21 Jan 2013

Apartment building's alarms 'tampered with'

9:42 pm on 21 January 2013

The Fire Service is trying to find out who switched off an alarm at an Auckland apartment building damaged in a fire.

They say it is lucky no one died in the blaze, which engulfed a two-story block in Commerce Street on Sunday morning.

Four people had to be rescued by firefighters after the blaze began about 7am. Others jumped from the roof to a nearby building to escape.

Auckland area commander Kerry Gregory told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Monday that someone had tampered with the building's fire alarm since it was last checked.

"You have to have a special key to be able to silence the alarms and on some alarm systems you actually need a key to get into the back of the panel so that you can activate the system.

"But the buildings themselves are designed around having these early warning systems and it gives people very little time to escape if they don't get that early warning."

Mr Gregory said it is an offence to switch off a fire alarm and the council has been notified, as it can take further legal action.

The cause of the fire is being treated as suspicious, as it appeared to start in multiple places, he said.

Mr Gregory said staff have become aware of more buildings where alarms have been deliberately switched off.

He said generally, this is because the alarms may be too sensitive and are frequently triggered, so they are not repaired or replaced.

Mr Gregory hopes Sunday's fire should act as a warning to tenants and home owners - and if people know of anyone tampering with alarms to contact the Fire Service immediately.

Residents of the apartment building will not be allowed to return until the alarm system is working.