Fire in an apartment caused by a defective intruder alarm

Energy type: 
Electricity
 
Event summary: 
Energy Safety was notified by the New Zealand Fire Service of a fatal fire in an apartment that appeared to have been caused by a defective intruder alarm. The fire involved a downstairs bedroom in one apartment of the apartment block.
 
Accident ID: 
150807-03
 
Accident date: 
5 August 2015
 
Site: 
Domestic
 
Environment: 
Building
 
Voltage: 
1
 
Equipment: 
Intruder/Security Alarm
 
Accident type: 
Fire
 
Casualty: 
Fatality
 
Injury: 
Asphyxiation
 
Property damage level: 
Restricted to the room containing the equipment
 
Outcome of investigation: 

Energy Safety did not have the lead role in this investigation to the extent that its involvement was restricted to the investigation of the safety of the equipment.

The fire appeared to have originated in a security alarm which was attached to the rear wall of the wardrobe of the apartment.

A specialist Electrical Engineer Fire Investigator reported the following from his findings:

  • Based on his observations and examination of the battery it is believed that a short circuit occurred between the plates of one cell and, due to current flowing through that short circuit, the temperature in the immediate area has risen to the point where the case of the battery ignited.
  • The burning battery has ignited adjacent combustible materials and has then fallen, landing on combustible materials below it and igniting these.
  • He was also satisfied that the alarm units installed in other apartments in the building did not pose a fire risk. However, in order to maintain the integrity of the batteries, it is important when the alarm units are reinstated to ensure that the battery charging voltage is correctly set.

Energy Safety provided the following information to the apartment's Body Corporate:

  • It appears the fire originated in the alarm battery.
  • There were signs of deterioration in some of the other batteries taken from the apartment complex. Batteries do have a life expectancy which will be stated by the manufacture. This means that the batteries should be checked and replaced periodically.
  • Tests carried out on an intruder alarm unit from one of the other apartments in the same complex indicate that the charging voltage for that unit was slightly higher than required. Where the existing units are to be reused, the charging voltages will have to be checked by an Alarm Technician and may require adjusting.
  • A maintenance programme should be implemented to periodically check the intruder alarm units, including the batteries.