The burning apartment building from which Sydney student Connie Zhang jumped to her death had fire safety defects, an inquest has heard.

On September 6, 2012, a fire that started on the balcony of a Bankstown unit trapped the bright 21-year-old nursing student in a fifth-floor bedroom before she jumped to escape.

At an inquest on Monday into Ms Zhang’s death, the building’s strata manager conceded that Bankstown Council and Fire and Rescue NSW had ordered fire safety improvements be implemented at the complex before the blaze.

Peter Poulos, an agent at Home World Realty, said he mentioned the requests to the owners’ corporation but never tabled the documents in a meeting.

“We spoke about it, but we didn’t get it out and go through every item, no,” Mr Poulos told Glebe Coroner’s Court of that meeting.

Counsel assisting Stephen Rushton SC said the building was at one stage also ordered to carry out a fire hydrant flow test.

“And it failed,” Mr Rushton said, raising his voice.

Mr Poulos said this was true.

“We did the test because they (Fire and Rescue NSW) requested it.”

After the test was completed, Fire and Rescue NSW was not informed that the complex had failed it, Mr Poulos admitted.

Mr Rushton said a lack of hydrant flow was a problem when fire crews fought the blaze that forced Ms Zhang out the window.

A fire safety review in June 2010 found the building needed improvements to 67 emergency lights, 14 exit lights, 42 fire hydrant signs, six fire hose reel nozzles and three door closers, the court heard.

Mr Rushton produced a quotation dated October 2010 from a fire services company called Fire Scope and addressed to the building’s strata manager.

It outlined further fire safety defects, such as the need for additional sprinklers.

However, Mr Poulos said he did not engage the person who sent the quotation, and had not seen it before.

Mr Poulos said he had not seen a single fire extinguisher in the complex.

Meanwhile, a fire investigation expert concluded that the fire started in a waste bin, not an air-conditioning unit as originally suspected.

Electrical engineer John Gardner, who prepared an expert report for the inquest, said burning on the wall behind the waste bin was consistent with an intense fire starting inside it.

Last week it was heard that before the fire started, one of the apartment’s residents, Jason Zeng, was smoking outside on the balcony.

He told police he butted the cigarette out in an ashtray on top of the air-conditioner and later saw flames coming from it before fleeing the apartment.

But Mr Gardner said there was no indication the fire started there, even though flames had blown through it during the fire.

The inquest is seeking to determine the cause of the fire, response of fire and rescue crews and whether the apartment met fire safety standards at the time of the blaze.


By Warwick Goodman
  • It's to be hoped that the Coroner rules on whether any of those reported defects had any role in Miss Zhang's very sad death. I can see but one (the defective door closers, if indeed they were on her apartment, that might have contributed to her jumping from the apartment). I am not going to forgive for a moment a failed hydrant flow test but I am quite sick and tired of fire companies roaming strata properties in this country "selling" reports, generally based on CURRENT codes and standards (when entirely different ones may have applied to the building when it was built) claiming the installations are defective. Worse still, if they can't find something relevant in a later code or standard, they will claim breaches of the WH & S Act to drum up work.

  • How few comments on such a serious issue. Where are all the industry voices?

    Fancy not ensuring compliance with fire safety standards – not tabling documents. Just demonstrates the non-value placed on the lives of people as compared to all the other 'important' things, presumable relating to business and money.

    Until we look beyond self-interest and other 'things', until we look beyond statistics and stories and until we value the lives of all people, these approved 'disasters' will continue. And ever-worsening because no-one is ever to blame, no-one penalized and there is no deterrent to abysmal practices in building, in meeting minimum standards and in ensuring compliance with at least minimum safety standards.

    Why is there such silence? Rhetorical question – sadly we all know why!

  • Is this a photo of the fire effected building? There isn't any evidence of fire on the balcony, the windows and doors don't appear to be cracked and there is no visible smoke damage to the balcony?

    Don't the fire brigades in Sydney have ladders and tarpaulins for this sort of contingency?

    Will charges be laid against the manager of the body corporate?