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False alarms frustrate firefighters


Christopher Knaus

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The territory's firefighters rushed to 17 false automatic fire alarms a day last year, and slapped hundreds of serial alarm offenders with more than $170,000 in fines.

ACT Fire and Rescue responded to 6280 automatic fire alarms in 2011-12, the vast majority of which turned out to be false.

Just 45 of the automatic alerts were for actual fires.

Firefighters were also regularly victims of malicious emergency calls, receiving one every two to three days. There were 145 malicious calls in 2011-12, most commonly prank emergency calls or the reckless activation of fire alarms.

But false automatic fire alarms were by far the biggest call-out demand for firefighters over the year.

Firefighters punished homes and businesses on 288 occasions for repeated problems with alarm systems.

The service has the power to charge a building owner if their faulty system sends a false alert three times in a 90-day period.

ACT Fire and Rescue demanded charges of $170,976 from building owners in 2011-12.

Properly functioning alarms set off by smoke from cooking or other similar causes do not attract a fee.

Automatic fire alarms prompt a full emergency response from firefighters.

The financial burden borne by the Emergency Services Agency because of false call-outs is not known, but a spokesman said the thousands of false alerts did not affect the service's ability to get to genuine emergencies.

''It is important in ensuring community safety that all calls are treated seriously and responded to in [a] prompt and effective manner,'' the spokesman said.

''The diversity of response types does not inhibit prioritisation of timely and effective responses to genuine emergencies.''

ACT Fire and Rescue accept that most automated call-outs will not involve an actual fire, the spokesman said.

''Fire alarm systems are designed to alert occupants and the Fire Service to potential fire situations. Often they perform as required and there is no fire,'' he said. ''ACTF&R accept attendance at system-generated calls will mostly not be for a fire, however the value of alarm systems in the prompt alerting to a fire when one occurs, particularly outside of normal business hours, is of significant benefit.''

The United Firefighters Union said the malicious triggering of emergency alerts was frustrating for ACT firefighters.

But the ACT branch secretary, David Livingstone, said it was an accepted part of the job.

''Every time there's a call, whether it's an automated fire alarm, a triple-0 false alarm, or an actual emergency, our guys attend it as if it's an emergency,'' Mr Livingstone said.

''It's a pain but it's part of the job,'' he said.

The Emergency Services Agency launched a campaign last week urging Canberrans to check their smoke alarms at the same time as they set their clocks for daylight savings.

A spokesman for the agency said that regularly maintaining and checking fire alarms was the best way to avoid sending false alarms to firefighters.

1 comment

  • There is a simple solution to this problem, let businesses have an override system. If the alarm is then again triggered within a short period of time - say 3 minutes, then the firefighters must come. I have burnt my toast at work, which has triggered the alarm. They have to come even though the smoke is dispersed. At an old workplace they thought it was a false alarm but it turns out a car was on fire in the carpark. In that situation, even if you did the override the alarm would have gone off again. Surely firefighters have some sort of research on what period is safe and can allow businesses to use that override in those circumstances? Save them the effort & the taxpayers some money.

    Date and time
    October 09, 2012, 11:03AM
    Comments are now closed

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