False fire alarms plague Fortress of Louisbourg

Nuisance fire alarms have gone off at least once a week this season at Cape Breton's Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site.

Nuisance fire alarms have gone off at least once a week at the national historic site

False alarms have brought volunteer firefighters to the huge fortress site weekly this season. (novascotia.com)

A modern-day problem is plaguing Cape Breton's best-known historic site.

Nuisance fire alarms are going off at least once a week at Fortress Louisbourg.

So far in 2017, there have been 36 such alarms, all of them false.

Parks Canada says weather fluctuations, coupled with a lack of modern climate control, are to blame.

"The doors are left open on our buildings on a regular basis, so visitors know the buildings are open to go into to visit, and a lot of the buildings as well have a dirt floor in them," said Eddie Kennedy, the visitor experience manager.

"So when you get a fluctuation in temperature, when it goes from a really nice, sunny day to the temperature dropping in the evening, or fog rolling in — and we're right on the coast here — that humidity triggers the sensors to think that there's an actual fire going off."

Nuisance for visitors, firefighters

The alarms are a nuisance for visitors, because the buildings must be evacuated until the all-clear is given.

Humidity is thought to be setting off the fortress's fire alarms. (Coady Slaunwhite)

But they're an even bigger nuisance for the nearby volunteer fire department in the community of Louisbourg.

Parks Canada disbanded its own firefighting squad at the fortress early in 2016.

Now, the alarm system is tied into the 911 emergency system, which triggers a call each time to the volunteer department.

Kennedy said there has not been an actual fire at the fortress since the 1970s.

Tracking the pattern

He said it's unfortunate, but every call must be treated as though it's a real fire.

Kennedy said Parks Canada is trying to find a solution by tracking the pattern of the false alarms.

"Certain areas seem more problematic than others, due to the nature of how open the building is to the public, and the way the building is actually built," said Kennedy. 

"And we're now looking at, is there a way we can still maintain the visitor safety by replacing where those sensors are, that make them less susceptible to the change in temperature?"

Meanwhile, Kennedy says some visitors find the alarms more of a disruption than others.

"Sometimes there's a bit of an impact to the visitor from an 18th-century perspective," said Kennedy. "But oddly enough, other times, you'll see people wanting the firemen to pose with their kids for photographs. It doesn't really fit with the theme of the fortress, but it's something that the visitor is making the most of the experience."