The Fire Side  

Flood safety tips

One of the increasing risks to human life and property is flooding. People, especially young children, fail to recognize how even little depths of water and/or currents can create an elevated hazard. Make sure you know what to do during a flood emergency.

Flood facts

  • A heavy rainfall can result in flooding, particularly when the ground is still frozen or already saturated from previous storms.
  • Flash flooding – in which warning time is extremely limited – can be caused by hurricanes, violent storms or dams breaking.
  • Many Canadian rivers experience flooding at one time or another. The potential for flood damage is high where there is development on low-lying, flood-prone lands.

Preparing for a flood

To reduce the likelihood of flood damage:

  • Put weather protection sealant around basement windows and the base of ground-level doors.
  • Install the drainage for downspouts a sufficient distance from your residence to ensure that water moves away from the building.
  • Consider installing a sump pump and zero reverse flow valves in basement floor drains.
  • Do not store your important documents in the basement. Keep them at a higher level, protected from flood damage.
  • If you have a livestock farm, remember that livestock have a natural "move away instinct" to flash flood waters. They generally seek higher ground if possible. When purchasing or designing your livestock operation, it is important to allow livestock a way to reach high ground in each pasture. Without access, livestock will fight fences and be at a greater risk of drowning. Livestock will initially panic during flash floods. This complicates livestock handling.

If a flood is forecast

  • Turn off basement furnaces and the outside gas valve.
  • Take special precautions to safeguard electrical, natural gas or propane heating equipment.
  • If there is enough time, consult your electricity or fuel supplier for instructions on how to proceed.
  • In floods, in a rural farm setting, sheltering livestock may be the wrong thing to do. Leaving animals unsheltered is preferable because flood waters that inundate a barn could trap animals inside, causing them to drown.
  • If evacuation of the animals is being considered, then evacuation procedures, places, and routes should be planned. Animal evacuation routes must not interfere with human evacuation routes. Alternate routes should be found in case the planned route is not accessible. Places where animals are to be taken should be decided in advance and arrangements made with the owners of these places to accept the animals.

If flooding is imminent

  • Move furniture, electrical appliances and other belongings to floors above ground level.
  • Remove toxic substances such as pesticides and insecticides from the flood area to prevent pollution.
  • Remove toilet bowls and plug basement sewer drains and toilet connections with a wooden stopper.
  • Disconnect eavestroughs if they are connected to the house sewer.
  • In some cases, homes may be protected with sandbags or polyethylene barriers. This approach requires specific instructions from your local emergency officials.
  • Do NOT attempt to shut off electricity if any water is present. Water and live electrical wires can be lethal. Leave your home immediately and do not return until authorities indicate it is safe to do so.

Get Prepared.ca recommends having an emergency kit that includes:

  • Water - two litres of water per person per day (Include small bottles that can be carried easily in case of an evacuation order)
  • Food - that won't spoil, such as canned food, energy bars and dried foods (remember to replace the food and water once a year)
  • Manual can opener
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Battery-powered or wind-up radio (and extra batteries)
  • First aid kit
  • Special needs items - prescription medications, infant formula or equipment for people with disabilities
  • Extra keys - for your car and house
  • Cash - include smaller bills, such as $10 bills (traveller's cheques are also useful) and change for payphones

During a Flood

  • Keep your emergency kit close at hand, in a portable container such as a duffel bag, back pack, or suitcase with wheels.
  • Keep your radio on to find out what areas are affected, what roads are safe, where to go and what to do if the local emergency team asks you to leave your home.
  • The Regional District of Central Okanagan operates an online website that will provide updated information when the Emergency Operation Centre is activated in response to any emergency in the Central Okanagan. www.cordemergency.ca
  • Follow the links below for more information, or visit the Public Safety Canada Emergency Preparedness web site at: http://www.getprepared.gc.ca/index-eng.aspx.

If you need to evacuate

  • Vacate your home when you are advised to do so by local emergency authorities. Ignoring such a warning could jeopardize the safety of your family or those who might eventually have to come to your rescue.
  • Take your emergency kit with you.
  • Follow the routes specified by officials. Don't take shortcuts. They could lead you to a blocked or dangerous area.
  • You should drive with extreme care if you're using your car. Ensure there's enough gasoline in the tank. If the car stalls, abandon it. Many people have died after being caught by rising flood waters while attempting to move a stalled vehicle.
  • Electricity and gas valves should be shut off before you evacuate.
  • Do you have a family rendezvous point? It's a good idea to pre-arrange a meeting place to ensure no one is lost or to establish some system of communication in case of separation.
  • Avoid walking through moving flood waters. Depth can be deceptive, and even shallow water rushing fast enough can sweep you off your feet.
  • Make arrangements for pets.
  • Time permitting, leave a note informing others when you left and where you went. If you have a mailbox, leave the note there.

Never cross a flooded area

  • If you are on foot, fast water could sweep you away.
  • If you are in a car, do not drive through flood waters or underpasses. The water may be deeper than it looks and your car could get stuck or swept away by fast water.
  • Avoid crossing bridges if the water is high and flowing quickly.
  • If you are caught in fast-rising waters and your car stalls, leave it and save yourself and your passengers.

For more tips on Safety please contact your local Fire Department.

Ice safety: myths & realities

It is of no surprise at this time of year when the temperatures begin to rise and the ice begins to melt that we see the news headlines such as these:

“Fire Fighters Perform Dramatic Ice Rescue”, “Divers Recover Body”, ATV falls through Ice”, “Fisherman Falls Through Ice”, “Kids Fall Through Ice”, “Snowmobiler Falls Through Ice” “Body Pulled from Icy Waters”.

As sad as it is, these are headlines that we see repetitively over and over year after year across Canada. We ask ourselves why? Or how do we prevent this from occurring again?

Well, as long as the risk exists, there will always be potential. We always hear people say “reduce the risk”, but perhaps we should focus on reducing the potential. What that means is, there will always be a risk of thin ice, and you can’t reduce that risk. But you can reduce the potential of becoming victim to that risk by preventative measures and education. So below I have provided some clarity on a few myths and realities of Ice & Ice Safety from an educational perspective.

Myths & Realities

Myth: Ice forms at the same thickness everywhere on a body of water.

Reality: Ice is rarely uniform in thickness. It can be a foot thick in one place and only an inch thick just 10 feet away.

Myth: Thick ice is strong.

Reality: Even thick ice may be weak, especially if it has frozen and thawed repeatedly or if it contains layers of snow or water.

Myth: For the same thickness, all ice has the same strength.

Reality: Different types of ice have different strengths for the same thickness. Clear blue, black or green ice is strongest. 4”(10cm) of this ice should safely support 1 or 2 people. White or opaque ice should be at least twice as thick (8” or 20 cm) to safely support the same number of people.

Myth: Snow on top of ice makes it stronger and freeze faster.

Reality: Snow acts like an insulating blanket. The ice under the snow will be thinner and weaker. A new snowfall can also insulate, warm-up and melt existing ice. Ice with layers of snow may not support anyone.

Myth: Extreme cold means safe, thick ice.

Reality: A cold snap with very cold temperatures quickly weakens ice and can cause large cracks within half a day. A warm spell can take several days to weaken the ice

Myth: The better you swim, the better your chances of rescuing yourself if you fall through ice.

Reality: After as little as five minutes, cold water begins to rob you of your ability to move your limbs. This makes it very difficult for you to get out of the water, no matter how well you can swim!

Once ice starts to rot, the thickness of ice cannot be used to determine if the ice is safe.

The ice may look solid – but beware. Because of the way ice melts, the ice will dramatically weaken even as it retains much of its original thickness.

For more tips on Safety please contact your local Fire Department.

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Holiday Quick Tips

Smoke Alarms

Smoke Alarms Save Lives

  • Working smoke alarms save lives, cutting the risk of dying in a home fire in half. Smoke alarms should be installed and maintained in every home.


  • Smoke alarms should be installed in every sleeping room, outside each separate sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement. Larger homes may require additional smoke alarms to provide a minimum level of protection.
  • For the best protection, interconnect all smoke alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
  • If you sleep with the bedroom door closed, install smoke alarms inside and outside the bedroom.

Testing and Maintenance

  • Test smoke alarms at least once a month using the test button or other means such as the mute button on the television remote, if the alarm has that feature.
  • Make sure everyone in the home understands the warning of the smoke alarm and knows how to respond.

People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

  • Smoke alarms and alert devices, called accessories, are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Strobe lights throughout the home are activated by smoke alarms and alert people who are deaf to fire conditions. When people who are deaf are asleep, a high-intensity strobe light is required along with a pillow or bed shaker to wake them up and alert them to fire conditions so they can escape. This equipment is activated by the sound of a standard smoke alarm.

Battery Replacement

  • Smoke alarms with nonreplaceable (long-life) batteries are designed to remain effective for up to 10 years. If the alarm chirps, warning that the battery is low, replace the entire smoke alarm right away.
  • For smoke alarms with any other type of battery, replace batteries at least once a year. If that alarm chirps, replace only the battery.

Smoke Alarm Replacement

  • Replace all smoke alarms when they are 10 years old.
  • Immediately replace any smoke alarm that does not respond properly when tested.
  • Combination smoke-carbon monoxide alarms should be replaced according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Dust or vacuum smoke alarms annually and/or whenever the battery is changed.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning.

Carbon Monoxide

Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

  • Carbon monoxide (CO), often called “the silent killer,” is a gas you cannot see, taste, or smell. It can be created when fossil fuels, such as kerosene, gasoline, coal, natural gas, propane, methane, or wood do not burn properly. CO gas can be deadly.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning can result from faulty furnaces or other heating appliances, portable generators, water heaters, clothes dryers, or cars left running in garages.
  • Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, and drowsiness.
  • Exposure to undetected high levels of carbon monoxide can be fatal.


General Candle Safety

  • When using candles, place them in sturdy, safe candleholders that will not burn.
  • Protect candle flames with glass chimneys or containers.
  • Keep candles at least 12 inches (30 centimeters) from anything that can burn.
  • Never leave a burning candle unattended.
  • Avoid using candles in bedrooms and sleeping areas. Extinguish candles when you leave a room or the home or go to bed.
  • Keep children and pets away from burning candles.
  • Be careful not to splatter wax when extinguishing a candle.
  • Never use a candle where medical oxygen is being used. The two can combine to create a large, unexpected fire. Medical oxygen can cause materials to ignite more easily and burn at a faster rate than normal. It can make an existing fire burn faster and hotter.
  • Always use a flashlight—not a candle—for emergency lighting.

Christmas Tree Safety

Picking the tree

  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.

Placing the tree

  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 2” from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.

Lighting the tree

  • Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of LED strands to connect.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

For more tips on Fire Safety please contact your local Fire Department or visit www.nfpa.org


Open burning in the City of Kelowna

Every year the Kelowna Fire Department responds to numerous burning complaints across the City primarily during the regular burning season between October 1st and April 30th. On many of those occurrences the property representatives were unaware of the local bylaws in place that only permit burning under certain circumstances. So, I have provided some information on Fire Prevention Regulation Bylaw for the City of Kelowna pertaining to open burning.

For starters, no person shall start or permit a fire of any kind whatsoever in the open air within the City of Kelowna, without first having obtained a written permit to do so from the Fire Department.

In order to qualify for a permit, the property in which burning is to take place must be at least (1) one hectare (2.47 acres) in size. A minimum of (30) thirty meters must be maintained between the fire location and any building or forested area.

Permit holders shall ensure that no fire be started before 07:00 AM and be extinguished completely before sunset of the same day, unless special permission is granted, in writing, by the Fire Chief or his Inspectors. E.g.: large permitted burning materials such as stumps and other materials over (8) eight inches in diameter that have dried in accordance with the bylaw, may be maintained for a maximum of (72) seventy-two hours if the fire is substantially smokeless. However no further permitted burning materials shall be added to a fire after 5:00 PM (17:00 hours) of each day of the fire.

All materials to be burned must originate from the property and are restricted to prunings, dry piled weeds, needles and leaves. Stumps or other materials in excess of (8) eight inches in diameter shall not be burned unless they have been allowed to dry for at least (2) two years or to the satisfaction of the Fire Chief.

No person shall burn on any permit, rubber tires, oil, petroleum products of any kind, tar, asphalt products, batteries, plastic, un-dried materials of any kind, unless special permission is granted, in writing, by the Fire Chief or his Inspectors.

The operation of a domestic outdoor or backyard incinerator or any structure serving as a domestic outdoor incinerator is expressly prohibited.

It is also unlawful for any person to burn or to permit, or cause to be burned within the City of Kelowna, any materials resulting from the demolition or construction of any structure.

Under local government bylaws, the fire chief has the authority to shorten or extend the burning season depending on the fire hazard.  Normally open burning permits are available to qualified property owners between October 1st and April 30th.  If the fire hazard rises, residents with permits should be aware that Open Burning and issued permits may be cancelled by fire authorities.  Local media will be advised if there are any changes to the burning season. This year serves as an example where fire risks were high leading into the burning season, resulting in the start of burn season being delayed from October 1st to November 1st pending weather conditions.

The Fire Chief may issue a special permit to allow burning of woody debris for the purpose of fuel reduction or hazard abatement on private or public property. Special permits will not be issued for the open burning of wood, trees, stumps, shrubbery and woody debris that results from the land being cleared or partially cleared of vegetation to help prepare the land for a different non-farming use.

Despite the issuance of a burning permit, open burning is prohibited when the venting index is less than 65 or the particulate matter PM 2.5 concentration (24 hour rolling average) is 15 ug/m3 or greater. Permit holders are required to ensure these conditions on the day they want to burn.

Outdoor Burning Hotline: 1-855-262-2876 (BURN).

Two of the most common questions the Fire Department receives are:

  1. Can we have a campfire in the City of Kelowna? The answer is no. Campfires are not permitted within the City of Kelowna boundaries.

  2. Can we have an outdoor fire pit or outdoor fire place? The answer is Yes you can, provided you meet the following;

  • The appliance is CSA/ULC, CGA or equivalent approved;
  • The appliance is fuelled by natural gas, propane, or charcoal briquette;
  • A minimum of 1 meter clearance to combustibles must be maintained from the nearest structure, property line, overhead tree or other combustible material;
  • The installation of a gas fuelled appliance must be approved by the authority having jurisdiction and installed in accordance to manufacturers specifications;
  • The operator must keep the unit under constant supervision when in use;
  • Provide an adequate extinguishing agent such as a fire extinguisher or garden hose; and
  • No person shall burn or allow to be burned, refuse, waste or wood in a barbeque, outdoor fire pit or outdoor fireplace.

In addition to any other remedy or offence imposed by the Fire Prevention Regulation Bylaw, a person who starts a fire without a permit may be responsible for the costs of providing the additional personnel and equipment that the Fire Chief may deem necessary to extinguish the fire or to suppress any escape or threatened escape of the fire.

For full details on open burning regulations, contact your local Fire Department.

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About the Author

Originally from Ladysmith, British Columbia, Thomas started his career with the Fire Service in February 1989 with Ladysmith Fire/Rescue where he spent 16 years in the positions of fire fighter, Lieutenant and later promoted to Deputy Fire Chief of Operations, Training and Prevention.

In 2004 Thomas relocated near the Okanagan where he accepted a position as Captain with the Big White Fire Department for the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary, British Columbia. After a short time, Thomas was promoted to Deputy Fire Chief where he managed the department’s fire prevention program and assisted in coordinating the departments training and operations.

In 2006, Thomas had the desire to work for a larger fire department and was given an opportunity with the Kelowna Fire Department, British Columbia. Initially starting his career with Kelowna as a Fire Dispatcher, Thomas worked his way to Fire Inspector in 2008 and in 2009 accepted the position of Assistant Fire Chief where he managed the Training Branch and the Regional Rescue Program for the Central Okanagan Regional District which consisted of Hazardous Materials Response, Technical High Angle Rescue, Tower Crane Rescue, Marine Rescue, Confined Space, Swift Water and Ice Rescue as well as Vehicle Rescue.

In 2011, after a leadership restructuring of the Kelowna Fire Department, Thomas was promoted to Deputy Fire Chief of Administration, Training and Fire Prevention. Throughout his career, Thomas has continued to build on his education, and fire service leadership where he currently is working on his Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Safety Studies as well as his Fire Service Leadership Diploma.

During his time in the fire service, Thomas also maintained a part time career for 10 years as a Paramedic with the British Columbia Ambulance Service, and served 10 years with the Search & Rescue on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Thomas Doherty, Deputy Fire Chief
Kelowna Fire Department

E-mail: [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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