Devices limited in their effectiveness, say experts

While the installation of smoke alarms in homes will increase fire safety standards, they are limited in their effectiveness, said experts.

This is especially as the ones proposed for newly built homes starting next June are independent devices that are typically not linked to a central system or to emergency services - which would be a lot more expensive, noted Mr Dan Chong, director of engineering solutions provider C2D Solutions.

This means that even if the alarm sounds in one unit, residents in adjacent units may not be alerted because the devices are not connected to one another, said Fire Safety SG director Lili Pan.

Another concern is that the devices, being very basic, may result in false alarms, said Mr Chong. They may be triggered by activities such as cooking, smoking, fogging or even the burning of joss sticks.

And because each device needs to be tested and have the batteries replaced regularly, it could also be difficult for elderly residents to maintain and service their smoke alarms.

Ms Pan said: "There are many challenges involved for elderly or handicapped occupants to maintain their smoke alarm devices installed on the ceiling - which typically involves manual battery changes and pressing a test button on the device.

"Perhaps there should be someone to help install or maintain them for this group of users."

Mr Chong, an accredited fire safety engineer, added that able- bodied residents may overlook servicing the detectors too.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for property developer Frasers Centrepoint argued that a well laid-out escape route would be more useful as compared with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers because no maintenance is required.

Mr Chong added that the authorities should properly consider the potential pitfalls of such systems before rolling out the new devices.

"From a safety point of view, these smoke alarms are a good idea. But they have to be sustainable - the implementation is crucial."

Ng Jun Sen

Toh Wen Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2017, with the headline 'Devices limited in their effectiveness, say experts'. Print Edition | Subscribe