Ottawa Firefighters Frustrated Over False Alarms at East End Building
A highrise building in east end Ottawa has the dubious distinction of the highest number of false fire alarms for a residential dwelling.
Published Monday, January 21, 2013 3:39PM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 21, 2013 4:30PM EST
A highrise building in east end Ottawa has the dubious distinction of the highest number of false fire alarms for a residential dwelling. There were 3 just this past weekend at the building on Cedarwood Drive in Herongate. Firefighters tell CTV News they are getting frustrated and even afraid at times to go there.
Since July 1st of last year, the Ottawa fire department has responded to about 35 malicious false alarms at the building at 2850 Cedarwood Drive. Because it's a high rise, every time, they must send the pumper truck, an aerial truck and the district chief vehicle. That’s about one thousand dollars in equipment and manpower each time.
“These are pranks, this isn't a joke,” says Ottawa Deputy Fire Chief Kim Ayotte. “You're putting people's lives at risk, not only people in the building who become complacent with these false alarms and do not respond to them and in a real incident, they may be trapped. But you're putting the firefighters at risk who are responding and other people at risk when vehicles of this nature are travelling through the city streets at speeds higher than normal.”
When Jeanette Woolstencroft first moved into the building two years ago, she would trek the eight floors down when the alarm sounded with her dog in hand. Not anymore.
“I usually go on the balcony, wait for the fire engines to come and let us know whether we really need to evacuate,” says Woolstencroft. And that's the problem. The fire alarm is sounding so often, sometimes 5 times in one day that the tenants don't bother going out. Last January there was a real fire.
“Most of the residents here stop caring,” says tenant Bonnie Bai, “they never actually go out, which can be pretty dangerous.”
Dangerous in other ways, too. Ottawa firefighters who spoke to CTV News off the record tell us they're extremely frustrated with the number of false alarms and the waste of their resources. In fact, some are concerned for their safety after residents have thrown things at them.”
Jeanette Woolstencroft recalls that day. The fire alarms had gone off five times. “Someone threw a bottle at the fire department vehicle, a full bottle of water and it hit the roof of the fire engine, bounced off and hit or nearly hit one of the firemen.”
The city of Ottawa is considering a bylaw that would make the building owners accountable for multiple false alarms. The city of Toronto has implemented a similar policy.
“We're looking at what other cities do,” says Deputy Chief Ayotte. “They charge a fee per incident above 2 or 3 in a year, either a flat fee of $300 or 500 or $800 or what it costs to send the rigs out.”
“In this case, you're looking over a $1000 per call over 3 so you can imagine if you're a property manager that has over 31 false alarms; the bills are going to start racking up.”
The building is owned by Timbercreek Asset Management, who purchased it and 4 other buildings in the area in June of last year.
Derek Rider is the Regional Manager for Timbercreek. He says the false alarms are not something the landlord can control. “It's unfortunate because it's not something completely within the control of the landlord. We don't like that people are pulling fire alarms. It affects not just our property but other properties throughout Ottawa.”
Rider adds that the bylaw being considered would negatively affect the tenants. “That's something that ultimately takes away from the residents, money that we could be spending in other areas and improving the community and making sure the residents are satisfied and comfortable in their homes,”
He says Timbercreek is in the final stages of a tendering process whereby it hopes to install an updated camera system. It’s also looking at installing protectors on the fire alarms to try to reduce the number of false alarms.
Woolstencroft says something has to happen soon. “I'm scared and if fire and police are scared to come in here, how do they think little old ladies like me feel?”