(09) 636 7113

First Fire

Systems Ltd

(09) 636 7113

Unit E

26-30 Vestey Drive

Mt Wellington


Source: NZ Herald 

Additional reporting APN


Firefighters are arriving at a third of their callouts to find they are false alarms - a problem costing the Fire Service and the worst offenders millions of dollars.


Details released to the Herald under the Official Information Act have shown fire crews have chalked up almost 15,000 unnecessary callouts since last July, amounting to around 26 per cent of the total dispatches so far.


At the end of the last financial year, the total number of false alarms stood at 27,460 - around 35 per cent of callouts.


The rates were highest in large cities - up to two-thirds of Auckland fire station callouts were typically false alarms. The Auckland addresses with the highest number of callouts were typically multiple-building sites with many alarms, including the Grafton campuses of Auckland City Hospital and Auckland University.


"In other cases the callouts relate to the inherent nature of the occupancy, construction projects, obsolete alarm systems that are being gradually replaced, incorrectly placed smoke detectors and so on," said Fire Service national commander Paul Baxter.


Schools also tied up emergency services with thousands of false alarms over the year to March, with King's College topping the list with 24 false callouts. Of the 2312 unnecessary callouts recorded across all schools and educational institutes in the same period, 71 were to the University of Auckland's Tamaki, Grafton and City campuses.


The university said the false alarms were linked to construction projects across its campuses and false alarms were inevitable.


The Fire Service could not quantify how much these calls had cost taxpayers, although one previous study referred to an annual figure of $46.2 million. The $1000 fine which came with a third strike provided a "small contribution" to the total costs of attending false alarms, said Mr Baxter.


When added, the total number of fines paid in the financial year to date topped $3.3 million, compared with the previous year's total of $3.7 million. Of the 4111 invoices issued this year, 3355 had been paid.


Mr Baxter said firefighters annually responded to around 27,000 false alarm calls, mostly triggered by automatic alarm systems. That number had remained consistent over the past five years, although it had dropped by 40 per cent a decade ago.


The costs were not limited to the direct cost of attending the false alarm and could extend to those who had to be called back on duty to cover the crew attending, the relocation of appliances between stations and overtime payments for paid firefighters.


"For volunteers and their employers, it means valuable time taken away from their homes or jobs," Mr Baxter said.


The Fire Service can charge all building owners other than private residences for false alarms, which he said encouraged them to improve their alarm systems.


"We are in contact with the owners of these buildings and work with them to resolve any issues that could be contributing to the calls."


Fines were waived in some cases, such as when building owners assured the Fire Service they were actively trying to manage the issue.



What you can do to minimise false alarms


Reducing the likelihood of unwanted false alarm activations is a process that progresses with the life of the building, starting at the design stage through to the occupation of the building. Each person must take responsibility in reducing the possibility of an unwanted activation. The most common source of unwanted false alarm activations are:


•  Lack of appropriate ventilation

•  Working environment

•  Alarm faults

•  Building contractors

•  Malicious activity.


Find out more about common  causes of smoke detector activations


Building design


A badly-designed building can often create unwanted false alarms. Lack of ventilation or extraction systems, or installing smoke reservoirs in kitchen areas can cause false alarm activations. The building designer should consider the use of the building and the daily living of occupants, particularly in apartment buildings, to prevent unwanted false alarm activations.


Fire alarm systems should be chosen to be specifically fit for purpose so when the building is occupied the occupants are not continually disturbed by unwanted false alarms.


Suitability of the fire alarm system


The fire alarm system needs to suit the purpose of the building. Putting smoke detection in places like kitchens, bathrooms, or places with a lot of dust that will cause unwanted false alarm activations should be avoided. Other types of detectors may be able to be considered in these environments.


Read this checklist to reduce unwanted false alarms


Building contractors


Third party contractors contribute to a large amount of false alarms. Building owners, building managers, and occupants should warn contractors about unwanted false alarm prevention. Any unwanted false alarm charge can be forwarded by the owner to contractors, or the person causing the unwanted false alarm activation.


Find out how building contractors can avoid unwanted false alarms


Fire alarm servicing companies


Contact the servicing agent for your fire alarm system for advice about reducing unwanted false alarms. Insist that the servicing company be proactive in providing advice to reduce unwanted false alarms. A short-term cost on the fire alarm system can save in the long-term as the associated costs of false alarms can be expensive.