Safety Coun­cil calls for im­proved alarms

The Press - - News - Mike Houla­han

The New Zealand Safety Coun­cil has re­newed its call for ion­i­sa­tion smoke alarms to be banned from sale.

It blames the death of an Auck­land pen­sioner in a house fire on the wrong kind of smoke alarm be­ing in­stalled in her flat.

Coun­cil ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Dave Calvert has cam­paigned for five years to ban ion­i­sa­tion alarms and re­place them with photo-elec­tric alarms.

Ion­i­sa­tion alarms mon­i­tor electrical­ly charged par­ti­cles and are ac­ti­vated when smoke par­ti­cles reach a cer­tain level. Photo-elec­tric alarms use a beam of light and a light sen­sor, and sound when smoke den­sity reaches a set level.

Calvert said ion­i­sa­tion alarms were in­ad­e­quate at de­tect­ing smoke from smoul­der­ing fires. He said Freda Birch, a 91-yearold who died in a fire in her Pa­pakura home in June, would still be alive if a photo-elec­tric alarm had been in place rather than an ion­i­sa­tion alarm.

‘‘The fire started from a re­frig­er­a­tor elec­tri­cal fault that smoul­dered for sev­eral hours be­fore ex­plod­ing and blow­ing out all win­dows and the garage door,’’ Calvert said.

‘‘No­body should die in such cir­cum­stances, and with cor­rectly fit­ted photo-elec­tric smoke alarms they would not, as the alarm would quickly sense the smoke and sound a warn­ing.’’

Calvert said he had sent de­tails of Birch’s death to all MPs, along with re­search to back the coun­cil’s call for a ban on ion­i­sa­tion alarms.

In 2006, the Con­sumers’ In­sti­tute tested smoke alarms and found photo-elec­tric alarms out-per­formed their ri­vals. It said any alarm was bet­ter than none, but the right alarm needed to be fit­ted in the right place to give max­i­mum pro­tec­tion.

The Fire Ser­vice has fit­ted thou­sands of alarms in homes, many of them ion­i­sa­tion alarms.

Its pol­icy is to rec­om­mend peo­ple in­stall photo-elec­tric alarms, es­pe­cially in all sleep­ing ar­eas and hall­ways be­tween bed­rooms and doors lead­ing out­side.

‘‘There are tens of thou­sands of ion­i­sa­tion alarms in New Zealand and mil­lions world­wide, so we would never sug­gest that peo­ple rip them down off the ceil­ing,’’ it said.

‘‘If they haven’t passed their use-by date, they are tested reg­u­larly and cleaned oc­ca­sion­ally, they will still pro­vide a good early-warn­ing sys­tem. How­ever, when the time comes to re­place them or if you are go­ing to buy alarms for the first time, our rec­om­men­da­tion is pho­to­elec­tric.’’

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