together representatives from the provincial government, members of Ottawa’s fire services and the co-chair of an involved advocacy group to announce the new legislation. 

All officials involved in this announcement emphasized the importance of awareness and education.

“Our work to address this issue and assure the safety of Ontarians is never done,” said Yasir Naqvi, minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services and MPP for Ottawa Centre. 

“This is not about bringing in a new rule, it is about making sure that every Ontarian knows the importance of having a working carbon monoxide detector in their home,” he said in his statement.

Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, a former firefighter and the member who introduced the bill to amend the Fire Protection and Prevention Act almost six years ago, echoed that same sentiment in his opening remarks as he spoke after Naqvi.

“The objective was not to have another law on the books to force you do something,” he said emphatically. “The objective was to make sure the public was aware of the need of a detector to stop the silent killer.”

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas which can cause flu-like symptoms and even death in high concentrations. 

“Smoke alarms are needed when you’re asleep but when you’re awake you know there’s smoke in your house and there’s time to do something about it,” said Hardeman. “With carbon monoxide it’s not that way; without a detector, you will not detect it even if you are wide awake, sitting in your living room.”

In December 2008. OPP Constable Laurie Hawkins and her family died from carbon monoxide poisoning in their home, in Hardeman’s riding. It is in the honour of these four lives lost that the Hawkins-Gignac Act was introduced.

Hawkins’s uncle John Gignac, a former firefighter and co-chair of the Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education, is “on a mission to end the silence about this silent killer,” said Naqvi. 

In 2009 Gignac started this foundation in memory of his niece and her family because he knew it was “the right thing to do” as a way to deal with the tragedy that “left us with an irreplaceable family loss,” he said.

“I didn’t know if I was going to fold up and not do anything about it or, or if I should move forward and do something.”

He says “the firefighter in him came out” to push him to try to educate as many people as possible. He believes in “throwing the pebble in the water and watching the ripples” as he started raising awareness in Brantford and has since worked closely with Hardeman on this piece of provincial legislation.

The Hawkins family tragedy is not the only time carbon monoxide poisoning has claimed Canadian lives. About 50 people die annually across the country, with an average of 11 or 12 people perishing in Ontario alone. 

Carbon monoxide can build up in a home through any appliance that burns fuels such as wood or natural gas, or from a car accidentally left on in an attached garage. Furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and chimneys, as well as certain types of appliances such as stoves should be checked regularly for cracks or blockage.

Though the Ontario Building Code mandates CO detectors in all homes built after 2001, many buildings in the downtown core are much older.

“Centretown is always a concern for us because of the nature of some buildings and structures and the socio-economic factors,” said Sean Tracey, assistant deputy chief of the Ottawa Fire Services.

He wants residents of the area to know that “they’ve got options. It’ll be easy for them to comply. There is a cost element but the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs has coupons on their website.”

There are three types of detectors available on the market that run from about $30-$100. There are wired units that work similarly to smoke alarms, battery operated ones and some that simply plug into the wall, so, “it’s possible to retrofit any home,” said Tracey.

As well, after the six-month compliance period, homeowners and landlords can face fines up to $5,000 according to Tawnya Roberts, a program specialist with the Office of the Fire Marshal.

“I urge all Ontarians to install a carbon monoxide alarm in their home immediately,” said Naqvi, who bought a carbon monoxide detector after the announcement about the new regulations.