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News: Smoke detectors compulsory for new homes in 2018

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In a bid to prevent fires from breaking out in high rise apartments, the government is rolling out an updated Fire Code, which requires all newly built homes to have smoke detectors.

Called a home fire alarm, the device costs between $60 and $80 for a basic version. Installation could cost another $50 or so. The costs will likely be borne by home buyers, though authorities led by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) are working with grassroots leaders to identify elderly and needy households that need financial help.

The battery-operated devices are designed to alert occupants when triggered by smoke and function independently - they are not connected to emergency services or a central fire alarm system. Currently, fire alarms are mandatory for commercial, industrial or mixed-use buildings above a certain size.

The interiors of homes are currently exempt from this. The change has been in the works for over a year and is not linked to any specific incident. But two-thirds of fires last year, or about 2,800 cases, were in homes. In total, there were 4,114 fire calls last year, the lowest number recorded since 1978.

When contacted, the SCDF declined comment.

 

LOW TAKE-UP

Mr Benedict Koh Yong Pheng, president of the Fire Safety Managers' Association, said the authorities have been encouraging the voluntary use of fire alarms and fire extinguishers in homes for several years but the take-up rate has been low.

Making smoke detectors mandatory in new homes will help raise fire safety standards, said Mr Koh.

"In many home fires, there have been cases of injuries or death due to smoke inhalation, which could have happened while the occupants were asleep," he said, "A localised smoke alarm will alert residents so they can react to the fire at an early stage."

Countries such as Australia have made it mandatory for new and renovated buildings to be equipped with smoke alarms.

Evidence shows alarms can help: In the US, the 2015 death rate from fires in homes with working alarms was less than half that of homes without them.

A smoke alarm should be installed in each room except the kitchen, said Mr Koh, but under the new rules, only one device will likely be mandated for each home due to cost concerns. 

 

Article by Ng Jun Sen and Toh Wen Li, originally appeared in The Straits Times.