Toronto

TCH buildings leading the way in false fire alarms, city stats show

Toronto firefighters responded to more than a dozen false alarms a day last year, the vast majority of them at buildings operated by Toronto Community Housing.

Condos, apartment buildings also racking up alarming numbers

Jonathan Day stands in front of 251 Sherbourne St., where he's lived for the past 10 years. It registered more false fire alarms last year than any other large residential building in the city. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

Toronto firefighters responded to more than a dozen false alarms a day last year, the vast majority of them at buildings operated by Toronto Community Housing (TCH).

That's according to numbers gathered by CBC Toronto through a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

In 2018, the Toronto Fire Service responded to just over 4,800 false alarm calls at residential buildings with more than 12 units. About 60 per cent of those calls were nuisance alarms, while the rest were for so-called "malicious" alarms.

The 10 buildings with the most fire alarms were operated by TCH, the figures show. 

TCH wouldn't agree to an interview with CBC Toronto. But the agency did issue a statement:

"We  take the issue of false alarms seriously, and we continue to employ a range of measures, including pull station vandalism covers, security cameras, building seminars, as well as fire safety education campaigns to reduce the incidence of false alarms in our buildings," the statement reads.

"False alarms remain an issue throughout urban areas, and certainly social housing is not immune."

Toronto Fire Deputy Chief Jim Jessop said the situation has been improving city-wide, with false alarm calls dropping by 11 per cent in the last 12 years. 

"The Toronto Fire Service has taken a very proactive role, both on the enforcement side but also partnering on the education side with TCH," he said.

"They have made investments in trying to reduce the likelihood by installing covers and installing cameras. 

These twin condo towers at 12 and 14 York St. rang up a total of 17 false fire alarms in 2018, more than any other condo, according to city statistics. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

"So they've been taking proactive steps to try and reduce the most infuriating types of these alarms, which are the malicious, intentional and reckless activation of a fire alarm system."

The residential building with the largest number of false fire alarms in the city last year was 251 Sherbourne St., a TCH building that racked up 79 of them.

"We can't sleep in the middle of the night; it's all these constant alarms going off every day, 24-7," said Jonathan Day, who's lived at 251 Sherbourne for about 10 years.

"I have to live with this every day."

Other residents maintain that criminals in the building pull fire alarms to warn their compatriots when police have arrived.

As of Jan. 1, 2019, TCH buildings also owed more to Toronto Fire in unpaid false alarm fines, than condos or apartment buildings.

The city charges property owners $1,396.25 for every false alarm firefighters have to respond to. 

But if a building owner can show that the alarm wasn't tripped on purpose and that steps have been taken to repair the glitch, that fee is often returned, Jessop said.

This building at 251 Sherbourne St. had the most false alarms in the city last year, with 79. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

In 2018, false alarm fines amounted to almost $6.7 million, of which about $440,000 had not yet been paid by Jan. 1, 2019. TCH buildings owed just over $200,000 of that.

Condo boards still owed about $146,000, and apartment building owners about $81,000.

All of those fees are channeled back to the Toronto Fire, Jessop said.

He said it's difficult to pin down exactly how much it costs the fire service to respond to false alarms. But according to the city's website, "in most cases" three trucks are dispatched, at a cost of 465.42 per fire vehicle.

Of residential buildings with unpaid false alarm fees, 24 Tyndall Ave. had more false alarms than any other apartment building, with eight last year. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

Even so, he said firefighters have not become complacent when responding to fire alarms at residential buildings.

"We don't respond to alarms," he said. "We respond to the report of a fire.

"The chief's position and the [Toronto Fire] position is clear: Until we know it's not a fire we will treat every 911 call or alarm activation call to our dispatch centre as a fire."

Of the residential buildings that had not yet paid their false alarm fees by Jan. 1, 24 Tyndall Ave., in Parkdale, was the apartment building with the most alarms last year, at eight.

Among condos with outstanding alarm fines, the two buildings at 12 and 14 York St. had 17 false alarms between them.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that 80 per cent of the false alarm calls were made from buildings operated by Toronto Community Housing. In fact, nine of the ten buildings with the most false alarms were operated by the corporation.
    Apr 02, 2019 4:22 PM ET

Data analysis by Valerie Ouellet

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