Whanganui firefighters are offering to help anyone who has difficulty reaching their smoke alarm after Consumer NZ warned that ionisation alarms are much less effective than photoelectric alarms.

The Consumer report has prompted major retailers to agree to stop selling the ionisation-type alarms.

While they are good at detecting flames, ionisation alarms give much less warning of smouldering fires, such as those caused by faulty electrical wiring, curtains draped over a heater or a hot ember igniting upholstery foam, making it less likely people can get out of their home safely.

Fire and Emergency Whanganui fire risk management officer Jess Nesbit said people should check what type of smoke alarm they had.

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"The type of smoke alarm is usually printed on the rear of the alarm," Nesbit said.

"Most smoke alarms will simply disconnect from their ceiling mount by a small little twist left or right. The alarm type will be on a sticker or moulded into the plastic as text on the rear of the alarm.

"While looking at that, it's a good idea to also look at the expiry date of the alarm which will also be printed on the rear. If in doubt, replace your alarm with a long-life photoelectric smoke alarm.

"Remember to test your smoke alarm when you reconnect it to the mounting bracket by pushing the test button."

Nesbit said people who struggled to reach their smoke alarm because of age or disability, or who would like general assistance, should call their local fire station.

"Fires can become unsurvivable in less than five minutes so working smoke alarms provide you with early warning should a fire start in your home," she said.

"This allows time for people to safely evacuate while they can."

People were advised not to remove working ionisation alarms but to also fit photoelectric models, at least in hallways and escape routes.