Smoke alarms in residential accommodation

Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW) has written to SCA (NSW) advising of its change of position on smoke alarms following research on smoke alarm performance.

FRNSW says the key findings of the research it undertook with the Australian Building Codes Board and CSIRO include:

  • The combustion of widely used synthetic materials produces faster developing fires with higher levels of heat and toxic smoke than natural materials (as used when smoke alarms were first developed), leading to significantly decreased tenability windows for the safe egress of residents.
  • Based on the research findings, there is no single type/technology (e.g. photoelectric or ionisation) that operates best in all typical home fire scenarios. Dual sensors performed best overall.
  • The research also indicates that current technologies may be incapable of providing enough warning in flaming fires and there is a need to improve tenability performance of smoke alarms in smouldering fires.
  • Due to the faster development of fires, the number, location and interconnection of working alarms is more important than the type/technology of installed smoke alarms.
  • Households and short-term accommodation can maintain existing ionisation and photoelectric smoke alarms until the end of their service life, at which time FRNSW recommends they be replaced with interconnected alarms in all bedrooms, living spaces, paths of travel (hallways, stairways) and garages if they are under the home’s main roof.

FRNSW recommends that smoke alarms should be installed in:

  • All domestic and residential accommodation and places where people sleep.
  • Buildings used for short-term accommodation and generally not requiring the signing of a lease agreement (caravan, tiny home, cabins in caravan parks, tourist parks, farm stay, holiday resorts, relevant boats, sea vessels and similar tourist accommodation).
  • Short-term accommodation (boarding house, guest house, hostel, bed and breakfast accommodation).

This position aligns with new guidelines produced by the Australasian Fire & Emergency Services Authorities Council (AFAC), which can be accessed via the link: .

Fire and emergency services believe that working smoke alarms will contribute to safety, irrespective of the type of technology used and that where more than one smoke alarm is installed in a property, they should be interconnected. Smoke alarms should be either hardwired (240v) or powered by a long-life battery.

These recommendations align with SCA (NSW) position of keeping those who live in strata properties safe

SCA (NSW) has been invited to discuss the current national position with FRNSW to understand the implications for NSW and how best to use this information to improve life safety. We will report back in due course.