Smoke detectors: Photoelectric smoke alarm (left) and the Quell Ionisation smoke alarm. Photo: Marco Del Grande House fires this winter will unnecessarily claim lives because most homeowners have installed smoke alarms which pass a ”flawed” Australian standard, experts say.
The way the detectors, called ionisation alarms, are triggered means they may not send out the alert for vital minutes or may remain silent.
Such is the level of concern that an MP will this week make a statement in Federal Parliament warning of the need to check on which type is installed.
Chris Gulaptis, the Nationals member for Clarence, will urge householders to use an alternative type known as photoelectric smoke alarms which detect visible smoke.
He said: ”I have a moral obligation to inform people that where they think they may be safe with their smoke alarms, they’re not. Ionisation smoke alarms won’t go off until there is a flame while the photoelectric ones pick up a smouldering fire like a cigarette on a couch or an electrical fire and can pick it up hours earlier.”
Standards Australia even redrafted the requirements but the amendment was rejected by the building industry.
David Isaac, a member of Standards Australia’s committee for smoke detection, said the building regulator should specify photoelectric alarms or change the standard so all detectors must pass the visible smoke test.
The Australian standard allows an ionisation alarm to pass the standard test at more than twice the visible smoke level than a photoelectric alarm, he said.
”Ionisation alarms are dangerous and the public have been misled into believing they are safe. Some fires can smoulder for hours and an ionisation alarm won’t pick them up until it bursts into flames. If the ionisation alarm is not in the room where the fire starts it probably won’t detect it, even when it’s flaming, until it is way too late.
”In our opinion it [the standard] was flawed, that’s why we attempted to change it but it was vetoed by the regulator. Don’t underestimate the lobbying power of the manufacturers, we are talking about a billion-dollar industry and these corporations don’t appear to have a conscience.”
In the US, Boston Fire Department chief Jay Fleming blames ionisation alarms for ”as many as 10,000 deaths since 1990”.
Adrian Butler, a former fire officer, was partner in a franchise that installed tens of thousands of ionisation alarms in Australia but when he discovered they were failing, he started the World Fire Safety Foundation to alert the public.
He wrote last month to CSIRO, which conducts the tests, to ask if the tests could be filmed by the media but he has not had a reply.
Alarmed? Perhaps you should be
Ionisation alarmMeasures particles under one micron (invisible to the human eye) but not required to pass a test for visible smoke. A ‘‘flame detector’’ does not respond until more than 50per cent smoke in testing conducted by CSIRO. Installed in most homes.
Photoelectric alarmMust pass test for visible smoke — typically generated in early smouldering stages of a fire. Alarm responds typically at 8 to 12per cent visible smoke in testing conducted by CSIRO. Installed in most commercial buildings.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.