Fire Sprinklers for your home, Electrical Vehicles on Fire, New Legislation and more…

Fire Australia is a national conference on Fire Protection hosted by the Fire Protection Association (FPA) Australia. The conference was held in Darling Harbour, Sydney with speakers from Australia and around the world. This is a summary of some of the presentations.

In America the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) facilitates the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition.

The Coalition was founded in 1996 in response to the tremendous need to inform the public about the life-saving value of home fire sprinkler protection.

The presenter from America spoke about the planning controls that either permitted or restricted the use of home fire sprinklers in new buildings. Planning is controlled at the County level with guiding principles set down by Each State. There are some Counties that have a current requirement to install home fire sprinklers protection in all new homes. There are some States that have strictly prohibited Counties in their State making home fire sprinkler systems a requirement for new homes. It appears that their planning system is even less cohesive than in Australia.

Did you know

• Fire kills more people in America annually than all natural disasters combined. More than 3,000 people perish in fires each year. More than 80% of those fire deaths occur in our homes.

• Home fires often happen at night when people are sleeping. In three minutes, a room can become engulfed in flames before anyone awakens. This video shows how quickly a simple fire can engulf a room.

• Those at highest risk are the very young, older adults and the disabled, who may have difficulty making a quick escape.

• Fire Sprinklers and smoke alarms together cut your risk of dying in a home fire by 80% relative to having neither – a saving of thousands of lives a year.

While these are American statistics they have parallels to Australia statistics.

Some homeowners are reluctant to install fire sprinklers because they don’t know the facts about their operation.

Myth: The water damage from fire sprinklers is worse than a fire.
Fact: A fire sprinkler activates during the early stages of a fire before it grows and spreads. A sprinkler will control or extinguish a fire with a tiny fraction of the water that would be used by fire department hoses. Typically, only the sprinkler closest to the fire will activate, spraying water directly on the fire, not the rest of the house.

Myth: Fire sprinklers go off accidentally, causing unnecessary water damage.
Fact: Accidental fire sprinkler discharge is extremely rare. One study concluded that home fire sprinkler accidents are no more likely or severe than standard home plumbing mishaps.

A representative from one of the Government Housing Departments mentioned that in NSW the Public Housing Department was retrofitting sprinklers into group homes, units and apartments for around $2,000 per home. This is a small price to pay to save your family’s life? If you are building a new home consider installing home fire sprinklers, I know I will.

Find out more buy visiting their website or reading this brochure.

There have been a number of fires in NSW that have resulted in the NSW Government undertaking an independent review of building regulations. This review is called the Lambert Report finalised in late 2015. These reforms were because of a number of fires including:

• The Bankstown Apartment Fire in 2012, where two women were forced to jump from a 5th storey window, one dying and one being permanently disabled. This building was only 4 years old at the time of the fire.
• The Quackers Hill Aged Care fire in 2011, where 11 people died.

As a result of the report the NSW Government is strengthening the requirement for certification of staff undertaking the inspection and testing of fire protection equipment. It is understood that their legislation will state that inspection and testing of fire equipment can only be undertaken by a “competent person”. While this is common with many other states it is understood that they are taking the additional step of Gazetting the definition of a “competent person”. The Government is understood to be Gazetting that a competent person will be recognised by an industry accreditation scheme such as the Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme, FPAS.
The staff undertaking the inspection and testing of fire protection equipment at Fire & Emergency Services SA are all have FPAS accreditation.
There will also be an enhancement of the annual certification of fire systems, not just that they are being maintained but that they are still performing to the standard that they were designed too. While many states have similar standards this will be the most strict and prescriptive. Considering the life safety implications of failed fire protection systems this is in keeping with the communities expectations.
The Leadership team of the South Australian Membership Group of the Fire Protection Association (FPA) Australia will be raising these changes with the South Australian Government.

10 years ago Lithium-ion batteries were not as prolific as they are today.  Because of the nature of the batteries they are actually a fuel source for fires.  These are the batteries used in mobile phones, tables, laptops, electric/hybrid vehicles and for storage of power connected to the grid.

In America whole floors of large office towers are being dedicated to battery storage for the power demands of the building – part of a renewable energy solution.

The news has reported numerous fires with “hover boards” and Samsung devices.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in America has undertaken a detailed study on the behaviour of fire where lithium-ion batteries are stored on mass.  This has informed their design standards.

The presenter spoke about fire test demonstration undertaken with a mass battery storage unit.  The interesting comment was that the design of the system made it very difficult for them to electrically overload the unit causing a fire.  However once a fire was started with an accelerate it was very hard to extinguish, burned very hot and had the tendency to reignite.  As you could imagine the mass use of these batteries in buildings can cause a significant risk if they do catch fire through overloading or sabotage.

They have also undertaken a testing program that informed their education program on the fire fighter response to fires in electric and hybrid vehicles.  The presentation highlighted that to extinguish a fire in an electric car requires significantly more water than a petrol vehicle and once alight the damaged batteries had a tendency to reignite up to 5 days after the fire.

If you have an electric or hybrid vehicle you don’t need to be too concerned.  The risk is only once a vehicle is fully engulfed in fire.  It has equal or less likelihood of catching fire in the first place when compared to a petrol vehicle.

If you have a bushfire plan our only suggestion is that you consider where vehicles are stored during a bushfire so as to minimise any risk should the vehicle ignite.

The presenter highlighted some concerns that building certifiers were having with group homes occupied by disabled people and funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  It is anticipated that with the individual now in control of funding that more group homes will be established.  While not a problem for the community they do create some problems for fire safety.

Consider the scenario, there is a group home occupied by 4 disabled people in wheelchairs.  There is a full time career on site.  At night the residents are asleep and the carer is waiting to be called upon if needed.  A fire starts in one of the rooms.

Generally the room will be fully engulfed in flames within 3 minutes making movement within the building untenable.  In addition the smoke alarm is activated usually within 1 minute of ignition.  The fire service take on average 7 minutes to respond to the call and a couple of minutes to set up.  Therefore at best a fire fighter can be effective on site within 10 minutes of original ignition.

Therefore the carer is the only person available to evacuate the occupants of the building, an they probably have less than 2 minutes to evacuate the 4 disabled people.  Could you do it?  I know I couldn’t!  This scenario would therefore result in 2 or 3 disabled people dying.

The provision of home fire sprinkler systems in the building would be the outcome of a risk analyses conducted of the building.

Did you know that the classification of the building under the National Construction Code (previously the Building Code of Australia/BCA) changes from a home to a health care building.  This requires additional fire protection measures be installed, such as the provision of fire sprinkler systems!

The presenter was raising awareness in the industry of the demand for fire sprinkler systems in this type of building.  It is anticipated that the awareness will also need to be raised with the Council’s approving this type of building, the providers of these services and with the National Disability Insurance Scheme administrator.

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