90% of smoke alarms likened to 'driving without airbags'

SAFETY MEASURE: Former firefighter Adrian Butler is calling for the Australian government to ban ionisation smoke alarms.
SAFETY MEASURE: Former firefighter Adrian Butler is calling for the Australian government to ban ionisation smoke alarms. Contributed

QUEENSLAND has begun implementing some of the most revolutionary smoke alarm legislation worldwide, but the man at the centre of the changes says it isn't enough.

Deception Bay resident Adrian Butler is a former fire-fighter and used to sell smoke alarms, before he discovered the damning evidence that lead to the changes.

Ionisation alarms, which account for roughly 90% of households Australia-wide, were designed to detect flame, not smoke.

The problem with this is the deadliest and most common type of house fire is a smouldering fire, which can remain undetected by an ionisation alarm until it's too late according to Mr Butler.

The Queensland government has begun its 10-year plan to phase out ionisation alarms by mandating photoelectric alarms which detect smouldering fires up to 30 minutes faster.

"You're not allowed to sell them any more for new homes (in Queensland), but the legislation for rentals is what I'm most concerned about," he said.

"The most fire deaths occur in rental homes more so than homes that are owned; there is a correlation between income and house fires.

"If you rent, by law you must have smoke alarms, and compliance companies will come along and check them and tell the landlord that they comply with the Australian standard.

"Technically they do comply, but the Australian standards are flawed and the poor old tenants perceive that the ionisation smoke alarms are safe."

Mr Butler has been running The World Fire Safety Foundation since 2000 and has created an educational website,, to warn tenants of the dangers of ionisation alarms.

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services assistant commissioner for south-east Queensland Neil Reid said using ionisation alarms was like 'driving without airbags', but wouldn't declare them as 'unsafe'.

"The QFES has recommended for several years that household smoke alarms be replaced with photoelectric type smoke alarms," Mr Reid said.

"Where we differ from Adrian is he wants ionisation alarms banned.

"The reason we can't ban ionisation alarms is the Australian standard and the Australian building code actually still allows for them.

"By making it illegal to put them into a new home, it will effectively take them off the shelf in Queensland."

A spokesman for the Australian Building Codes Board said the Australian standard, which was reviewed in 2015, reflected international standards.

This comes despite the former Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council president Greg Mullins calling for a ban on ionisation alarms during the 2015 senate inquiry.

"The ABCB maintains that there has been no independent, peer reviewed, robust and verifiable evidence provided to it that would support the calls to specify one technology over another," he said.

"The ABCB is currently collaborating with Fire and Rescue NSW and the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council in carrying out comprehensive independent analysis of smoke detector technologies."

However, the ABCB has ruled out ionisation from being installed in commercial buildings, which Mr Butler says begs the question, 'why hasn't the residential building code been updated'.

The CSIRO has conducted testing on both photoelectric and ionisation alarms, but has only released data for photoelectric alarms.

The Caboolture News asked the CSIRO why it hadn't released testing data on ionisation alarms, but it didn't respond.

The Queensland government will launch a media campaign about the legislation changes in April, visit community-safety/smoke alarms/Pages/default.aspx for more.

Topics:  fire alarm queensland fire and emergency service

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