Queenstown’s false alarms ‘out of control’


Queenstown’s fire chief says the number of false callouts attended by the brigade is “virtually out of control”.

Mountain Scene revealed in March the shocking number of false alarms attended by the resort’s volunteer firefighters.

It’s more than any other volunteer brigade in the country - twice the national average.

And six months later things haven’t improved an inch.

Queenstown chief fire officer Terry O’Connell says contractors failing to isolate areas as they work on buildings in the boom time is a problem, along with the old issue of burnt food.

“The false alarm rate is the big drain and a waste of time - it’s virtually out of control.

“Contractors not isolating an area is a big one.

“It’s frustrating. The fire service are trying to sort it but haven’t been successful at this point.”

O’Connell says of the 270 calls attended last year, the majority were to false alarms.

He’s not concerned about the rapid expansion of housing and commercial property in Queenstown in terms of fires.

“The new buildings are well protected with alarm systems and modern retardant materials, and housing is the same.”

But it’s not likely to help with the false alarm rate.

“Don’t get me wrong, we’d get out to help anyone who needs help but when you get those sorts of numbers of false alarms you do question what’s going on.”

There are around 40 volunteers for the Queenstown station, and 20 each at Arrowtown and Frankton, where the false alarm rate was 35 per cent last year.

The national average is 25 per cent.

Numbers of volunteers are increasing due to the dynamics of where people live, with experienced volunteers relocating to Shotover Country and Lake Hayes.

Volunteers often have to leave their jobs at a moment’s notice.

“Providing cover night and day is always a challenge - we get a lot of people wanting to volunteer but it depends where we need them.”

O’Connell says the brigade hasn’t made a submission on the Fire Services Review discussion document, which presents options to modernise the service.

He says their views were put forward by the United Fire Brigades’ Association.

Minister of Internal Affairs Peter Dunne intends to take a paper to cabinet for a decision in early November.