Unwanted Fire Alarms

Have you received a false alarm account from your body corporate for an unwanted alarm lately?
Why does the owner, occupier or guest receive the bill for the call out by the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service (QFES)?
There are many buildings throughout Queensland who are subject to false fire alarms (or unwanted alarms). An unwanted alarm is when the smoke detector or heat sensor is set off by an resident or guest within a unit and is considered a false alarm after the QFES has attended the site and deemed the event causing the alarm would not have resulted in danger to the property of the occupant.
The QFES does not charge for alarms in the event when the cause is beyond the control of the building owner.
Unwanted alarm charges are issued to bodies corporate to encourage proactive maintenance of fire systems.
The QFES charges for attendance at unwanted alarms to encourage building owners or occupiers to be continually proactive in managing fire alarm systems. They are empowered to do so under the Fire and Emergency Services Act 1990 Part 11 Charges for services. Information available from the internet states that chargeable alarms include alarms activated due to:
1. Cooking fumes such as burnt toast;
2. Activities of workmen / tradesperson;
3. Alarm system malfunction such as a fault in the wiring, alarm panel or inadequate maintenance;
4. Alarm system malfunction such as a fault in the wiring, alarm panel or inadequate maintenance;
5. Sprinkler system malfunction such as corrosion, defective equipment or leaking system;
6. Detector malfunction such as a defective equipment;
7. The fire alarm panel in normal condition on arrival;
8. Attending QFES officer unable to locate the detector indicated on the fire alarm panel;
9. Building management resetting the fire alarm panel prior to QFES arrival and the cause is unknown;
10. Normal weather conditions such as leaving the doors/windows open;
11. Failure to notify of a test;
12. Incorrect test by service company personnel;
13. Poor building maintenance such as dust, cobwebs and insects;
14. Simulated fire conditions such as candles, incense, sparklers, cigarettes or smoke machine;
15. Aerosols such as hair or smoke machine;
16. Accidental operation of alarm;
17. Any reason that could have been avoided or foreseen;
18. Malicious activation of Manual Call Points.”
Unwanted alarms are charged to buildings that have an alarm monitoring agreement with the QFES. A QFES monitored automatic fire alarm is given an initial free unwanted alarm call in a 60-day period and additional alarms will be charged at a rate of $1,297.95 (this fee is applicable to the 2018-19 financial year). This has increased considerably each year in an attempt to reduce the number of callouts which puts a drain on the QFES resources and the tax payer funds.
It is general practice for most bodies corporates to on charge the cost of the call out to the owner, occupier or guest if an individual has caused the alarm activation.
Buildings that have particularly sensitive alarms should work on a policy for managing unwanted alarms and notify the occupants of the consequence of activating the alarm by way of newsletters, upon checking in to the hotel accommodation, signage within short term units, and corporate committee. This will help alleviate any unnecessary call outs and expense to owners, occupiers and holiday makers.
Occasionally, the individual who has received the on charge refuses to pay the call out, which in turn puts a financial strain on all lot owners within the scheme causing angst amongst owners and occupiers.
Owners have made application to The Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management for adjudication to have the liability of the on charged costs waived. In the ruling handed down 6 June 2006, REFERENCE: 0905-2005 the adjudicator ruled in favour of the body corporate stating:
“Previous adjudications have therefore concluded the installation of, and monitoring of, fire safety/detection equipment is not voluntary. If all relevant requirements were not complied with, then occupation of the relevant building would now be allowed;
The body corporate is the contracting entity, however this is in circumstances where it has no ability to refuse to enter the agreement or to negotiate the terms of the agreement. Its involvement or participation in the agreement is obviously required by owners, and is undertaken for the benefit of owners, in order to allow occupation of the building. The possibility of the QFRS entering monitoring agreements with each individual owner or occupier of a lot is so impracticable as to be simply impossible. Therefore in practical terms, a lot owner’s agreement to the provision of the services is implicit and attracts the operation of Section 118 of the accommodation module;
Further, a body corporate has no ability to control or intervene in AFRS callouts once the delay period is over. Once QFRS is alerted it will attend at the scheme.
Given all this, the applicant is not entitled to succeed in the argument that the costs cannot be passed on. While the invoice is technically sent to the body corporate, this is for practical reasons only. The service provided by AFRS is for the benefit of individual owners and generally for all owners of the building.
Given this, a body corporate is able to determine how to deal with charges invoiced to it by the QFRS. To pass on such charges to the relevant owner where the cause of the call out is determined to have been activity or other circumstances within their lot is a lawful determination by the Body Corporate under Section 118(3) of the accommodation module.”
The matter was dismissed and the owner responsible for the cost of the call out.
In order to alleviate unwanted alarms, investigate the policies of your body corporate and comply with the instructions and or warnings regarding alarms.
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