Couple and company fined for false or misleading fire extinguisher servicing claims

A fire extinguisher service company, its owner and his wife have been fined a total of $60,000 on Fair Trading Act charges and have undertaken that they will no longer participate in the fire extinguisher servicing industry, following a Commerce Commission investigation.

Aero Fire (NZ) Sales & Service Limited (Aero Fire) operated primarily in Auckland and Hamilton, offering fire extinguisher installation and servicing to small businesses such as shops and restaurants. It pleaded guilty to four charges under the Fair Trading Act (FTA) relating to false or misleading representations made regarding the installation, servicing and maintenance of fire extinguishers and the need for those services. Aero Fire was fined $30,000.

Mira Singh, 62, of Manurewa, is the sole shareholder and director of Aero Fire. Lalita Wati Singh, 62, of Manurewa, is Mira Singh’s wife and worked with Mr Singh in the day-to-day operation of the business, including by accompanying Mr Singh on visits to customers. They respectively pleaded guilty to four and three FTA charges relating to the same conduct. They were both fined $15,000 and ordered to pay emotional harm reparation totalling $20,000 to complainants who have assisted the Commission’s investigation.

Between February 2015 and March 2017 Aero Fire and Mira and Lalita Singh told customers that fire extinguishers:

  • had a maintenance history that they did not have, for example that an extinguisher had been pressure tested when it had not
  • were installed and serviced in accordance with the relevant New Zealand Standard when they were not.

On one occasion in October 2014 Aero Fire and Mr Singh represented that a business’s extinguishers required servicing every 6 months to obtain insurance cover and meet Council requirements. In fact there was no legal requirement for the business – a gift shop – to have an extinguisher at all, and the Standard only requires servicing of extinguishers to occur every twelve months.

In sentencing in the Manukau District Court on 3 June, Judge Recordon said the offending was “very possibly dangerous” and “certainly dishonest”.

For the Commission, Chair Anna Rawlings said “the misrepresentations related to the operation and effectiveness of an essential safety device and created the risk that fire extinguishers would not be safe in the event they were needed for a fire. The victims were mostly small businesses unlikely to be aware of the requirements of the law.”

Since filing charges in September 2018 the Commission became aware of circumstances suggesting Aero Fire and/or Mr Singh were continuing to make similar representations to small businesses. Aero Fire and Mr and Mrs Singh have agreed to sign court enforceable undertakings to:

  • not be knowingly involved in the supply of fire safety equipment
  • not be knowingly involved in offering services connected in any way with fire safety equipment
  • remove Aero Fire from the Companies Register.

The Commission received 24 complaints about Aero Fire relevant to this proceeding, including some referred to it by Police. It issued a ‘stop now’ letter to Aero Fire in November 2017, asking it to cease engaging in misleading conduct.

“The Commission suggests that businesses who may have had fire extinguishers serviced by Aero Fire should consider having these inspected by qualified technicians who belong to recognised industry bodies to ensure that the critical safety equipment is properly installed and fit for purpose,” said Ms Rawlings

Commercial users should refer to Fire and Emergency NZ advice on installation and use of fire extinguishers. Potential risks include installation of the wrong type of extinguisher, e.g. using a dry powder extinguisher for an oil fire could cause a flash-over. Other hazards include inaccessible location, insufficient signage making them difficult to find, and having expired or faulty extinguishers.

Background

Fire extinguisher servicing

Fire extinguishers must be serviced in accordance with the New Zealand Standard for Hand Operated Fire-fighting Equipment, AS/NZS 4503:2005.

The Standard specifies that extinguishers are to be serviced every 12 months, but allows for 6 monthly servicing where extinguishers are stored in an “aggressive environment”, for example where they are exposed to corrosive atmospheres or intense vibration. The Standard prescribes requirements for inspection, testing, maintenance and surveying of fire extinguishers.

Under the Standard, pressure testing is required every 5 years to check for structural faults and corrosion, and only accredited laboratories may perform pressure testing.

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