Many workplaces don't take fire safety seriously, says industry expert

Technician weighs in on fire safety basics and building a career in a male-dominated industry

Many workplaces don't take fire safety seriously, says industry expert

Fire safety may have fallen to the wayside as employers and safety practitioners have had to focus on pandemic safety, but that doesn’t make it any less important. In addition, a number of employers are not fully aware of or educated on what they need to do to be compliant – whether it be training or inspections.

“The biggest things I see is that a lot of people don’t take [fire safety] seriously,” says Olivia Schouten, Fire Alarm Technician Trainee, Classic Fire + Life Safety. “And also, a lot of people don’t really know anything about it. I’ve been to sites where people have taken over businesses, and they haven’t had inspections in three to five years, because they had no idea they had to do that.”

In the early months of the pandemic, Schouten says that a lot of people were legitimately confused on what to do with regards to their fire protection inspections. “And then we were really busy for a while when things started opening up because everyone was getting their inspections done.”

She says that to improve fire safety, education plays the biggest part for people. At the end of the day, individuals have to understand that fire suppression systems and extinguishers (and associated needs such as training or maintenance) are ultimately there to keep them safe.

Currently, most of Schouten’s role consists in doing inspections to ensure that – if she’s doing a fire alarm inspection – all of the components of the fire alarm system are operating so that in the event of a fire it allows the occupants to know they need to leave the building and that they’re safe.

Pushing for change

Schouten has always been passionate about fire safety. When she graduated high school, she initially wanted to get into firefighting. While training, she did a course of fire prevention – “and that was something that I fell in love with.” When she graduated, she decided to take a three year fire protection program at Seneca College. After graduating, she started working for Classic, “and I truly do really love it. It’s awesome, and it’s a great field to get into.”

Schouten says that one of her favourite things about her role is that she gets to work with different people every single day, and in different environments. “I’m not really an office person who likes to sit in one spot, you get to see different things every day and you’re constantly learning about new things in the field.”

The field is still traditionally male-dominated, but women like Schouten are helping push for change. Schouten says that she wasn’t intimated getting into the field, “I was raised by a single mom so she always gave me that confidence that if you put your mind to something you can do it.”

She says that when she was doing to training, she was the only female in the program. “You got the feeling that sometimes some people didn’t feel like you’re good enough to do it,” says Schouten. But over the last few years, things are changing, and she has great support from her colleagues. And with how important fire safety is, it is essential that individuals of all genders feel comfortable joining the industry.