Family’s narrow escape renews calls for interconnected smoke alarms

Saturday, 15 May 2021 at 7:50 am

A family of five from Wandin North’s escape from a house fire on Easter Monday has prompted calls from the fire and rescue services for Victorians to install interconnected smoke alarms in every bedroom, hallway and living area.

Data from Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) reveals most fatal house fires start in living and sleeping areas, but a concerning number of Victorians still do not have working smoke alarms in these locations.

Brendan Pratt and Amanda Bews and their three children were alerted to a fire that ignited in the downstairs storage area of their home and safely evacuated before fire crews arrived on scene.

“We went to bed as normal and just after 12.30am we were woken by smoke alarms in our hallways sounding,” Brendan said.

While their smoke alarms met the legal requirements, the Pratt family’s experience is why firefighters are calling on the community to install interconnected alarms that provide vital early warning during a fire.

“My wife, Amanda, and two of our sons evacuated. I rushed to grab our youngest child, James, who was still fast asleep in his bedroom where smoke was filling, and fire was visible as it travelled up the heating duct,” Brendan said.

“The smell of smoke didn’t wake him and regrettably, there wasn’t a smoke alarm installed in his room.”

“In hindsight, had we installed interconnected smoke alarms in our bedrooms and the downstairs area where the fire ignited, we would have been alerted much earlier and possibly could have saved our home.”

“When we rebuild, we are going to install interconnected smoke alarms in every bedroom, living room and hallway.”

Brendan said he and his family frequently checked their smoke alarms and changed the batteries, which proved to be life-saving.

“Our family is alive today because our working smoke alarms woke us,” Brendan said.

CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said this was a timely reminder for Victorians to install interconnected smoke alarms so when one alarm activates, all alarms will sound.

“Interconnected smoke alarms should be installed in every bedroom, hallway and living area for your family’s best protection,” CO Heffernan said.

“In the past 10 years, Victorian firefighters have responded to more than 32,000 residential fires. That is why it is vital all Victorians take the necessary precautions and install smoke alarms in the recommended locations.

“It takes just a few moments out of your day to test if your smoke alarm is in working order,” CO Heffernan said.

Fire Rescue Commissioner Ken Block said you were far more likely to die or be seriously injured if a fire started in your bedroom or living area when you were asleep.

“Within just 60 seconds, a fire can quickly take hold, giving off toxic smoke and spreading rapidly.”

“Interconnected smoke alarms in all bedrooms, hallways and living areas are your best line of defence, alerting you promptly and buying you and your family precious time to escape,” Commissioner Block said.

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A recent fire services survey of 1,250 Victorians revealed that:

  • Only 16 per cent of people had smoke alarms in their bedrooms.
  • Nearly half (44%) of people do not have a smoke alarm in any living room.
  • Just 17 per cent of people had interconnected smoke alarms installed.

Smoke alarm tips:

  • Victorian fire and rescue services recommend additional smoke alarms are installed in every living area and bedroom.
  • Smoke alarms should be interconnected so that when any alarm activates, all smoke alarms will sound.
  • The latest research by Fire and Rescue NSW indicates that in all their tests where the fire started in the bedroom with the door closed, the hallway smoke alarms did not activate at all.
  • Regardless of the type of smoke alarm you have, all smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years.
  • Legislation requires smoke alarms to be installed outside every sleeping area and on each level of a house.
  • Fire services also recommend the use of smoke alarms powered by a 10-year lithium battery.
  • Replaceable batteries in a smoke alarm need to be changed yearly.
  • Smoke alarms should be installed on the ceiling at least 30cm from the wall, or where installed on the wall at least 30cm from the ceiling to avoid dead air space.
  • Smoke alarms should be tested monthly as per the manufacturer’s guide, by pressing the test button on the alarm and wait for the test alarm to sound.
  • Smoke alarms should be cleaned at least once a year with a duster or vacuum cleaner to remove particles that will affect smoke alarm performance.