Dialling 911 instead of 111 still does the trick

Despite dialling 911 instead of 111, the actions of an Invercargill man might have saved his home from being gutted by fire.

Hayden Chalmers said he instinctively dialled the United States emergency number when he ran outside and saw smoke billowing from the roof of his house in Dome St just after 4am yesterday.

Luckily for New Zealanders who watch too many American movies, 911 goes straight to the 111 emergency line.

Five smoke alarms, fitted with batteries that were changed last week, were credited with waking Mr Chalmers' housemate and stepbrother, Josh Soper, and getting him out of the house.

Mr Chalmers said he was watching television in the lounge, where a fire was burning, after his shift at a meatworks.

"I thought I could hear a strange noise, but the TV was drowning it out. I also smelt a strong smell of smoke, but couldn't see anything in the lounge, so I went outside and saw smoke going up through the roof."

He dialled 911 and got through to the emergency services.

The smoke alarms woke Mr Soper from his slumber and both men waited outside for fire crews to arrive.

Four firefighters wearing breathing apparatus and using a hose reel entered the building and got into the roof to put out the fire.

Surveying the damage, house owner Stephen Soper, the stepfather of Mr Chalmers and father of Josh, said he was relieved the pair had escaped without injuries.

"It was probably a good thing we replaced the batteries in the alarms last week and 911 still got through to the fire department," he said.

"If the boys were not home, there could have been real trouble and a lot more damage other than to the area in the lounge."

The fire was an unwelcome anniversary present, Mr Soper said.

"It is one year ago today that I bought the house."

Fire investigator Mike Cahill said the fire appeared to have started in an area where some mortar had become dislodged from the old exterior chimney.

The fire unit was set into an old open fire chimney and fireplace site, Mr Cahill said.

"There was no problem with the fireplace.

"It was just unfortunate where this mortar had come out was not visible and right in behind some adjacent timber," he said.

"A buildup of heat ignited the timber and away it went."

He said calling emergency services was the right thing to do, but it was important people knew the number was 111.

"I suppose TV and movies, especially from the USA, may have something to do with that," he said.

The event also highlighted the importance of having working smoke alarms, Mr Cahill said.

Telecom spokesman Richard Llewellyn said 911 and 112 (a common emergency number used in Europe) go straight to 111.

Callers dialling 000 (Australia's emergency number) and 999 (United Kingdom) in New Zealand were diverted to a recorded message telling them to dial 111, he said.

The Southland Times