One is an ionisation alarm. The other is a photoelectric alarm. Ionisation alarms have been the cheaper, more common device, and they are believed to be in most Australian homes.
But photoelectric alarms have been compulsory in other Australian buildings where people sleep — such as hospitals and hotels — since 2004.
Authorities have been so concerned in Queensland and the Northern Territory that they have gone out on their own to mandate photoelectric alarms in all homes. SINCE 2006 smoke alarms have been mandatory in all buildings in NSW where people sleep. Most building fire fatalities occur when people are asleep and a correctly installed smoke alarm increases time available for safe escape, but smoke alarms ain’t smoke alarms.
In New Zealand, retailers began removing ionisation alarms from shelves last year, after research and recommendations from Consumer New Zealand.
The United States is also introducing a tougher smoke alarm standard that includes a smouldering fire test that ionisation alarms are unable to pass — likely forcing them off the market by 2020.
Many other fire experts have also spoken out against ionisation alarms, including the then New South Wales fire commissioner Greg Mullins, who told a Senate inquiry in 2014 that they should be banned.
Fire and Rescue NSW can assist those physically unable to install a smoke alarm or change a battery. Contact your local Fire Brigade or call the Smoke Alarms Helpline on 1300 858 812 for more information.