In the wake of last week’s deadly fire Wednesday morning at the Econo Lodge City Centre Inn which killed three people, Prince George Fire Rescue deputy chief Paul Knudsgaard is offering some advice to business operators and home owners which could save lives.
“We always talk about the critical importance of fire detection devices and fire suppression systems and fire alarm systems are critical to early detection of combustion and it can lead to very tragic results where early detection of fire is not provided,” said Knudsgaard.
“Although we don’t have the authority to inspect private homes and residences, we strongly recommend that all people have smoke alarms in their homes and we reconfirm that through our public education programs that smoke alarms near bedroom and kitchen areas are extremely important to save lives and protect people.”
Early detection is critical if a fire breaks out and Knudsgaard highly recommends families conduct their own fire drills to rehearse how they would safely exit their residences. He says everybody should know all the possible ways of getting out of the building in an emergency and have a predetermined meeting place to ensure everybody is safe.
“It’s when people are unsure how to safely exit a building or what their best route is they sometimes are unable to safely exit,” he said. “What we teach to all the kids when we provide them fire education in the schools is the need to have an escape plan and a meeting place and the same thing applies to all buildings.
“In fact, when I go to hotels, I’m probably one of the few people that actually looks at the floor plan on the back of the door to confirm how I would quickly get out of the building if I need to.”
Smoke detectors can easily be tested with the press of a button and their batteries should be replaced every year. Knudsgaard said individual detectors are very different from fire alarm systems in public buildings which typically include pull stations, gongs and/or bells to notify people responsible for monitoring the building. All fire alarm systems are tied to an electrical panel in the building which uses lights to display the functionality of the system and will indicate a warning if a problem exists.
The British Columbia Fire Code requires owners of public buildings and hotels to maintain the fire safety systems specified by the B.C. Building Code. Knudsgaard said hotel systems are inspected annually and the fire department requires documentation which indicates each of the components of a fire safety system has been tested and certified by an accredited servicing technician who has ensured it works properly.
If they are not maintained, the fire department will make sure they are brought into compliance through re-inspections or possible monetary penalties. If the system is found to be deficient and a trouble spot has been identified while the building is occupied, the business owner is required to post and maintain a fire watch until system is fixed.
All newer public buildings and hotels have fire suppression systems which when triggered will spray water on a fire. Knudsgaard said older buildings built before fire codes changed do not have automated fire suppression or the systems they do have in place have lesser functionality and might not have sprinklers that current building codes have required for at least the past two decades.
Prince George RCMP have deemed the cause of the Econo Lodge fire as suspicious and police are continuing their investigation. An eyewitnesses who was staying three rooms away from where the fire originated said she did not hear any fire alarms after being roused from her sleep by shouts coming from outside the room where she staying with her son.
Knudsgaard said he won’t offer any further details about that particular fire while the investigation proceeds and he declined to answer when the Econo Lodge was last inspected by the fire department.
“I can’t speak to anything specific regarding that property, but I can say that we have been inspecting that and all properties in compliance with our fire bylaw,” said Knudsgaard. “Regarding the cause and origin of that fire, it’s a very sensitive investigation given the nature of the fire and fatalities involved and it would be totally inappropriate to comment on the status of that building until the investigation has been completed.”