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Firefighters to Stay on Sidelines

Tuesday, 25th August 2015

Pandora's box of problems for thousands of strata property stakeholders in the Sydney region.

Threats by firefighters to withdraw or to stand off highrise fires fuelled by illegal building products have set off alarm bells in the giant strata title sector.

Unsafe construction products are having a profound effect on tens of thousands of strata property stakeholders in Sydney, but recent reports have suggested their potential impact on vital emergency services should be of greater concern.

The Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Department has signalled perhaps the greatest worry yet, saying that the immensely dangerous fire conditions associated with the notoriously combustible cladding product may see firefighters take a less aggressive approach and "stay on the sidelines" of multi-storey blazes.

Australia's peak strata body says it is concerned the Melbourne firefighters position will be adopted Australiawide.

The head of Australia's $1.2 trillion sector says public safety in regions like Sydney continues to be threatened by the use of inferior, imported products within local construction, with fire dangers making up the greater portion of community concerns.

"The NSW and Federal Governments must get all hands on deck for this issue, before we see a repeat of previous catastrophic fire events," Strata Community Australia CEO Kim Henshaw said today.

The event Mr Henshaw refers to is the 15 storey building blaze which occured at Melbourne's Lacrosse Apartments late last year.

Investigations after the blaze revealed a widely used imported aluminium cladding product, Alucobest, which failed to pass Australian fire safety standards was the reason for the fire causing such a high level of damage.

Melbourne's Metropolitan Fire Brigade responded to the Lacrosse fire, and their first-hand understanding of the serious fire danger these unsafe products present have prompted a recent warning about firefighter involvement.

"I don't think it's at all unreasonable for our fire services to modify their response to be "less aggressive" to protect the lives of fire crews if attending a blaze where the compliance of building products cannot be assured," Mr Henshaw said today.

"Our problem is not with the firefighers.  This issue needs to be fixed quickly by Government.

"That said, a situation where a fire is fought less aggressively by the fire brigade could have serious consequences, not only for the financial investment of lot owners but, at its worst, for the safety of the building's occupants.

"Clearly this is not something that anyone wants to see happen but if these products continue to reside within the buildings and strata communities of Sydney we will see fire departments and officials all around the country continue to take tough stances like the ones seen in Victoria."

The Federal Government has just announced a working group to tackle the issue of unsafe construction products over the next six months, but the strata sector says that a separate effort must be made immediately to rid Australian homes and communities of hazardous materials.

"We've been calling for urgent buidling inspections for some time now and we hope this recent warning is as a catalyst for thousands of property owners to check up on their property now," Mr Henshaw said today.

"In time, we hope to see some good strategies come out of the working group that will right the ship moving forward, but it would be remiss to not do anything before the conclusion of the working group in six month's time.

"The longer we let this issue linger, the greater the risk being placed on Australian properties and their occupants."

For more information visit www.stratacommunity.org.au


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