Base let off bill for false alarms

The New Zealand Defence Force will not have to pay almost $30,000 for a string of bogus fire callouts caused by a faulty alarm system at Base Woodbourne, near Blenheim.

A New Zealand Fire Service spokeswoman said the Defence Force was excluded from a Fire Service policy that charged $1000 for a third and subsequent false alarm at the same address in a 12-month period.

The Fire Service was working with the alarm system service company and the Air Force to find a solution, she said.

"The air force is . . . doing everything they can to fix the problem."

Renwick and Blenheim volunteer fire brigades have each responded to about 25 false alarm callouts at the base since July, including seven in one day.

Both brigades respond to any callouts at the base.

On Monday, firefighters responded to three unnecessary callouts at Woodbourne. The first false alarm happened at 5.34am, followed by a call at 6.02am, and a third at 7.24pm.

A Defence Force spokeswoman said an independent fire engineer was reviewing the faulty alarm system.

"We are trying to fix it as quickly as we can," the spokeswoman said.

Air Force fire personnel will now monitor the base alarm system 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and seek New Zealand Fire Service support for all emergencies, as necessary, she said.

The New Zealand Fire Service can charge $1000 plus GST for false alarm callouts under the Fire Service Act 1975.

According to the New Zealand Fire Service website, the charges are aimed at recovering some of the costs of the fire service response, and should not be considered a fine.

It is also intended to be an incentive to reduce false alarms.

New Zealand Fire Service Tasman area manager Graeme Daikee said he would most likely waive the charges if a commercial operation had repeat false alarms under the same circumstances.

Earlier this month Renwick chief fire officer Murray Neal told the Express that the fault needed to be fixed urgently.

"Having appliances tied up at a false alarm means they are not available if an emergency call comes in," he said.

"For our volunteers, it means valuable time taken away from their homes or jobs."

Mr Neal was also concerned frequent false alarms might make people living and working at the base complacent and slow to act in a real emergency.

Before July last year, the Defence Force fire crew at Woodbourne responded first to calls at the base.

However, cuts to the service meant on-site firefighters worked only on weekdays from 8am to 5pm, leaving Renwick Volunteer Fire Brigade as the first emergency response outside those hours.

The Marlborough Express