Page 2453 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 29 June 2005

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in 20 people, or about 5 per cent, did not know to call 000 in the event of a fire in their home.

While it has been proven that smoke detectors can and do save lives, the devices are only effective if they are maintained correctly. Residents need to ensure that smoke detectors are not painted over, as this may restrict the airflow into the alarm; that they are not located where there are continual draughts—dust or lint may cause the alarm to activate; that they are located away from the bathroom and laundry, as steam may activate the alarm; and that they are not disconnected from the electrical supply to overcome the nuisance that the alarms cause from cooking or smoke from an open fire.

When making the decision about the position of smoke detectors it is important to remember that they are intended to detect smoke before it reaches the sleeping occupants of the building. They should be installed on or near the ceiling, with special care being taken to avoid dead-air spaces. Of course a dead-air space is an area in which trapped hot air will prevent smoke reaching the alarm.

Studies have shown that 85 per cent of sleeping children do not wake to the sound of smoke alarms; so houses with segregated children’s rooms need interconnected alarms linking to an alarm near an adult’s bedroom. Smoke detectors need to be regularly tested to ensure they are operating correctly. Most smoke alarms can be readily checked by pressing a button on the outside of the alarm. The battery in most smoke alarms will also need to be renewed on an annual basis. Some smoke alarms will emit a warning sound when the battery needs replacing.

The new battery, of course, should be of the type specified by the manufacturer, as installation of incorrect batteries can seriously affect the operation of the smoke alarm. Under its new measures, I believe the New South Wales government will run specific campaigns to encourage people to change their smoke detector batteries when they change their clocks for daylight saving. The detectors should also be cleaned annually. This usually involves careful vacuuming to remove dust particles that may affect the operation of the unit.

Smoke detectors can mean the difference between life and death. Australian statistics show that, in the last decade, 88 per cent of fire deaths occurred in dwellings with no smoke alarms. Almost 59 per cent of deaths occurred between 9.00 pm and 6.00 am, when people can reasonably be assumed to be asleep. The elderly have a disproportionately higher fire death rate compared to the rest of the population, with those 65 years and older accounting for 25 per cent of the victims.

There are no specific figures available on how many ACT homes have at least one smoke detector installed but it is believed that the number of homes has increased in the past decade. While it appears that most people have heeded the vital fire safety message that smoke detectors save lives, there is still a need for the installation of these devices in the remainder of the residential properties.

Recent comments from emergency services minister, John Hargreaves, indicate that the government is considering legislating to make alarms compulsory in all homes but, as I said earlier, there are many complex issues around it and so it needs to be investigated.

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