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Should smoke, heat detectors be inside garages? It’s ‘somewhat problematic,’ Orangeville fire chief says

Chief suggests installation of 'costly' heat detection systems would likely have to be mandated for new construction
August 29, 2019
Chris Halliday

Where there is smoke, there isn’t always fire.

That’s one reason Orangeville’s fire chief thinks making smoke alarms mandatory inside garages could be “problematic.”

Within the last week, Orangeville firefighters have been called to extinguish two separate fires starting inside the garages of two residential homes on Goldgate Crescent and Marshall Crescent on Aug. 22 and 28 respectively.

In both cases, firefighters managed to contain the flames to the garage of each home. Nobody was injured in either incident, although an occupant inside the Goldgate home was fortunate enough to be alerted to the fire by a neighbour.

“Your house is on fire,” the neighbour said he yelled about four to five times before a young man who was believed to be sleeping made his way out. “He didn’t know.”

Kitchens are the most likely place for a house fire to start, but Orangeville fire chief Ronald Morden says firefighters do respond to “a lot” of garage fires as well.

There are several reasons for that, including improper storage of soiled rags or embers from wood stoves. Additional factors could include an electrical issue with a vehicle.

While the installation of electric vehicle charging stations “are all certified and regulated,” Morden envisions the possibility they could cause garage fires much further into the distant future.

“They are reasonably new right now. We haven’t had any issues with that. But who knows maintenance wise later down the line what we could see,” he explained.

“A garage seems to be a catch-all for the family and it means a lot of hazardous materials,” Morden added. “People store propane, gasoline, flammable liquids, rags and things like that become an issue for us when we are fighting a garage fire.”

Shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Thursday (Aug. 22), Orangeville firefighters were called to respond a “working fire” on Goldgate Crescent. - Chris Halliday/Torstar

In Ontario, garage fires resulted in four fatalities and 91 injuries between 2015 and 2017. Of the fires to begin in the garage, flames spread to the rest of the house about 39 per cent of the time.

So, should the installation of smoke alarms and/or heat detectors inside garages be made mandatory? The York Region Fire Prevention Officer's Association (YRFPOA) is beginning a push that something be done.

“It has the potential to be very dangerous,” YRFPOA president Darren Lynch told “In garages, the fire can build and build so that by the time it gets to a detection device it can be a fast-moving situation.”

While his department would encourage any form of early detection for garages, Morden said requiring smoke alarms be installed in garages “becomes somewhat problematic.”

“Something as simple as the exhaust from a car setting it off, or doing general maintenance, like if you’re doing some soldering, and things like that can set (a smoke detector) off,” Morden said, before suggesting heat detectors could be cost-prohibitive for homeowners.

“You don’t just buy a heat detector and put it on a wall. You would have to install it. It would to be hooked into a monitoring alarm system for it to be able to activate,” Morden added. “You might be able to install them in new construction but it’d be too costly for people to put in.”

That’s precisely what YRFPOA is lobbying for. Although there is no timeline in place, YRFPOA vice-president Ryan Schell is confident Ontario will in the footsteps of Manitoba and Europe and update its code.

“The garage doesn't stick out like it used to, the lots are smaller and it's built into the home now with rooms above,” he said. “We have a solution and that's to give people early warning.”