In Australia, fire threatens the urban landscape too

by FM Media
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urban fire

It is time for new technically informed diligence when dealing with fire in Australia – in the bush of course, but also in the urban setting.

London’s Grenfell Tower Inquiry identified the need for a new role for fire safety engineers in buildings and infrastructure in Australia. As we further understand the avoidable Grenfell Tower fire, it is timely to address the question of what building fire risks persist in the Australian urban landscape.

On 4 February, the Warren Centre is hosting a fire safety engineering seminar at the University of Sydney to identify the issues and present solutions with future steps to avoid the risk of urban fire disaster.

The seminar will highlight new insights into regulatory reforms for fire safety and offer a forum for industry experts, regulators, academics and consultants to exchange ideas and support improvements for public safety.

Urban Australia is not spared from the risk of fire, and we should not assume that distance from the bush offers absolute protection from the catastrophic impact of fire. As the Grenfell disaster in the UK showed, the potential for urban fire fatalities could in fact be higher than those experienced by the recent raging bush fires.

The devastation that fire brings to the Australian landscape is all too well-known by the public. The events over the 2019-20 summer, by clear evidence the worst bushfire season ever, only reinforce the need for proper regulation and planning for fire safety in apartment towers, commercial high rises and other high-risk buildings.  The impetus for action should not be contained to bush fire management.

In the awful aftermath of the December and January fires, the urban backdrop may appear detached from the threat of fires, but this is not the case. The Grenfell disaster of 2017 brought to the forefront the flawed system of fire design regulation and public safety.  Australia’s own Lacrosse and Neo200 fires showed the potential for rapidly developing fire incidents. Australia is not immune to a potential urban fire crisis, with too many poor practices and unacceptable risks.

What can be done?  Through detailed analysis including expert inputs from industry, academia and government, the Warren Centre has identified the urgent need for professional engineers to restore confidence in the built environment.

The Warren Centre report on the future roles of fire safety engineers to meet the recommendations of the Shergold/Weir inquiry was released at the end of 2019 as an interim report for industry consideration. Work is ongoing to define the new competencies required to ensure all fire safety engineers can be nationally registered in the future. Proper registration of engineers has been shown to improve safety, health and public welfare, as well as reinforce a system that gives employers, clients and the public confidence in the skills of engineers.

Fire safety engineers can be undervalued in the design process of buildings, only being required to look at narrowly selected parts of the overall building and fire safety design.  It is little wonder then that building fire safety can be compromised or that owners and tenants are unclear about their responsibilities for fire safety management and maintenance.

Details for the 4 February seminar and the Warren Centre research can be found out by clicking here. Copies of the latest ‘Interim Roles Report’ from the Warren Centre and the earlier reports can be downloaded free by clicking here.

Image: Wiki Commons © Brandon Butterworth (CC BY-SA)

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