Call for compulsory fire alarms

After the death of a toddler in a house fire, coroner Ian Smith is calling on the Ministry of Housing to amend the law to make it compulsory for landlords to install working fire alarms in all rental properties.

Mautua Latu died at her family home in Porirua one month before her third birthday in a fire started accidentally by her older sister. Mautua’s parents and eight siblings all survived the 2008 fire.

The inquest was told Mr Latu had left for work and Mrs Latu was sleeping when the early morning fire broke out. Four of the eight children had left for school when Mrs Latu’s 13-year-old daughter woke her, saying there was smoke in the house.

Mrs Latu called the Fire Service and managed to get all her children out of a window except Mautua, whose body was found by firefighters after the fire had been put out. The coroner found she died of smoke inhalation.

Almost one year after the fire, the oldest Latu child admitted she had been playing with matches that day and had flicked them on to a bed. She then left the room and fell asleep.

The police were satisfied the fire was an accident.

The three-bedroom one-storey house had no smoke alarms, the landlord said in his evidence to the coroner’s court.

According to the Housing Improvement Regulations there was no mention of the compulsory installation of fire alarms.

The Ministry of Housing needed to amend the Residential Tenancies Act to ensure landlords installed fire alarms in all rental properties and checked batteries on a regular basis during property inspections, the coroner recommended.

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