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Afternoon coffee break results in visit from fire service – again

By Amber Allott

Smoke detectors triggered by steam are causing expensive visits from the Fire Service, in what appears to be an ongoing issue for Massey University.

Staff and students at Massey University’s Wellington campus were once again forced to evacuate late last month, after another fire service call-out caused by a boiling kettle.

This is the third time in a month the fire service has been called out to Massey’s Mount Cook campus due to steam triggering smoke detectors.

Most recently, Brooklyn station officer Greg MacFarlane says a smoke alarm on the third floor was activated by a jug of boiling water. As a result electric urns are now prohibited in lecture and meeting rooms.

MacFarlane says given the number of call-outs lately, further measures were also necessary.

“[We suggest] A relocation of detective heads – so they perform their function of detecting fire.”

Central Wellington station officer Mike Thomason says many smoke detectors rely on a beam of light covering a short distance and could not distinguish between smoke and steam.

He says its common for the Fire Service to attend call-outs caused by steam from kettles and showers.

With this in mind, Massey Communications Director, James Gardiner, says the smoke detector in question on Wellington’s campus would be swapped out for a  thermal detector – which were more commonly used in kitchens because smoke detectors were easily triggered by cooking fumes and steam.

The one being replaced had originally been installed above a sink, but the area had since been converted into a tea station, he says.

Gardiner says the university is hesitant to change the sensitivity of existing smoke detectors, as the purpose of the detectors is early detection of fire.

He says the university only gets a certain number of call outs before the fire service begins charging.

“The charge is significant, about $1200 per call out in Wellington, and naturally we want to avoid triggering that expense to the university and waste of time and resources for the fire service.”

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