Faulty products in high-rise buildings are making firefighting planning and efforts difficult and may cause the fire brigade to become ‘less aggressive’ when attacking fires on high-rise buildings, firefighters say.

In its submission to the Senate Committee into Non-Conforming Building Products, Victoria’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Emergency Services Board (MFB) said the risk created by non-conforming building products was “unquantifiable” and that this “makes both the MFB’s short term planning and response to fires and other emergency situations and its long term planning for resourcing and appliance needs more difficult.”

The highly combustible nature of faulty construction products, the MFB said, meant it “cannot rely on its fundamental assumption that buildings are constructed from products which comply with fire safety legislation and testing.”

What’s more, the Brigade said products which do not comply with fire safety provisions of the Building Code of Australia inhibit its ability to respond to fires which do occur.

It says firefighting practices are informed by training and experience that allow firefighters to determine appropriate actions in specific environments under specific circumstances, and that standard procedures in high-rise situations were based on well-founded assumptions in relation to the spread and point of origin of the fire as well as the nature of the materials present and their locations.

When responding to a fire at a building which contains non-compliant construction materials, however, “the MFB’s model of response is compromised as the MFB cannot rely on its usual practices and assumptions to control the fire and risk.”

“When non-conforming building products are utilised in the construction of a building, or compliant products are utilised in a non-conforming manner, the MFB’s standard firefighting responses may become counterproductive, and the circumstances would pose a significant risk to firefighter workplace safety as materials used in the construction of the building may not behave as expected during a fire,” the MFP said in its submission.

“Such circumstances may prevent or compromise the safe evacuation of premises, resulting in an increased likelihood of injury or death of occupants of the premise or responding firefighters. In situations where the MFB does not know if conforming products have been used, it is also possible that the MFB may need to modify its response to be less aggressive and therefore safer for firefighters because of an apprehension of risk.”

The MFB’s submission follows a debacle which took place at a Docklands apartment complex last November in Melbourne where combustible cladding which did not comply with the Building Code of Australia caused a fire to rip up the side of the building from the eighth floor to the 21st floor in a matter of minutes.

The MFB’s position is supported by the Australian Fire Service Authorities Council, which said responding to fires at buildings that contain non-conforming products increases response times and costs and endangers building occupants and firefighting personnel.

“AFAC is concerned about a risk to life safety because the use of non-compliant building products means that fires will spread faster, cause more damage, be more unpredictable and be less safe for firefighters,” AFAC said in its submission to the enquiry. “In some situations emergency workers may need to withdraw from responding to parts of a building where non-compliant products are in use because of a risk to their life.”

In its submission, the MFB said the primary effect of faulty construction products revolves around safety.

“The MFB asks the Senate Economics Reference Committee to recognise that the cost of non-compliant building products is an increased risk to life safety, and a related possible drop in confidence of property owners in (a) the safety of their homes and (b) the ability of the fire services to protect them,” the Brigade’s submission read.

“This is of the utmost concern to the MFB.”