Liu Xusheng (Lux)

A fire alarm was identified as false alarm in the University of Sydney / Lux

Albert Huang is an international student come from China. Now, he is studying for his bachelor’s degree in the University of Technology Sydney. A few weeks ago when Albert Huang was frying a steak in his apartment, the fire alarm outside the door went off. Albert and his roommates were not in a panic because this has been the third time the fire alarm rang since they moved in. The last two times are all proved as a false alarm.

“We couldn’t use the lifts when the alarm went off. I don’t want to run down the stairs from the thirteenth floor.” Albert said.

“What if it is a genuine fire?”

“It can’t be.” He responded with a little hesitation.

The alarm was soon ceased by the fire brigade. As Albert’s expectation, it was identified as a false alarm again.  However, after a few minutes, the building manager knocked at his door and informed him he has to pay $1250 as the fine of false alarm.

Albert argued the smoke detector in his apartment was removed by the landlord before he moved in so that it could not be his fault. However, the building manager insisted on the penalty. They explained the cooking fume might leak through the door and triggered the alarm in the corridor.

 The fire alarm bursts out / Lux

High false alarm rate

Australia has a high rate of false alarm since the Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) system was deployed. According to the Fire & Rescue NSW (FRNSW), there were approximately 48,000 AFAs last financial year, and 97% of the alarm was identified as the false alarm. So it is estimated that 46,560 call-outs were actually caused by the false alarm.

The 46,560 call-outs cost the taxpayer almost $143 million last year. Although the false alarm charge has increased to $1250, it is still unable to cover the full cost of an emergency call out, which is estimated $3083 for each false alarm. Hence, the government needed to subsidize approximately $85 million to the call-outs of the fire trucks.

An FRNSW spokeswoman said to The Daily Telegraph “AFA false activations have the potential to reduce the availability of firefighting resources and delay their response to a genuine emergency.” Many residents even remove the smoke detector in their accommodation in order to get free from the fines.

In 2013, a statistic shows that 9686 false alarms were triggered by trivial domestic incidents such as cooking fumes, cigarettes, poor ventilation, dust, and shower steam. The fire crews are required by law that they have to response to every alarm no matter how trivial the incident is. That means even if you were cooking in your kitchen or having a shower in your bathroom, it could also probably activate the detector and cause the fine of $1250.

Smoke alarm or smoke detector?

When Albert first arrived Sydney, he followed his agency’s recommendation and lived in a homestay at Homebush. It was a detached house with five bedrooms.

“I have never realized the detector is a problem.” Albert did not realise there was a smoke alarm in the house. “Nobody ever told me that.”

In fact, there is a huge difference between the smoke alarm and smoke detector. Smoke alarms are always incorrectly referred to as “smoke detector”. “People always get confused about these two widgets.” Tony Gu, a master of electronic engineer in the University of Sydney told the reporter.

Smoke alarm is a stand-alone device which is made up of a sensor and an audible sounder. People have to call the fire brigade manually when it went off. In contrast, smoke detector is a component of the automatic fire alarm system, it would immediately report to the fire brigade when it was triggered.

The installation of the two devices is under different regulations in NSW. According to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000, private houses should install a smoke alarm at least in each of the level. Whereas the National Construction Code prescribed that the smoke detectors must be deployed in the buildings.

That means the AFA system is only required to deploy in the buildings according to the law.

Removing detectors


The dismentled detector in Albert’s apartment/ Lux

Albert is not the only one who is living in an apartment without a smoke detector. Tony told the reporter that he has moved three times since he came to Sydney, and any of them did not have a smoke detector.

Only the second landlord asked Tony whether did he need a smoke detector in his apartment. “Of course not.” Tony rejected the proposal. He said he was used to cook at home. So he should not have to worry about the cooking fume if the smoke detector was dismantled.  “I love Chinese cuisine.” He said.

The NSW Fire Brigades ACT 1989 allows the department to charge for the false alarm. They said the charge is in order to motive the building owner or manager to maintain the AFA system. “The charge is a rob. ”  Tony said. “The smoke of the Chinese cuisine will definitely bankrupt me.”

The FRNSW said that the building owners or managers are accountable for the payment of false alarm charges. The department is not involved where owners forward false alarm costs on to a third party, such as hotel guests, department tenants or normal occupants.

“I even don’t know whom should I pay?” Albert said. The ambiguity of the obligation makes the policy more complicated. Tony said he was confused about the amount of the fine because the amount of the charge various a lot in each of the apartment he lived.

Tom Dabbagh, a building manager of the Plan 2 Strata told the reporter that they would hire specialists to inspect the fire detectors every half a year to ensure they are in good conditions. He also said the maintenance job requires relevant expertise. So they signed a contract with a fire alarm service provider.

However, Tony said there are two men in green overalls came to his door earlier this year. They inspected the detector and found it was broken. They said they would fix this later but they did not come back again. Tony said he was afraid this could bring him an extra penalty. So he called his landlord. The landlord told him they would never return.   “They did knock on my door, but they did nothing on the detector. ” Albert added.

Albert is still living in his apartment without any smoke detectors. He has formed a habit of plugging the crack of the door when he is cooking.



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