Smoke detectors, CO alarms pushed in Safe at the Cottage campaign

By Penny Caldwell »Penny Caldwell

May 9th, 2012


Photo by Ted Percival

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Last summer we had a fire in our boat’s engine compartment. Our first clue something was wrong was the strong odour of fuel while we were under way. We limped into a nearby cottage dock, fixed the leak, mopped up the fuel, closed the engine compartment cover, and turned the key.


That’s the sound of the mini-explosion caused by the ignition spark. Smoke billowed out from under the cover. When we opened the compartment, we saw the fire.

One of the most amazing parts of the story is that when DH grabbed the fire extinguisher from under the bow, it actually worked. It was probably the same vintage as the old fibreglass boat, circa 1962 or so. He bought a new fire extinguisher the next day.

We all know we’re supposed to have working fire extinguishers in our boats. But not everyone takes the law seriously. The same goes for smoke alarms in our cottages—they‘re mandatory—and many parts of cottage country now have bylaws requiring carbon monoxide detectors as well. You may never need them…until you do.

Fire is one of the biggest fears of cottagers I’ve talked to. Did you know that in 2011 more area burned in forest fires in Ontario than in the previous 50 years? Yet, there is little chance of saving a wooden cottage at the end of a twisting cottage road, or on an island, once the fire has started. Two years ago, I visited a magnificent, historic cottage on an island in Lake Muskoka. Having bought it from their parents, the couple who owned it were in the middle of a loving restoration. Two weeks after my visit, it burned to the ground. She was there alone at the time. The sound of crackling flames woke her up, and she got out in time.

And that is why you have smoke alarms in the cottage. Not so you can save the cottage, but so you are alerted in time to save yourself and your family. You should have one on every level of your home and cottage and outside any sleeping areas. Smoke detectors range from $20 to $40; a CO alarm will set you back under $50.

The problem with carbon monoxide, which is known as the silent killer, is that you can’t see, smell, or taste it. You may be overcome by the fumes and unable to seek help. Symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and light-headedness. Cottages are particularly vulnerable to high levels of carbon monoxide because of the presence of fuel-fired devices such as gas, propane or wood-heating systems and appliances. You are also at greater risk if you have an attached carport or garage, or a boathouse with living quarters above because of the emissions from car and boat engines.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent cottage fires, to protect your cottage from bush fires, to improve your chances of surviving a fire, and to avoid carbon monoxide tragedies. Information specifically for cottage owners is available through the Peace of Mind for Your Piece of Heaven Campaign, presented by Kidde Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarms, Cottage Life, the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Fire Marshall’s Public Fire Safety Council, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, and Moose FM, plus a long list of cottage lake associations and partners.

Finally, enter the Safe at the Cottage Contest and share photos and stories about how you made your cottage property more CO Safe and FireSmart. There are lots of prizes, including subscriptions to Cottage Life magazine and Kidde smoke detectors and CO alarms.

Please, be safe this summer.

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Penny Caldwell