The Press

Safety Council calls for improved alarms

- 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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