Page 2452 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 29 June 2005

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on each level of a home makes such a difference. Smoke detectors act as early warning systems that help save lives by waking occupants and alerting them to the dangers of fire and smoke.

Published reports indicate that the risk of death in a house fire is reduced by 60 per cent if a smoke detector is installed and that the installation of detectors can reduce death and property loss, the latter because emergency services arrived at the scene earlier. Smoke obscures vision and causes intense irritation to the eyes. This, combined with the effects of the poisons in the smoke, can cause disorientation, impaired judgment and panic, reducing the victims’ ability to find an exit. And of course people waking from a deep sleep will not be as sharp as they normally would when awake.

Laws in every jurisdiction now require that smoke detectors be fitted in all new houses, but nationwide it is estimated that only 20 per cent of homes are fitted with the portable devises. Governments are working to increase this figure, and smoke alarms are now compulsory in Victoria and South Australia. In February 1998, it became compulsory for all South Australian residential buildings to be fitted with a smoke alarm; and, likewise, in February 1999, building regulations in Victoria made it compulsory to install smoke alarms in all residential buildings, including houses, units, flats, boarding houses, motels and special accommodation houses.

On 14 June this year, in a bid to prevent more tragedies as a result of house fires, the New South Wales government announced measures that include proposed laws to make it compulsory for homes to be fitted with smoke detectors. The measures will include community education, new radio and television ads and expanding the smoke alarm battery replacement for the elderly program. I would say at this point that the issues surrounding making the installation of smoke detectors compulsory are complex. Cost and how to police installation are all part of the issue.

Under proposed changes in New South Wales, from 1 May 2006 all existing homes, flats, boarding houses, motels, hotels and hostels must be fitted with either battery-operated or hardwired smoke alarms. Landlords will be required to fit smoke alarms to all rental accommodation, and all properties will need to be fitted with smoke alarms before they can be sold. The Queensland government is also in the process of reviewing its fire safety measures, which could result in smoke detectors being mandatory in all residences by the end of this year.

In the ACT smoke alarms have been compulsory in new homes since 1994, as they are in homes that have been extended by 50 per cent or more. But this still leaves a significant proportion of dwellings without smoke detectors. As I alluded to earlier, smoke alarms, correctly located in a home, give early warning of fire, providing residents with precious minutes or seconds that may be vital to their survival. Smoke detectors can give people time to respond and alert others to evacuate, to summon the fire brigade and more time for firefighters to save life and property.

Of course the installation of smoke detectors must also be backed up by the development of a home fire escape plan that is practised and understood by all occupants. Unfortunately, the AAMI fire screen index revealed that just over half of all Australians, or 56 per cent, had a fire escape plan. Most people, or 85 per cent, also believe that they would know the best response to a fire that started in their home. But, disturbingly, one

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