Ottawa firefighters sent to false alarms an average of 20 times a day

Ottawa firefighters were dispatched to false alarms an average of 20 times a day between 2015 and 2017, according to data from the City of Ottawa.

Majority of false alarms due to equipment malfunction and accidents, according to the city

Marc Messier, spokesperson for the Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association, says buildings with older alarm systems have contributed to false alarms. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Ottawa firefighters were dispatched to false alarms an average of 20 times a day between 2015 and 2017, according to data from the City of Ottawa.

The Ottawa Fire Services defines a false alarm as an investigation that doesn't uncover fire or another type of emergency. 

Last year, there were 7,507 false alarms, most caused by faulty equipment in residential and commercial buildings.

The rest were from humans: either malicious calls, accidental calls or misperceived emergency calls.

When compared with statistics from Montreal's fire department, Ottawa has 2.1 false alarms per capita compared to 1.4 during the 2013 to 2017 time period.

Call 911, avoid 'complacency'

Behar Ismael, a renter who lives in Ottawa's east end, said there are alarms in her building at least every other week.

"It is scary because you don't know it's real or if it's another time of it going off for no reason," Ismael said.

Marc Messier, communication liaison for the Ottawa Professional Firefighters Association, said people should not ignore alarms even if they have become a nuisance in their building.

"It definitely creates a problem with complacency because people will stop reacting," Messier said. 

Old buildings with old systems

Messier said many factors false alarms, including faulty alarm systems. 

"[We] covers over 2,500 square kilometres. In that area, the population is growing," Messier said.

"A lot of the buildings are aging and when you get buildings that are going to age they're going to start having malfunctions with the alarm system."

In Ottawa in 2017, there were 7,507 false alarms. Of that number, 4,168 were due to equipment malfunctions and the rest were due to human error. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC Ottawa)

Coun. Mathieu Fleury, a member of the city's Community and Protective Services Committee, said false alarms may be generated by similar or even the same properties on multiple occasions.

"I think the emphasis should be on the property owners, first of all, to put modern systems in place and inform their tenants," Fleury told Radio-Canada.

In an emailed statement, the City of Ottawa said that the Ottawa Fire Services has a False Alarm Education and Awareness Program to reduce false alarms and "provide property owners with solutions to reduce malicious false alarms."

Reducing false alarms

Messier said people can call 311 if they've experienced several false alarms and fire prevention officers will respond to the complaint.

"Sometimes it's malicious. In a case like that, we would discuss putting in security systems or tamper-proof covers," he said.

"If it's the case of malfunctions, it's making sure with the owners they have all the necessary repairs done."

Fleury, who is also chair of Ottawa Community Housing, said the city should look at whether the fire alarm system in those buildings is up to date.

Ontario's fire code requires the owners of commercial and residential buildings to regularly inspect the fire alarm panel to insure it works.

National regulations require an annual inspection by trained professionals.

with files from Radio-Canada's Godefroy Chabi