Smoke Alarms

About this Item
SpeakersGulaptis Mr Christopher
BusinessPrivate Members Statements, PRIV

Page: 21858

Mr CHRISTOPHER GULAPTIS (Clarence) [4.28 p.m.]: With winter in full swing I draw the attention of the House to a question that impacts directly on the safety of every Australian this winter: Are ionisation smoke alarms defective? Two types of smoke alarms are installed in most Australian homes—ionisation and photoelectric—and both may be battery or mains powered. Most Australian homes are fitted with ionisation alarms because they have been widely promoted for decades. In 2004 the smoke alarm standard affecting commercial buildings was amended to mandate the installation of photoelectric smoke detectors. That begs an important question: Are ionisation smoke alarms defective?

The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council is the peak representative body of all Australian and New Zealand fire brigades. In 2006 the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council released an official position statement. Clause 3 states, "That all residential accommodation be fitted with photoelectric smoke alarms; ionisation smoke alarms may not operate in time to alert occupants early enough to escape from smouldering fires." In August 2008 the International Association of Fire Fighters said that photoelectric smoke alarms "will drastically reduce the loss of life among citizens and firefighters". The Northern Territory enacted Australia's first residential photoelectric legislation. Since November 2011 photoelectric smoke alarms must be installed in all new Northern Territory homes. Almost everyone agrees that we need to install photoelectric smoke alarms.
      Last week I spoke with Mr Dean Dennis from Cincinnati, Ohio. Dean lost his daughter Andrea, along with three other students, in a house fire 10 years ago. The house was fitted with ionisation smoke alarms. Dean is regarded as a world expert on smoke alarm technology. He travels across the United States of America educating firefighters and senior fire department and government officials. He has been instrumental in numerous cities and States mandating the use of photoelectric smoke alarms. Cincinnati recently enacted legislation mandating photoelectric smoke alarms. Mr Dennis contacted me regarding the necessity of bringing this issue before Parliament. Recently I consulted with Mr David Isaac, a committee member overseeing Australia's smoke alarm standard. Sunday's Sun-Herald featured a story titled "Flawed detectors pass the test" and quoted Mr Isaac's statement, "Ionisation alarms are dangerous and the public have been misled into believing they are safe."
In April 2012 I wrote to Mr Mark Brisson, the Australasian President of United Technologies Corporation. United Technologies Corporation is the world's largest manufacturer of fire safety equipment, and the manufacturer of the ionisation smoke alarm in my home. United Technologies Corporation is the United States parent company for the Quell, Chubb and Kidde brands of ionisation alarms. I asked United Technologies Corporation at what level of smoke the Quell brand ionisation smoke alarm in my own home activated under Australian Standards testing. Despite four written requests it has failed to answer my single question. I sent an open letter to the President of United Technologies Corporation, Mr Louis Chenevert, requesting an answer.

The CSIRO is paid by manufacturers to conduct scientific testing of smoke alarms in accordance with Australian Standards. I have also written an open letter to Dr Megan Clark, the Chief Executive Officer of the CSIRO, requesting an answer to my question. I have requested the media be allowed to film the testing of ionisation alarms. The winter 2013 edition of the magazine of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association contains an article entitled, "Can Australian and US Smoke Alarm Standards be Trusted?" Copies of this article and of all correspondence between me, United Technologies Corporation and the CSIRO are being sent to every member of Parliament. Lives are at stake—we have a moral imperative to get this right.

Adrian Butler, Chairman of the World Fire Safety Foundation, is one of my constituents. He believes the test data held by the CSIRO and manufacturers is the key to saving thousands of lives around the world every year. David Isaac informed me that photoelectric alarms typically activate at between 8 per cent to 12 per cent smoke in CSIRO tests. At what level of smoke did the Quell-branded United Technologies Corporation ionisation smoke alarm in my home activate under CSIRO testing? Will the CSIRO allow the media to film its smoke alarm testing? My interest in this matter is motivated by the desire to save lives this winter. On that basis, I ask both United Technologies Corporation and the CSIRO to answer my questions.

Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted and set down as an order of the day for a later hour.