A fire that hit Kitchener's Kaufman Lofts last week has revealed a lack of appropriate safety knowledge among condo dwellers after several admitted to CBC News that they needed to learn more about what happens in the event of a fire.
The fire that broke out on Feb. 24 inside a unit on the first floor of 410 King St. W. left some residents scratching their heads, wondering why the only alarm that went off was triggered by an individual who entered the building and manually pulled an alarm after seeing flames.
"There's definitely cause for concern there," said Samantha Clark, a professional in the tech industry who rents a unit at 404 King St. W., which is part of the complex that experienced the fire.
"It's a little off-putting to think that there actually was a fire," she told CBC News. "My safety is concerned."
Brantford fire prevention officer Scott Hardwick said ultimately, condo corporations are responsible for fire safety in their buildings.
"The condo corporation does have a requirement to maintain all fire protection systems within their building," he said, adding this includes smoke alarms.
"It's important for the contractor to test every device on an annual basis."
However, Hardwick noted there's still an onus on condo owners and tenants to play an active role.
"On a monthly basis, the owner is required to test [their] smoke alarm to ensure its working," he said. "If it's found not to be working, owners or tenants should contact the condo board to get the issue resolved."
Fire alarms designed to wake you up
Sanderson Management, the corporation that runs the building, sent out a letter to tenants on March 2 saying "the heat within the unit was not strong enough to activate the heat detector within the unit prior to the building alarms being set off."
This explains why it took a manual pull for alarms to sound.
'Charges are typically laid against any owner or tenant who disables smoke alarms.' - Scott Hardwick, Brantford fire prevention officer
Hardwick explained that if a heat detector is activated by flames, the entire alarm system sounds. But smoke detectors in units only trigger their individual alarms. Burnt toast will sound a unit alarm, but not a building alarm.
"The fire alarm systems are designed to be loud enough to wake everybody up," he said. "You really need to become familiar with your building."
Fire systems can vary by building. Some have strobe lights that flash in addition to sounding a siren. Some buildings are monitored for fire safety while others are not.
Tampering with fire systems is a crime
The condo's management said landlords must ensure their properties comply with the law and tenants should contact their landlord if they are missing devices.
"The fire safety system was operating as intended the day of the incident," the letter from management stated, referring to fire safety systems at 404 and 410 King St. W.
Tom Ruggle, Kitchener's chief fire prevention officer, said residents should not be worried about the fire systems at Kaufman Lofts because he confirmed with management that all of them were working properly at the time of the fire.
He also verified with the condo corporation and confirmed every smoke alarm in the building has been investigated by the condominium board, except in a unit that could not be accessed because the owner had changed the locks.
However, Ruggle would not rule out the possibility that some detectors could have been tampered with.
Hardwick said messing around with fire systems is a serious criminal offence.
"Charges are typically laid against any owner or tenant who disables smoke alarms."
The best advice fire prevention officers have for condo dwellers is to stay on top of fire safety measures to make sure they're up to date and ready to respond when needed.
"Check [your] smoke alarm to ensure that it's working on the first day of every month," Hardwick said. "If it's not working, let the condo corporation know that it's not working and put in a work order."