Page 2451 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 29 June 2005

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(1) recognises that the risk of house fires increases significantly during the colder months of the year;

(2) acknowledges that smoke alarms significantly reduce the incidences of house fire deaths;

(3) notes the importance of fire safety public education programs;

(4) urges the community to be vigilant regarding fire safety in the home; and

(5) requests that the government investigates the issue of compulsory smoke alarms for all residential dwellings.

Each year in Australia an average of 170 people are killed in residential fires. This year there has been an especially tragic start to winter with, in New South Wales alone, 13 people, including seven children, losing their lives in house fires in just over a fortnight in late May and early June. On Monday, a child was killed in Queensland. I am sure I speak for all members when I extend the Assembly’s sympathies to the families and friends of all these victims. While thankfully no-one in the ACT has lost their life to fire this winter, several properties have been severely damaged and the threat was there and still remains.

Recent research conducted by the fire investigation unit of the ACT Fire Brigade found that the number of house fires in Canberra rises by 16 per cent during the winter months. This can be attributed to a number of factors. With the onset of winter, many people take out heaters and other equipment that has not been used for a long time and which may have developed faults. We are all familiar with how cold Canberra can become in winter. Heaters become essential to keep warm and too often clothes need to be dried in the clothes dryer or on the rack in front of the heater, which, if placed too close, can start a fire in a matter of minutes. Many Canberrans also use electric blankets throughout the colder months that, if left on unattended, can again cause a fire.

According to the AAMI fire screen index published in June this year, more than a quarter of Australians, or 26 per cent, have experienced a home fire at some time in their lives. More than half of those fires started in the kitchen, and 44 per cent were caused by a cooking incident. A further 16 per cent were due to electrical equipment that was faulty or used carelessly. As we have seen recently, children, sometimes inadvertently, cause fires and suffer the tragic consequences. Children playing with matches and lighters accounted for 3 per cent of home fires, as did candles, oil burners and other flammable liquids or gases. In 78 per cent of cases the fire was confined to the area where it began. However, in 5 per cent of cases the fire destroyed the entire home.

With the number of house fires in Canberra rising by 16 per cent in winter, and in light of the recent tragic deaths, it is timely for the government to investigate the issue of smoke detectors in all homes, not just new ones or ones that have been extended by 50 per cent.

A sleeping person is unable to smell smoke and therefore cannot detect a fire. Nine out of 10 fire victims are killed by smoke or toxic gases before the fire brigade is even called, long before the flames reach them. That is why having working smoke detectors

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