Australian Senate Inquiry Hears Smoke Alarm Practise Inadequate

An Australian Senate inquiry into smoke alarms has heard from fire services around Australia, who say current smoke alarm practice is inadequate and residents have a false sense of security, particularly when it comes to use of ionisation smoke sensors.

Recommendations from fire services include that photoelectric smoke alarms be hardwired to power, as well as alarm systems. Other recommendations were that a regulated position be established on the most effective type of smoke alarms and their optimal location. There were also calls for industry advice to be developed so factors such as cost did not solely determine what type of smoke alarm was chosen.

Fire and Rescue NSW told the inquiry that ionisation devices are more prone to false alarms from cooking, which prompted many people to disable them.

“Research has highlighted the inadequacy” of national construction requirements that a smoke alarm be installed on each habitable level, meaning one alarm can serve a whole single-storey house, FRNSW told the inquiry.

According to Fire and Rescue NSW said modern, quick-burning furnishings mean fires can progress to a fatal “flashover” in as little as two minutes, compared with the 1970s, when it took up to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the CSIRO said open-plan homes can exacerbate the effect.

It meant early warning was insufficient, especially when a bedroom door was closed. This was exacerbated by “modern furnishings [that] contribute to faster fire development … the quick onset of flashover makes escape almost impossible”. Flashover occurs when an entire area ignites simultaneously due to extreme temperatures.

Meanwhile, Melbourne’s Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board told the inquiry there was a “clear need” for regulatory reform of smoke alarms, which should extend to the use of sprinklers.

It said disadvantaged people were the most at risk from fires and the least likely to be able to install and maintain a working smoke alarm. These people included the elderly, those with a disability and international students and workers.