By ROSALEEN MACBRAYNE
Fire detectors could become a warrant of fitness requirement for caravans under new national fire safety standards now being developed.
The revelation follows a call for action from the Tauranga coroner, Michael Cooney, at an inquest last Friday into the death of a man on Matakana Island.
Peter Te Amo Kauri, of Hamilton, perished earlier this year when the caravan in which he was staying caught fire on the family's island section. The vehicle had no electricity and a candle ignited curtains.
Bay of Plenty-Waikato fire region commander Jim Stephens yesterday applauded the coroner's "proactive stance."
Regional fire safety staff were already working on proposals for fire protection in caravans, he said, and a report should be with Mr Cooney within two weeks.
It would outline recommendations for the Fire Service national commander, Ken Harper, to formulate a code of practice for caravans.
Mr Stephens said smoke alarms especially designed for caravans were now a requirement in Canada.
"We will be following up on the excellent work done there."
Ordinary domestic smoke detectors were unsuitable for vans because of their sensitivity in such a confined space.
The slightest hint of smoke from cooking activated the alarms too easily and people removed them because of the nuisance value, he said.
"We have been doing a lot of work toward evaluating the right sort of alarm for caravans. Many lives have been lost and we need to address that."
Carbon-monoxide detectors on the market were another possibility, but it was better to get people to use such detectors voluntarily rather than legislating for their installation, Mr Stephens said.
The numerous deaths from fires in caravans and sleep-outs in various states of repair and often without electricity were of great concern.
"If you live in a mobile home such as a caravan, your fire risk may be up to seven times higher than those who live in a house," he said.
"Once a fire starts, the lightweight construction and relatively smaller space contributes to the rapid spread of fire, smoke and toxic gases that threaten the lives of occupants.
"If you live in a mobile home, you must be extremely careful."
Mr Stephens said coroners were taking public fire safety very seriously and Mr Cooney's important support for improved standards should be endorsed.
The Fire Service was now pressing for smoke alarms to be made mandatory in all residential dwellings and "more stringent encouragement" should be focused on fire-protection systems in other buildings, such as commercial premises.
"After all, we all pay for a fire loss.
"Every fire incident affects the community, often leaving behind a huge financial, economic and social cost."
By ROSALEEN MACBRAYNE