A Northland deaf advocate is a step closer to securing a law change to require visual fire alarms in public buildings.

Whangarei man Kim Robinson, who is the chairman of Deaf Action New Zealand, started a petition in August last year after deaf University of Auckland student Dean Buckley was left behind during a fire drill on campus.

Mr Robinson said Mr Buckley's story had caused other deaf people to share their stories, including sleeping through fire alarms in an actual fire in a hotel.

He passed the petition - with 737 signatures - to Green MP Mojo Mathers, who is also deaf, and she presented it to Parliament on November 7.


The petition was assigned to the Government Administration Select Committee who published its report on August 11.

The report recommended that the New Zealand Building Code be amended so that visual fire alarms are mandatory in public buildings.

It also recommended mandatory visual fire alarms are included in the upcoming reviews by the Department of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment of the current rules for fire safety and evacuation.

Mr Robinson said Deaf Action New Zealand was pleased with the select committee's report.

"I'm really confident the recommendations will be fully accepted without question as it's in the interest of public safety for everyone."

He said under a mandatory requirement, people who are deaf or hard of hearing would finally be able to use public buildings safely "without a risk to their life".

Mr Robinson said it is "huge leap" in improving public safety for all.

He was not aware of any Whangarei public buildings which have visual fire alarms.

Visual fire and smoke alarms had an eye-catching flash, which alerted people to a fire or emergency. Home versions often had a vibration feature that could shake a mattress and wake a sleeping person.

Other submissions were also outlined in the report. Autism NZ supported the petition as visual alarms may be beneficial for people with autism who have a hypersensitivity to sound.

The New Zealand Fire Service provided written comments to the committee and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment wrote in support of those points.

It said as well as fire alarms, public buildings must have an evacuation plan which sets out a plan for informing people and getting them out. Fire wardens are trained to check the building and tell people to evacuate.

It said this process had been successful in telling people who are deaf or hard of hearing to evacuate.

The Fire Service added all types of disability can restrict people in an emergency and this work provides a chance to look at fire safety for all people with disabilities.

Mr Robinson said deaf people could exit the building just as quickly as those who could hear as long as they had been told.

A response to the recommendations from the Government is due by November 6.