Fire warning after mattress incident


Several people could have died in a Queenstown flat fire on Sunday, the Fire Service says.

A 28-year-old American woman while dragging a burning mattress from her rented Hallenstein Street flat.

The building was fitted with 10 fire alarms but none were working.

Queenstown fire risk boss Stuart Ide says the smoke alarms were missing from their brackets, had the batteries removed or disconnected from the connections in the alarm.

Fire Service area commander Keith McIntosh says had the fire happened early in the morning when people were sleeping “we could have been dealing with multiple fatalities”.

Queenstown fire officer Roydon Cullimore told the ODT on Sunday the woman had fallen asleep with her hairdrier on and woke up when her mattress caught fire.

Three fire engines and 12 firefighters attended the scene after the woman’s flatmate raised the alarm shortly before 1pm.

Ide says it was frightening to think of the worst-case scenario.

“People would look at a smoke alarm and think ‘yep, that’s going’,” he says.

“And yet somebody has gone along – we don’t know who – and disconnected the batteries and taken them off the ceiling.

“Why do people do that?

“If the battery’s failing there’s a warning device, which usually does go off in the early hours of the morning. You take the smoke alarm down, you put it on the table and you get a new battery the next day.”

Ide says the landlord replaced the batteries – and would have done so earlier had they known there were issues.

He says it was a timely reminder for landlords to ensure smoke alarms were checked.

Changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, coming into effect from July next year, mean it will be illegal not to have working smoke alarms in tenanted properties.

Housing Minister Nick Smith announced the changes in July, making landlords responsible for ensuring “operational smoke alarms” are in place, with tenants responsible for replacing batteries and notifying landlords of defects.

The Business Ministry will have new powers to prosecute landlords for breaking tenancy laws as part of the reforms, particularly where there is health and safety risks to tenants.

The injured American woman is out of hospital. Ide says he will wait until her health improves before he interviews her about Sunday’s incident.

While the woman tried to take the initiative by removing the burning mattress Ide says it’s not the right thing to do.

The mattress got stuck in a doorway.

“She, along with another occupant, had to go to a balcony on the first floor of the house to await rescue … because there was no other way out.”

Otago Daily Times