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Whistler fire department will no longer treat unconfirmed alarms as emergencies

Only a fraction of the hundreds of alarm calls the department deals with annually turn out to be fires, says chief


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The Whistler Rescue Service is changing how it responds to automatic alarm calls in an effort to increase the safety of firefighters and the public.

The department will no longer treat automatic alarm notifications as emergencies — with lights and sirens — unless a fire has been confirmed.

“Automatic alarms, although they’re well designed and do their job well when running perfectly, can fail or (set off a false alarm),” said Whistler Fire Chief Geoff Playfair. “We get around 500 to 600 auto alarm calls a year. Very few of those develop into any kind of incident without maybe a call back from an actual person on scene saying, ‘I smell smoke,’ or ‘I see flames.’”

Downgrading the response to routine also means reducing the speed at which fire trucks will travel to the scene of an unconfirmed callout, lessening the risk of a traffic accident, Playfair said. However, the fire chief did add that given the majority of these alarm systems are located in the village, he doesn’t expect the department’s response times to be majorly affected. “The ability to drive quickly to those calls is pretty limited given we have short city blocks (in the village) to drive within, so you’re not really exceeding the speed limit at all,” he explained. “In the end, responding emergency versus routine — other than the noise factor — doesn’t achieve a lot in terms of time savings.”

Playfair said the change in policy would affect many of the commercial buildings in the resort as well as a limited number of residential properties in the valley with automatic alarm systems installed.

The department also has the option of upgrading a routine response to an emergency if there are traffic delays.

He urged the community to continue to be diligent about calling in possible fires.

“Certainly if (the public) sees or realizes there’s a potential problem, call right away as we would encourage whether there’s an alarm system in place or not,” said Playfair. “Any update to an alarm is very helpful and it will speed up the response from the department.”

Whistler’s fire danger rating remains at “extreme” after it was upgraded earlier this month following a period of hot, dry weather. All fines are banned, and only propane barbecues are permitted in parks.

The fire ban will be lifted after the fire danger rating sits at “moderate” for two consecutive days.

Check for updates.


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