Penalties for Damage or Interference to a Fire Indicator Panel or other Apparatus

On December 1, 2012, both the Country Fire Authority Act (Vic) 1958 and the Fire Rescue Victoria Act (Vic) 1958 were amended to include fines for people who damage or interfere with a Fire Indicator Panel or other Apparatus. The fines (measured in penalty units) are each 60 Penalty Units or approximately $9,900.00.

CEO, Firewize
28 Nov, 2017
Warning Sign - Fire Brigade Fines (Damage or Interference)

This guide has been developed in response to community questions in regard to the publication of amendments to the Country Fire Authority Act (Vic) 1958 and the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Act (Vic) 1958 Fire Rescue Victoria Act (Vic) 1958 published on December 1, 2012.

In particular, this guide seeks to highlight the implications of the addition of Section 106A of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic)  and Section 75B of the Fire Rescue Victoria Act (Vic) 1958. These additions introduce the concept of “Damage or Interference with a Fire Indicator Panel or other Apparatus” to Victorian Legislation.

According to communication from the Fire Brigades, the main purposes of the changes to the Country Fire Authority Act 1958; and the Fire Rescue Victoria Act (Vic) 1958 are to “reflect current organisational arrangements and clarify the command structures applying at fires, to increase penalties and create new offences to mitigate risks that undermine effective emergency response and community safety and to modernise outdated provisions”

Note: In addition to the amendments discussed in this guide, there were other amendments to the two Acts published (and have been subsequently published., Readers may need to refer to the legislation and related documents for a broader understanding of the subjects raised.

 

In summary the Emergency Services Legislation Amendment Act 2012 (Vic) was proclaimed on December 1, 2012 and introduced two new Sections (amongst other amendments) in each of the corresponding legislation as follows;

  • Section 106A of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic)
  • Section 75B of the Fire Rescue Victoria Act (Vic) 1958

A copy of the relevant text from each of these amendments is included later in this document.

Implications for Building Owners, Agents of Owners and Occupiers of Buildings

The implication of the changes in legislation is that people who damage, or interfere with a fire indicator panel or other apparatus may be exposed to prosecution and fines under this amended legislation. For the purposes of this guide, the terms “fire indicator panel or other apparatus” (“fire safety systems”) includes: fire detection & alarm systems, alarm signalling equipment, automatic fire sprinkler systems, fire pump-sets, emergency warning & intercommunication systems. Legitimate work likely includes inspection, testing and maintenance for short periods of time until the activity has been completed.

For longer periods, it is recommended to seek written approval from the Building Owner, Occupier, Agent and Fire Brigade before starting any work.

Section 106A of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic)

SECT 106A - Damage or interference with fire indicator panel or other apparatus

(1) A person must not, without reasonable excuse, damage or interfere with a fire indicator panel.

Penalty: 60 penalty units.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), interference with a fire indicator panel includes any action that causes the transmission of the signal from the fire indicator panel to be isolated, disconnected or disabled.

(3) Subsection (1) does not apply to an officer or employee of the Authority who is acting in the exercise of any power or in the performance of any duty conferred or imposed under this Act.

(4) If a fire indicator panel detects a fire and sounds an alarm, a person must not, without the consent of the Authority or reasonable excuse, reset the fire indicator panel.

Penalty: 60 penalty units.

(5) In this section-

fire indicator panel includes any apparatus designed to detect a fire or other emergency conditions and transmit the signal of that detection to the Authority either directly or via an approved monitoring provider.

Section 75B of the Fire Rescue Victoria Act (Vic) 1958

SECT 75B - Damage or interference with fire indicator panel or other apparatus

(1) A person must not, without reasonable excuse, damage or interfere with a fire indicator panel.

Penalty: 60 penalty units.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), interference with a fire indicator panel includes any action that causes the transmission of the signal from the fire indicator panel to be isolated, disconnected or disabled.

(3) Subsection (1) does not apply to a member of operational staff who is acting in the exercise of any power or in the performance of any duty conferred or imposed under this Act.

(4) If a fire indicator panel detects a fire and sounds an alarm, a person must not, without the consent of the Board or reasonable excuse, reset the fire indicator panel.

Penalty: 60 penalty units.

(5) In this section-

fire indicator panel includes any apparatus designed to detect a fire or other emergency conditions and transmit the signal of that detection to the Board either directly or via an approved monitoring provider.
 

The practical aspects of the changes in legislation are far reaching for people working on fire safety systems. For this reason, we have provided a three of application guides for Firewize employees and agents working on fire safety systems;

General Precautions

  • Consider the building’s use and occupancy
  • Undertake a Job Safety Analysis (“JSA”) prior to undertaking any work.
  • Complete a Safe Work Method Statement (“SWMS”) if required before undertaking any work.
  • Consider the impact of your work on the stakeholders of the building such as occupants, public, building owner or owner's agent before undertaking any work.
  • Minimise the extent of any isolation or disablement to only the areas or zones directly affected by the building work.
  • Minimise the time the fire system is disabled to the least time possible.
  • Get approval from the responsible person before undertaking any work.
  • Notify the responsible person as soon as practical when the fire safety system has been reinstated.

Frequently Asked Questions

In response to these amendments, we have sought input from each of the relevant Authorities as well as the Fire Protection Association Australia in regard to the subject matter contained herein.  The following responses to these frequently asked questions have been gathered either by drawing directly from the relevant legislation, written statements from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (“AHJ”) or publicly available material published by the AHJ.

Can a member of the public get fined?

The legislation is clear that ANYONE who damage or interferes with a fire alarm system (including break glass alarms, fire detectors, smoke detectors, heat detectors and the like) can be fined.  This includes residents of a Class 2 (apartment building), Class 3 (residential building), Class 5 (office), Class 6 (retail), Class 7, (car parks), Class 8 (factories) and Class 9 (public buildings such as healthcare, assembly buildings and aged care facilities).  This includes casual or temporary residents in hotels and short term accommodation.

What does the term “other apparatus” mean?

Subsection (5) suggests “other apparatus” is “any apparatus designed to detect a fire or other emergency conditions and transmit the signal of that detection to the Authority either directly or via an approved monitoring provider.”  Under this definition, this would likely include an an Alarm Signaling Equipment, Automatic Fire Sprinkler, Hydrant System, Pumps, Valves, or any part of these system that transmit an alarm signal to the “Authority”.

What does the term “reasonable excuse” mean?

The Act does not define the term “reasonable excuse” however a joint initiative of the Building Commission, MFB, CFA and the two primary monitoring service providers suggests there are grounds for temporarily disabling (isolating) an individual circuit or zone and ensure there are procedures in place for managing an (unexpected) isolated alarm.

hat does the term “interference” mean?

Subsection (2) establishes the definition of interference as “interference with a fire indicator panel includes any action that causes the transmission of the signal from the fire indicator panel to be isolated, disconnected or disabled.” This would also apply to “other apparatus” as established in subsection (5).

What is a Penalty Unit?

In Victoria, from 1 July 2004 the value of a penalty unit for a financial year is fixed by the Treasurer under section 5(3) of the Monetary Units Act 2004. The office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel (Victoria) publishes this table of values for penalty units. For the 2012-2013 Financial Year the value of one penalty unit is set out below;

Period (1 July to June 30) 2015-2016 2016-2017 2017-2018 2018-2019 2019-2020 2020-2021 2021-2022
Penalty Unit $ $151.67 $155.46 $158.57 $161.19 $165.22 $165.22  

Who can reset an alarm on a Fire Indicator Panel or Other Apparatus?

According to subsection, (3) and (4) the only authorised person permitted to reset a fire indicator panel or other apparatus is “a member of the of operational staff who is acting in the exercise of any power or in the performance of any duty conferred or imposed under the relevant Act.”   This effectively excludes a member of the public (including the owner of a building or agent of the owner) from resetting an alarm without consent or a reasonable excuse from the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) being the MFB or CFA

Can I disable / isolate a Detector or Alarm Zone on my Fire Indicator Panel?

Subsection (1) states “a person must not, without reasonable excuse, damage or interfere with a fire indicator panel.”  According to a document published through a joint initiative of the Building Commission, MFB, CFA and the two primary monitoring service providers states: “the temporary isolation of circuits or zones may be made if there is a fault or if work is being carried out in those areas and a plan is in place to reinstate.  All faults must be rectified as soon as possible.  Ensure procedures are put in place for ‘managing an isolated alarm’. We recommend you adopt a minimum isolation policy in the interests of public safety

Can the Alarm Signaling Equipment (“ASE”) be isolated? 

The joint initiative of the Building Commission, MFB, CFA and the two primary monitoring service providers states:

“We strongly recommend you do NOT isolate your ASE on site by inserting or attaching a ‘key’.”

Still Confused?

In practical terms, the legislation appears to have been used to date by the fire authorities to target high risk buildings and other buildings with excessive records of Alarm Signalling Equipment ("ASE") isolations over extended periods.  It appears the fire brigades take this matter seriously and begin their action to the building owners attention in the first instance via written correspondence in the form of a "please explain".

That said, it's very possible the fire brigade can levy very expensive fines on people who damage or interfere with a Fire Indicator Panel or other Apparatus.

If you need help with eliminating false alarms (one of the leading causes of impairments by building owners) contact Firewize and request a free consultation on how we can help.  You might also like to ask for a copy of our free guide "39 Hot Tips - Managing False Alarms".