By Mark Gowans, managing director, Wormald Australia
The consequences of fire in high rise apartment buildings can be devastating – I’m sure you’re all aware of the recent apartment fire in Bankstown which unfortunately ended in tragedy.
Apartment blocks inherently have high numbers of occupants and the prevalence of this type of building is growing in our urban centres. Strata managers, building owners and body corporate members have the responsibility of providing safe environments for the occupants of their buildings. While it is not always possible to prevent fire, every effort should be made to protect residents, and minimise damage to property should a fire occur. An important element of this is ensuring residents know what to do in the event of a fire, for example when and how to evacuate.
If you manage or live in an apartment block I’m sure you know it is not uncommon for smoke alarms to be activated accidentally, often due to smoky ovens or burnt toast. This can be frustrating for residents but unfortunately it can also mean that some residents ignore the alarms when there really is an emergency.
An assessment of a building’s specific contents, occupancy, operation and other fire hazards can determine the most appropriate fire protection to have; this could include smoke alarms, portable fire extinguishers, fire blankets, fire hose reels, exit signage, fire sprinkler systems, fire doors, and emergency warning systems.
Fire protection requirements vary from State to State and building to building so it is important that, if you’re looking after a property, you are familiar with the regulations and standards that apply to you. For example, smoke alarms must be compliant to Australian Standard, AS 3786-1996 Smoke Alarms.
Most apartment buildings will have fire hose reels installed. These provide an accessible and controlled supply of water to help combat a potential Class A fire risk, such as a fire started by burning wood or paper. Several fire doors will probably be in place, which can help contain fire and stop flames spreading throughout a building. It’s essential that residents are aware of the importance of keeping fire doors closed at all times. Evacuation plans and routes must be shared with residents and exit signage should be clearly marked.
Many buildings will have a range of fire extinguishers such as powder, carbon dioxide, water, foam and wet chemical and they all work on different types or classes of fire. Fire sprinkler, water spray, mist or deluge solutions can be tailored to suit the requirements of a specific building. They can automatically detect and suppress a fire, and the connected detection system will transmit an alarm to alert the building’s occupants and the fire brigade.
As with any safety equipment, fire protection equipment and systems should be regularly inspected to ensure they will function effectively if and when they are needed, and also to ensure compliance with relevant legislation and applicable Australian Standards. In NSW for example, the Environmental Planning & Assessment Regulations (2000) demand that each year an annual fire safety statement (AFSS) is prepared by a building’s owner or their authorised representative, then submitted to the respective local governing authority.
Please don’t be complacent – fire is a serious matter and those managing and living in apartments must keep on top of fire safety in their buildings. If you’re not sure that you’re adequately protected, contact the building manager or a fire protection specialist. The NSW Fire Brigade has developed a useful fact sheet for those living in apartment buildings – download fact sheet here.