Fire Rescue Victoria

Fatal fire threat prompts smoke alarm warning

21/07/21 6.53am

There was an increase in Victorians who died in house fires in 2020, a new report reveals, prompting an urgent smoke alarm warning by Victoria’s fire services.

Country Fire Authority and Fire Rescue Victoria data reveals 22 people died in preventable Victorian house fires in 2020, an increase from 16 the year before, and above the long-term annual average of 18.

The majority of the fires started at night, between 9pm and 6am, with 72 per cent starting in living areas and bedrooms. Of note, half of the 18 properties where the fires broke out did not have working smoke alarms.

Firefighters say these tragic deaths reinforce CFA and FRV firefighters’ recommendation to install interconnected smoke alarms in all bedrooms, living areas and hallways.

CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said installing interconnected smoke alarms would ensure that when any alarm activated, all smoke alarms in your home would sound.

“There is a clear increase in fatal fire risk in the rooms where people sleep and rest, with our data showing that over the past decade, fatal fires have most commonly started in bedrooms and living areas,” he said.

“We know only one-in-five Victorians have a smoke alarm in any bedroom and around 60 per cent have a smoke alarm in any living area.

“We want people to be aware there is a real and dangerous threat of fire in bedrooms and living areas because that’s where we most commonly see fatal house fires start.”

Acting Fire Rescue Commissioner Ken Brown said these heartbreaking and preventable deaths demonstrated why it was so important for Victorians to have working smoke alarms in their homes.

“Working smoke alarms offer you the best chance of surviving a fire, and without one your risk of dying in a house fire dramatically increases,” Acting Commissioner Brown said.

“We know most fatal fires start at night, and the smell of smoke will not wake you up, so it is crucial you have smoke alarms in all bedrooms, living areas and hallways.”

“For the best protection, smoke alarms should be interconnected so that all alarms sound in the event of a fire.”

In the past decade, Victorian firefighters have responded to more than 32,000 residential fires.

Statistics show that in the past 10 years, the kitchen was the most common room of fire ignition for non-fatal incidents, however fires that caused serious injury or death most commonly started in lounge and bedroom areas.

Victorians can purchase interconnected smoke alarms at most local hardware stores. Some are connected wirelessly, which don’t require hardwiring by an electrician.

For more information about smoke alarms, visit https://www.frv.vic.gov.au/smoke-alarms or www.cfa.vic.gov.au/silenceisdeadly

Victorian fire fatality data 2020 and 2019 revealed:

• In 2020, 22 people died as a result of a preventable fires across 18 incidents.
• This was above the long-term Victorian annual average of 18.1 fire fatalities (2003-2017)
• 10 of these fire incidents started in the lounge area.
• Three of these incidents started in the bedroom area.
• One started in the dining area, one started in the garage area and the remaining three started in other or unknown areas.
• Smoke alarms were confirmed as being present at only nine of the 18 incidents.
• There were 15 single fatality incidents, two double fatality incidents and one triple fatality incident.
• In 2020, 67 per cent preventable fire incidents occurred between 9pm and 6am.
• In 2019, 16 Victorians died in 16 preventable house fires.

A new fire services survey of 428 Victorians revealed:
• Only 19 per cent of people had smoke alarms in any bedroom.
• 62 per cent of people had smoke alarms in any living area.
• 76 per cent of people had smoke alarms in any hallway area.
• Only 15 per cent of people had interconnected smoke alarms in their home.
• 62 per cent of people believed most fatal residential fires start in the kitchen area.

Smoke alarm tips:
• Victorian fire 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.
• Legislation requires smoke alarms to be installed outside every sleeping area and on each level of a house.
• 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.
• Smoke alarms should be interconnected so that when any alarm activates, all smoke alarms will sound.
• All smoke alarms, including 240v hardwired, should be replaced every 10 years.
• 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 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.

Reviewed 21 July 2021

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