Fire alarms can go off for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with fire.
It could be smoke from seriously burnt toast meeting an over sensitive alarm, but you’d rather have the fire truck arriving just in case, than them not turning up when there is a real conflagration.
But then you get the bill for the call-out which, in NSW, is $1600 for the second false alarm within 60 days (the first one is free). In Melbourne it’s $2500 per fire truck per hour, with a minimum of two trucks. They too will probably let you away with a first false alarm.
But what if here is a persistent problem in your strata scheme and the culprits refuse to either fix the issue or pay the fee? Well, the good news is that there’s a budget priced off-the-peg by-law available that means you can force the offenders to stump up (see below).
False alarms are a serious problem in our cities. NSW Fire and Rescue get about 50,000 call-outs a year with 97 per cent of these alarms unwanted and about 38 per cent from to automatic fire alarms.
“Unwanted alarms create complacency towards genuine alarms that can result in serious injury or loss of life,” says their website. “They also divert FRNSW resources that would otherwise be available for genuine emergencies.”
According to a NSW Fire and Rescue factsheet the most common causes of false fire alarms are poor ventilation, burnt toast, cooking fumes, steam, aerosol sprays, cigarettes and candles, tradespeople and cleaners, dust, dirty smoke detectors, damage to ‘break glass alarms’ or ‘manual call points’, system malfunction, poorly maintained systems, insufficient maintenance in harsh environments and Insect infestation.
To avoid false alarms the factsheet advises residents to ensure fans, vents and, if possible, windows are open before cooking or showering.
“Some smoke detectors are extremely sensitive and steam from showers, smoke from burning food, even sprays from aerosol cans such as deodorant and hair-spray can set them off,” it says.
Given that unattended cooking is one of the main causes of actual fires, as well as false fire alarms, it’s little wonder that among the Fire Brigade’s tips for avoiding the latter is never to leave cooking unwatched and never walk away from a working toaster.
But what if a resident is a frequent fryer whose alarm keeps going off, with your strata scheme copping the call-out fee, while they blame the problem on everything from the sensitivity of the smoke detector to the bloke downstairs’ barbecue?
The Owners Corporation Network (OCN) is offering members a comprehensive fire safety by-law, devised by a specialist strata lawyer, that covers everything from chocking open fire doors to paying for call-out fees for false fire alarms. You can read more about the off-the-peg by-law, costing just $220, on their website.
And you can download a Fire and Rescue factsheet about reducing the chances of false alarms, from this link.