Smoke detectors for new homes: Experts want more to be done for fire safety

File photo of thick smoke billowing from a HDB flat.
File photo of thick smoke billowing from a HDB flat.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Retiree Wong Chee Chiew, 60, who lives in a five-room flat in Tampines, is a model citizen for fire safety.

He has a smoke detector, fire blanket and fire extinguisher in his home, and tests the detector's battery and checks the gauge on the extinguisher at least once a year.

"Some people may say that is very expensive, but you cannot calculate your life's worth (that way). If a life is lost, you cannot get it back (no matter) how much you pay," he said.

But fire safety experts say home owners such as Mr Wong are rare.

While they welcomed the upcoming requirements making it mandatory for new buildings to have smoke detectors from next June, they stress that it is only half the battle.

Under the Fire Code, residential homes are not required to have fire protection systems, fire extinguishers, water sprinklers or fire alarms. However, the Singapore Civil Defence Force encourages home owners to have a portable fire extinguisher.

Experts called for more to be done to get homes equipped with extinguishers. Fire safety manager Nizham Keman, 48, suggested incentivising home owners through discounts for conservancy charges or home fire insurance premiums.

"Among all my friends right now, I can say none of them owns a fire extinguisher at home. Most people don't take fire safety seriously - they won't act if it is not mandatory, but there are always ways to encourage people to get on board," he said.

There were 2,818 reported fires in residential premises in Singapore last year. The fires resulted in 62 injuries - 26 smoke inhalation cases and 36 burn cases. There was also one fatality.

 

Indeed, many concede that a mandatory fire extinguisher policy may be hard to implement as they can cost upwards of $100 and require yearly inspections.

Protecting homes from fires is also a concern in Malaysia. The Fire and Rescue Department is in the midst of drawing up federal legislation to equip every home with a fire extinguisher. Such provisions are now found only in some state laws, the New Straits Times reported in September.

Once passed, those who purchased houses from 2012 could ask for a fire extinguisher from their housing developer. Others would need to buy it themselves.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2017, with the headline 'Experts want more to be done for fire safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe