The Grenfell fire disaster in London serves as a stark reminder about why properly installed and maintained working fire protection systems are so critical.
While the cause of the Grenfell fire is not yet known, the extraordinary speed at which the fire spread is widely believed to have been aided by the building's recently added exterior cladding. The catastrophe is similar to the 2014 Lacrosse Tower fire in Melbourne that also saw flames spreading up façades at a devastatingly rapid rate. However, the big difference between the two cases is that in the Lacrosse building fire, the fire sprinkler system played a major part in zero lives being lost despite a similar non-conforming cladding product actually fuelling the fire.
In the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, most jurisdictions around Australia have been discussing how to safeguard residents in high rise apartments. The biggest impediment to ensuring all fire protection systems are correctly designed, installed, tested and maintained is that Australian states vary in their regulation from basically having not much at all, through to quite mature and comprehensive regulatory regimes. A caveat to this statement is the overall lack of product regulation regardless of the State or jurisdiction.
NFIA’s view has always been that the design, installation and maintenance of fire protection systems and their subsequent certification should only be carried out by those with appropriate skills, knowledge, qualifications and experience. To this end, Australia as a nation quickly needs more reform in the fire protection and life safety space.
Following the failure of the COAG National Licensing project in 2013, NFIA calls on the Federal Government to establish a National Fire Safety Commission to lead the way forward on a national licensing framework initiative.
The National Fire Safety Commission should:
- comprise industry and regulators, along with the Chief Commissioner
- be the national regulator for fire protection companies, their operatives, service providers and fire protection products
- approve product for use for fire safety measures
- conduct audits of installations, at completion and throughout the life of the installation
- approve qualifications for registration/licensing of individuals to undertake fire protection work
- facilitate the availability and delivery of genuine fire protection qualifications to the industry’s workforce.
The National Fire Safety Commission should ensure that a genuine level of knowledge, skills and fire safety standards for people and products are defined, clearly understood and complied with to ensure the ongoing safety of the Australian community.
A national occupational and company licensing scheme should cover fire protection design, installation, service, maintenance and testing, and should be underpinned by nationally recognised qualifications. The development of a regulatory scheme must prioritise accreditation of a certification system for fire protection installation and for certification of systems maintenance milestones for the lifespan of a fire protection systems.
A National Fire Safety Commission should use Australia’s current training framework to work with state regulators and the Australian Building Codes Board to ensure a genuine and appropriate level of skills is delivered, such that the community can have the confidence that they are safe.
In addition to licensing all fire protection practitioners there are three major strategies for reducing the death toll in home fires which could be addressed through a National Fire Safety Commission:
First, more widespread public fire safety education is needed on how to prevent fires and how to avoid serious injury or death if a fire occurs. Information on the common causes of fatal home fires should be used in the design of fire safety education messages.
Second, homeowners or property managers need to install and maintain smoke alarms and residents must develop and practice escape plans.
Third, wider use of residential sprinklers must be aggressively pursued, which would require discussions with fire authorities and water delivery bodies.
An Australian National Fire Safety Commission can become the next step in Australia becoming a world-leading fire protection nation that offers genuine fire protection to all of the community.