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Brampton collecting data to launch programs preventing house fires

June 6, 2018
Noor Javed

Brampton’s fire department is hoping to use big data as the latest tool in its arsenal to fight fires across the city.

In 2017, five Brampton residents lost their lives to house fires — making it one of the deadliest years on record. Concerned about this dangerous trend, the city and Brampton fire service have launched a new initiative aimed at reducing the number of fires and fatalities across the city.

“Although overall the numbers of fires has gone down year after year, there are still too many fatalities,” said Chief Bill Boyes. “So we felt we had to do something different … because our response before was more reactionary,” he said.

He said the fire service was compelled to find out where fires were breaking out — and why.

Using a combination of in-house records and Environics data, the city has launched a program to get a better idea of the “hot zones” in the city that were more susceptible to fires and how to better get the word out to residents about how to reduce that number.

Through its research, the fire service identified three neighbourhoods with higher incidence of fires. The three neighbourhoods are Armbro Heights, in the city’s south end, Brampton West, in central-west Brampton, and City Centre, adjacent to Bramalea City Centre shopping mall. Combined, these three areas make up around 20 per cent of the city, and house around 125,000 people.

Between 2012 and 2017, these three zones saw almost 250 fires, representing a third of all house fires in the city. The data also found that 30 to 40 per cent of these fires started while cooking.

“The majority of fires are household fires,” Boyes said, adding that all the data has been put into a map that residents can access online. “And we found that the most common cause was unattended cooking, and barbecuing in the garage.”

Another concern, said Boyes, is that some of the city’s hot spots have a large number of highrise residential buildings. He said that while there are only 88 highrise apartment buildings in Brampton, fires at these locations account for 16 per cent of all residential fires.

“We don’t want any fires to happen, so our goal now is, how do we get to that point?” Boyes said.

Boyes said the fire department has mapped out a five-year plan to lower those rates — using data from Environics to target residents and using social media. The fire service has already launched fire safety programs at every school in the hot zone, on social media, has launched collaborations with property owners and will launch targeted messaging at popular retail locations.

He said the fire service plans to monitor the data year after year to assess if the targeted education effort is helping and to evaluate the effectiveness of the hotzone program.

“The goal is to reduce the number of incidents in these hotzones, and ultimately across the city,” Boyes said.