Recently there has been a spate of tragic deaths due to house fires. This has led the NZ Fire Service to call for compulsory smoke alarms in rental properties.
NZPIF President, Terry le Grove, and Executive Officer, Andrew King, met with Fire Service Investigation Manager for the New Zealand, Peter Wilding, to discuss the matter.
Peter said that the people dying in these fires are frequently found some distance from where the fires start but have usually been overcome by poisonous smoke. Most deaths in house fires can be prevented if there are working smoke alarms in the house to alert people and give them time to escape
House fires for certain groups are much more likely than for the general population. These include the elderly, families with young children, Maori and Pacific Island families and regular users of rental accommodation.
The Fire Service statistics show that:
55% of residential fires occur in rental properties
90% of all fire fatalities this year occurred in rental properties
Of the 27 fire deaths in the last two years only two had confirmed working smoke alarms.
The disproportionate number of fires and especially fire related deaths among tenants makes it difficult to ignore this matter.
The Fire Service acknowledge that many tenants destroy their smoke alarms or take the batteries out. They believe that the tenant has a level of personal responsibility to maintain the smoke alarm once installed.
While new homes or those being substantially renovated are required to have smoke alarms, it is not compulsory in most NZ homes.
Regulations state that smoke alarms must achieve a minimum decibel level at the bedhead of bedrooms. The Fire Service believes that this means alarms need to be installed in every bedroom, as alarms outside bedrooms are not loud enough when bedroom doors are closed.
Peter said “There should be a long-life smoke alarm in every bedroom, and in all paths of travel between sleeping areas and exits to open air. Even if one alarm fails for whatever reason this level of protection helps provide early warning of a fire that otherwise become deadly.”
It appears that Government will look favourably on the Fire Service’s call for compulsory smoke alarms in rental properties. The NZPIF supports this proposal in principle, as it is a small cost for the owner and will not increase rental prices. We expect to have further information about this issue in the first newsletter for 2015.
The NZPIF is concerned that rental property owners are not made liable for actions taken by their tenants however. We would oppose any regulations that made it the landlord's responsibility to maintain the alarms once they are installed.
The Fire Service recommends installing long-life photo-electric smoke alarms because they offer the best protection for households.. These alarms are more expensive in the short term, but better value over the life of the alarm. The NZPIF is also working with the Fire Service to get special pricing of long-life photo-electric alarms for members.