ACT News

Increase in false alarms keep ACT Fire & Rescue busy

False alarms for ACT Fire & Rescue increased over the past year as a percentage of all call-outs.

However, Canberra's firefighters are not concerned, saying it's better to be safe than sorry.

ACT firefighters responded to more than 10,000 incidents in the 2013-14 year, but only 860  were actual fires, the latest Justice and Community Services annual report said.

There were 5752 call-outs for automatic fire alarms – most of which were false alerts – while about 1000 Canberrans reported fires that did not exist.

In June, the ACT government increased the fine for a false automatic fire alarm call-out from $750 to $1250, as well as expanding it to cover avoidable repeated call-outs to the same buildings.

United Firefighters Union ACT secretary Dave Livingstone said from his perspective, he would rather have firefighters turn up to a false alarm than not turn up to a real one.

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"Unfortunately, you can't create a fire alarm that guarantees there's a fire. When the fire alarm goes off, our people jump in the truck and they meet their four-minute response time," he said.

"They make sure they're there and if there isn't a fire, we pat ourselves on the back and hope the next one won't be one either."

Mr Livingstone said  the public should always call triple zero if they saw smoke and leave the assessment to the professionals.

"Members of the public need to have the safety of knowing that if they're concerned about something, they can call emergency services," he said.

An ACT Emergency Services Agency spokesman said certain classes of buildings required the installation of automatic fire alarms and as Canberra had a large number of such buildings, this resulted in firefighters responding to more calls than the national average.

He said false alarms from the community, provided with good intention, shouldn't be discouraged and the number showed a high level of community awareness.

"The community should always call emergency services if they have concerns about any potential emergency. Faulty automatic fire alarms that continually register a false alarm attract a fee for the attendance of ACT Fire & Rescue," he said.

There were fewer fires in the ACT over the past financial year, as bushfire numbers  dropped by almost a third compared with 2012-13.

Overall, fires made up 8.4 per cent of all ACT Fire & Rescue call-outs, 1 per cent less than the previous year.

The ESA spokesman said the lower number of incidents overall was good news for the territory, although it might be temporary.

"Much of the decrease last year was in bush and grass fires, which vary from season to season," he said.

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