Theatre's amateur fire alarm finally turns professional

Mayfair theatre manager Bruce Collier holds a new fire alarm, while new wiring is installed by electricians Karl Thom and Toby Reynolds. Photo by Linda RobertsonIn the good old days at Dunedin's Westpac Mayfair Theatre, a call from the stage for ‘‘Mr Sands to report to the dressing rooms'' signalled a potential disaster.

Theatre manager Bruce Collier said it was a code designed to alert theatre staff that there was a major fire in the dressing rooms and the audience should be evacuated immediately through the front door.

But those days will soon be gone. Electricians began installing an estimated 1.6km of cable for a $20,000 state-of-the-art analogue addressable fire-warning system this week.

Mr Collier said because the theatre could be occupied by more than 100 people, an approved evacuation scheme was required under the Fire Service Act (1975) and the Fire Safety and Evacuation of Buildings Regulations (1992).

‘‘For several years, the New Zealand Fire Service has expressed concern about the evacuation scheme - particularly, the means of communicating the discovery of a fire and the initiation of an evacuation which relied on word of mouth and code words.

‘‘Finally, the crunch came. They would not approve our scheme unless a warning system was installed which was less prone to human error. It was, quite simply, find the money or face closure,'' he said.

Thanks to donations from the Nellie Milnes Charitable Trust, Bendigo Valley Sports and Charity Foundation, the Lion Foundation, and the Pub Charity, Mr Collier said a new fire warning system could be installed that would be able to tell staff exactly where a fire was in the theatre.

‘‘We are very grateful to the trusts and foundations which came to our aid as this was beyond the financial resources of the Dunedin Opera Company which owns the theatre.

‘‘Safety of patrons, performers and staff at the Mayfair Theatre will be enhanced thanks to their support.''

Mr Collier said the new system would be completed, tested and evacuation procedures would be revised before the busy season of productions began in late April.