A Northland advocate is behind a campaign to get deaf-friendly fire alarms installed in public buildings, after a deaf university student was left behind during a drill.

Whangarei's Kim Robinson, chairman of Deaf Action New Zealand, is driving the petition to make visual fire alarms - similar to what many deaf people have in their homes - mandatory in public buildings.

The idea was sparked when University of Auckland student and Deaf Action member Dean Buckley was left behind during a fire drill on campus on August 1. Mr Buckley, 21, did not know there was an evacuation going on until a fire warden approached him, after everyone else had exited the building.

"Dean's experience was scary for him. Sadly, it is not unusual," Mr Robinson said.

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Visual fire and smoke alarms emitted a strobe-light style flash. Home versions often had a vibration feature that could shake a mattress and wake a sleeping person.

While the home alarms were funded by the Ministry of Health, there were no statutory requirements for visual alarms in public buildings, Mr Robinson said.

Changes to the Building Code in 2012 meant developers and owners now "opt in" to installing the systems, rather than opting out if it could make it seem people with disabilities will not be working in the building. Mr Robinson said he did not know of any buildings in Whangarei which had visual alarms.

"Members of our group have told me about being left behind in buildings during fire drills, including while on toilets and during bomb scares," Mr Robinson said.

"This is an unacceptable state of affairs ... There's no reason today for building owners not to have visual fire alarms."

The petition would be passed to Green MP Mojo Mathers, who is also deaf. She will present it to Parliament in November See deafaction.org.nz/petition to sign.