Moves to hose down fire callout crisis

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Queenstown’s fire crews attend more false alarm callouts than any volunteer brigade in the country.

Figures provided to Mountain Scene reveal more than a half of the Queenstown brigade’s callouts are  false alarms - twice the national average.

In the year to January the brigade responded to 196 false alarms - the most of any volunteer brigade in the country by far.

The problem’s been smouldering for years, but it now appears the district’s fire managers have been given the resources to hose it down.

Most of the calls are generated by monitored fire alarm systems in buildings occupied by accommodation providers and big multi-unit residential complexes.

Fire Service Central North Otago area boss Keith McIntosh says it’s been an issue in Queenstown for at least 15 years.

The Frankton brigade’s false alarm rate is also high at 35 per cent during the same period, well above the national average of 25 per cent.

Although repeat offenders get hit in the pocket with false alarm charges, much of the burden falls on the volunteer firefighters’ employers.

“Every time a false alarm goes, the onus comes down on the employer to let their staff go.

“For small companies, that’s a fairly big ask.”

With Paul Glanville’s appointment as an extra fire risk management officer to the region last year, the fire service now has the manpower to tackle the issue head on.

Glanville says he’s taking a collaborative rather than punitive approach.

In the past few months he’s been meeting with the worst offenders to identify causes - and then fix them.

“The goal is to get action rather than lip service in regards to false alarms.”

So-called ‘false alarm management plans’ between the business manager, the alarm servicing agent and the fire service are crucial.

Some businesses just need to upgrade ageing alarm systems.

But faced with a bill of around $30,000 for a new one, it can be a struggle to justify the cost.

Glanville says unnecessary callouts are a “huge disruption” for accommodation providers, he says.

There’s a danger guests will become complacent about “just another alarm” and not leave their rooms.

He’s keeping up the pressure: in the past fortnight he’s spoken to hotel association members and held a workshop with alarm servicing agents and their regional managers. Next month he’s holding a workshop for property, accommodation and body corporate managers.

ed@scene.co.nz