Over 100 preventable deaths in Montreal from non-working smoke alarms in a decade: coroner

A simple recommendation could have saved the lives of over 100 Montrealers in the past decade, a provincial coroner says.

"Every year or so I deal with a few fires where a simple, functional smoke alarm could have prevented death," lamented Dr. Jacques Ramsay.

The coroner is recommending the City of Montreal mandate that homeowners—namely landlords—must either install lithium batteries inside smoke detectors in their buildings, which can last over 10 years, or connect the smoke alarms directly to the electrical grid.

Dr. Ramsay tells CJAD 800 News this alone would drastically cut the chances of death from asphyxiation in a house fire.

It also would not be much more work for landlords, who are already required to change smoke alarms every decade at the end of their life spans, he added.

He bases his recommendations on findings from several deadly house fires. In 2013, Dr. Ramsay investigated the death of 4-year-old Nikeydah Forbes, who died hiding under her bed as her family's Montreal North home burned around her. 

That same year, Dr. Ramsay was also investigating the death of Pierre Cyr. The previous year, he examined the fire that killed Sylvie Deschênes in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

In all cases, he found the deaths could have easily been avoided: the smoke alarms were found to be out of order, either because they had been disabled or had a dead battery.

The three reports have just been made public and were shared with CJAD 800 News by the Coroner's Office of Quebec.

According to the most recent activity report for the Montreal Fire department, 11 people died in fires on the island in 2016, versus seven in 2015 and nine in 2014.

Mayor Valerie Plante's office could not be reached for comment on Friday, but a spokesman has signaled in a statement to La Presse the administration are taking Dr. Ramsay's recommendations seriously.

"Change is easy to do," Dr. Ramsay said, "and it doesn't involve a lot of maintenance."