Smoke alarms had no batteries

Last updated 05:00 24/12/2012
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Firefighters at a house fire on Brois St yesterday

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The fire service says a house which caught fire yesterday had smoke alarms - but no batteries in them.

New Plymouth woman Wendy Falconer woke at 8am yesterday to find her rental house in flames. Ms Falconer said she was woken by loud popping and cracking sounds and initially thought "the cat might be going mad".

She got up and realised the house was full of black smoke, so got out and called the fire service.

Senior Station Officer Nick Burke said two fire crews were called to the scene and put the fire out quickly.

The house suffered smoke and fire damage in the lounge area.

He said Ms Falconer helped slow the spread of heat and smoke by closing the door before she left the house.

He said while there were smoke alarms in the house, they did not have batteries in them.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

The New Zealand Fire Service website says staff attended more than 3700 house fires last year and in more than 2960 of them smoke alarms were either not installed or not working.

Meanwhile, a volunteer brigade chief has warned of growing concerns that staff are being sent to deal with medical issues.

Te Aroha's Lindsay Spooner says callouts are going to the wrong places "and it really needs to be looked at."

Fire chiefs are awaiting the findings of an independent fire service review ordered by Internal Affairs Minister Chris Tremain. A report into the $325 million-a-year operation, due later this month, is expected to cover the issue of medical response volumes.

Morrinsville firefighters were recently called to a baby born seven weeks' premature and having breathing difficulties because when the parents went to the ambulance station for help, the only ambulance available was out.

The fire service and St John have had a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on medical callouts since 2005.

St John operations director Michael Brooke said the service recently changed its system and now dispatched the nearest available resource to all life-threatening and time critical emergencies.

Fire Service assistant national commander Ron Devlin said the new protocols were working well, though he was aware of "teething problems".

Matamata fire chief Kevin Curtis said his team were unhappy about being called out because someone had forgotten to take their medication.

Te Awamutu fire chief Ian Campbell said extra calls were placing pressure on volunteers and their employers.

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United Fire Brigades chief executive George Verry said the issue of medical callouts was debated at last month's annual conference.

- Taranaki Daily News

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