Hotline, task force launched to deal with smoking-related fires

Eastern Ontario Health Unit Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, speaks about stop-smoking programs on June 19, 2015 during the introduction of a task force to tackle the number of smoke-related fires in Cornwall, Ont. The fire department has also launched a hotline to report vulnerable citizens who are smokers. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – See a growing problem in the city, Cornwall’s fire chief has launched a task force and hotline to butt out a trend of smoking-related fires.

Members of the Cornwall Fire Department, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and the Fire Marshal’s Office were at Cornwall Square Friday afternoon to announce two programs, which will work hand-in-hand.

The first is a donation of 198 combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors from Enbridge Gas through the Fire Marshal’s Public Fire Safety Council in program called Project Zero.

With a backdrop of a bedroom with a half-burnt mattress, Fire Chief Pierre Voisine said the program would help them launch their second project – a task force and hotline.

People are encouraged to call if they know someone who is a smoker that couples their habit with risky behaviour such as alcohol abuse.

The number is 613-930-7408. The hotline is working as of Friday.

“Since my short time here I’ve seen a flagrant amount of smoking-related or careless use of smoking materials fires,” Voisine said. “What scares me most about this…this is one of the most dangerous types of fires that we have,” the chief said.

The department has responded 14 major structure fires so far this year, of which half were attributed to careless use of smoking materials. Four people died in those fires.

And who should call the hotline?

“If you or someone you know could potentially put themselves in a dangerous fire safety situation due to smoking, or anything else for that matter, call that phone number,” Chief Voisine said.

When they get information they will go to those addresses and meet with people to educate them on how to handle smoking materials.

The chief is striving to act within 24 hours of receiving a message on the hotline.

During that time they will also check for a working smoke alarm and CO detector – which are the law – and that’s where the Project Zero program dovetails with the task force.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit is providing smoking cessation program information for the fire department to relay during those visits.

“Approximately 40 per cent of 18-40 year olds smoke in our area, which is higher than the Ontario average, so we have some work to do in that regard,” Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said.

Voisine says the city’s bylaw department is also involved. “What we’re going to do is we’re going to help the occupants of those building understand what the fire safety issues and what the building concerns are and we’re going to address that to our building department.”

“That’s the promise this fire department is doing to its community.”

So far this year, the rate of smoking-related fires in Cornwall is 16 per cent – more than double the Ontario average of seven per cent.

“I really want to see within the next year a reduction in at least the severity of the type of fires that we go to. And, at the end of the day, if we can make sure that folks are aware there’s a fire and that they can get out, that’s really what we’re focusing on,” Chief Voisine told Cornwall Newswatch.

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