March 16, 2021
Kingston firefighters and a panel of Canada’s top carbon monoxide (CO) safety experts joined forces online today in a virtual event to warn area residents of the dangers of “The Silent Killer.”
Kingston Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Donaldson, along with Canada’s leading CO safety advocate John Gignac, Bonnie Rose, CEO and Stu Seaton, Investigator for the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA), and John Ward, alarm technology expert from First Alert, delivered vital insights into the lethal gas that is impossible for humans to see, smell or taste.
Hosted as part of an eastern Ontario public education blitz organized by TSSA, the province’s public safety regulator for fuels safety, the virtual event revealed that more than 65 per cent of all carbon monoxide deaths and injuries occur in homes.
“Keeping your family safe is a shared responsibility,” said Deputy Fire Chief Donaldson. “We are here to respond to emergencies, but it’s a homeowner’s job to make sure they have working carbon monoxide and smoke alarms in their home. Without them, you are putting your family at risk.”
John Gignac’s carbon monoxide safety crusade is personal. In December 2008 his niece, OPP Safety Officer Laurie Hawkins, her husband Richard and their two children Cassandra and Jordan, were killed by carbon monoxide in their Woodstock home. Their gas fireplace had a malfunctioning exhaust system, forcing the lethal gas back into their home. They did not have a CO alarm.
Following the accident, Gignac created The Hawkins-Gignac Foundation for CO Education to advocate for mandatory CO alarm laws and warn all Canadians about the dangers of carbon monoxide.
In 2014, the Ontario government made it law that every home with a potential source of carbon monoxide, or an attached garage, must have at least one working CO alarm. That law – The Hawkins-Gignac Act – passed with unanimous all-party support in honor of the Hawkins and Gignac families.
“I can’t change what happened to my family, but I can help make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Gignac said. “Start by having a TSSA-certified technician inspect all your fuel-burning devices each year. Then, install carbon monoxide alarms outside all sleeping areas of your home. And remember to check that alarms aren’t older than the lifespan recommended by manufacturers, usually seven-to-10 years.”
A provincial regulator for technical devices and equipment in many sectors, a main one being fuels, TSSA routinely partners with community leaders to help enhance the reach of its safety messages. As part of this campaign, a series of information pamphlets are being dropped by Canada Post to Kingston area households in March.
“When most people think about the threat of carbon monoxide, they tend to focus on their furnace,” said TSSA Regional Investigator, Stu Seaton. “Yet the average home could have four or more fuel-burning appliances that produce carbon monoxide. Gas and wood fireplaces, gas water heaters and stoves as well as portable gas generators and barbecues are common sources. If these devices are not inspected and maintained, small deficiencies or leaks can have disastrous consequences.”
“Our goal is to help prevent incidents before they happen,” said TSSA President and CEO Bonnie Rose. “Partnering in communities with local safety experts such as Deputy Fire Chief Donaldson, helps get the message out. We all share the same goal – to keep Ontarians safe.”
Other tips shared at the event included:
- Carbon monoxide weighs about the same as air, so CO alarms can be plugged down low into an electrical socket, or installed on the ceiling, as part of a combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm
- The best location to install CO alarms is outside sleeping areas, not in furnace rooms
- Treat every alarm as an emergency; never presume a ringing alarm is a false alarm
- Purchase certified alarms from reputable retailers
- Homeowners can find a TSSA-certified registered fuel contractor at cosafety.ca
The event continued with a donation of 45 carbon monoxide alarms provided by First Alert, accepted by Deputy Fire Chief Donaldson. The alarms will be provided to area homes in need.
“We are extremely grateful to First Alert for the alarm donation, as it helps provide peace-of-mind to families who might not otherwise be in a position to purchase an alarm themselves, especially in light of COVID-19,” said Deputy Chief Donaldson.
Representing the Ontario Municipal Fire Prevention Officers Association (OMFPOA), Kingston Fire Inspector Del Blakney then concluded the virtual event by presenting the Jim Copeland Award to John Gignac. The prestigious annual award recognizes significant contributions made by a citizen or group to the prevention of fire and the public education of life safety in the community.
Mr. Gignac responded by saying, “I’m humbled that our Foundation has been singled out, but, educating Canadians about carbon monoxide is a team effort. Fire departments, TSSA and community groups all play a key role in spreading the word about this deadly gas.”