Queenstown retains false alarm crown


Queenstown is the country’s undoubted king for false fire alarms.

But the Fire Service says progress is being made.

Of the 373 call-outs the Queenstown fire brigade responded to last year, 218, or 58 per cent, were for false alarms, figures released to the Otago Daily Times under the Official Information Act show.

The national false alarm rate average for the 12 months to the end of March is 26 per cent.

Fire Service Central-North Otago boss Keith McIntosh, who is based in Queenstown, says that figure’s about the same as 2014.

He says the Fire Service is making ground, particularly with repeat cases.

“We are getting fixes for some of the most problematic alarms – they are now experiencing fewer numbers.”

For the Fire Service’s Frankton brigade, 66 of its 167 call-outs, or 40 per cent, were for false alarms. That’s up from 35 per cent in 2014.

Arrowtown’s false alarm rate last year was 20 out of 90 call-outs, or 22 per cent.

Property owners are only charged from the third false alarm within a rolling 12-month period.

The worst offenders in the Queenstown area, with six invoices for false alarm charges, were the Hilton hotel complex and Kawarau Village and the Copthorne Hotel and Apartments in Frankton.

The Hilton complex was among the worst offenders in 2014 as well.

Hilton Queenstown boss Chris Ehmann says he thinks the figures relate to the Hilton’s DoubleTree hotel.

In the past there have been issues with false alarms, he says, and the hotel has been working with the Fire Service in recent months to address them.

“Under the fire department’s recommendations we are in the process of changing some of the equipment to further reduce and hopefully eliminate false alarms,” he says by email from Canada.

Copthorne Hotel and Apartments in Frankton didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Fire Service received $39,100 in false alarm charges from Queenstown property owners last year, up from $32,000 in 2014.

The bulk of that figure, $32,000, came from central Queenstown property owners, with $5750 from Frankton owners.

A further $33,350 was owing as at December 31 last year.

McIntosh says from April to June last year there was a “blow-out” of false alarms caused by building and associated trade contractors.

Building contractors are the major focus of a Fire Service education campaign right now.

McIntosh: “Once we nail that I think we’re going to see a downward trend.”

Queenstown has about 40 fire volunteers, while there are 24 each in Frankton and Arrowtown.

Fewer false alarms would mean “less disruption to their lives and to their careers”, McIntosh says.

There is no timeline for having full-time firefighters in Queenstown, he says.

That’ll happen “when the [volunteer] brigade can no longer provide the service”.

The government announced late last month it would spend $303 million combining the New Zealand Fire Service, National Rural Fire Authority and the fire functions of over 40 rural fire authorities to become Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

The merger will take effect from July 1, 2017.

Otago Daily Times