Fire Safety in Strata Living

A Collective Responsibility for Safety and Compliance

In the realm of strata living, fire safety is a paramount concern and the collective responsibility of every resident. Recent strata incidents across various locations underscore the critical nature of this issue:

  • A balcony BBQ led to a gas explosion in Collaroy on January 18.
  • A faulty lithium-ion battery caused a fire in a top-floor unit in North Bondi on January 19.
  • A kitchen fire broke out in a unit on Bondi Road on January 16.
  • A fire originated in a ground-floor unit on Boyce Street on January 3.
  • A devastating fire in a top floor unit in Meadowbank on 1 January.

These events highlight the ever-present risk and the crucial need for vigilance in fire safety practices within strata communities.

The NSW Fire and Rescue Service (FRNSW) responds to strata fires frequently, and while passive and active fire suppression systems often effectively mitigate these incidents, they also reveal potential vulnerabilities. These situations serve as a reminder that outcomes could be drastically different without proper fire safety measures and awareness.

As residents of strata properties, it is essential to understand the risks associated with everyday household items and activities. Each action carries potential fire hazards, from BBQs on balconies to the charging of electronic devices. Awareness and adherence to safety practices are crucial to preventing such incidents.

Moreover, it’s essential to recognise that fire safety is not solely the domain of the strata committee or external agencies like FRNSW. It is a shared responsibility, where each resident’s actions contribute to the community’s safety.

Regular maintenance of fire safety equipment, adherence to building codes, and staying informed about fire prevention methods are all integral parts of this collective effort. For information on fire compliance in strata, head to this page on the subject.

Common Causes of Fires in Residential Buildings

According to NSW Fire & Rescue, unattended cooking is a leading cause of residential fires, followed by heaters, cigarettes, candles, and electrical appliances.

Strata Safety Tips

  • Never obstruct fire doors or leave items on fire stairs.
  • Keep BBQs and heaters at least a metre away from objects, and turn them off when not used.
  • Be familiar with fire exits, stairs, and firefighting equipment locations.
  • Know your building’s escape plan, and practice it with your family.
  • Don’t overload power boards or piggyback double adaptors.
  • Avoid overcrowding as it increases fire risk.
  • Properly extinguish cigarettes in a deep ashtray.

Safe cooking practices

  • Don’t put anything metallic in the microwave; always double-check the timer.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of reach of children.
  • Avoid cooking under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Keep loose clothing, fabrics, tea towels, curtains and flammable items away from the stove.
  • Keep your oven, rangehood and grill clean and in good working order. A build-up of grease and fat can ignite in a fire

Safe lithium-ion battery charging and storing practices

  • Charge batteries only when awake and at home, and disconnect once full.
  • Avoid charging and using devices simultaneously in bed.
  • Use only approved chargers and avoid damaged batteries.
  • Dispose of lithium-ion batteries safely at designated recycling points.
  • Don’t throw damaged batteries in regular waste or recycling bins.

For more information, read our article on lithium-ion battery risks

In the case of a fire

  • Evacuate immediately and meet at the pre-planned safe location.
  • Don’t delay by investigating or trying to save valuables.
  • Avoid using lifts; instead, use fire stairs.
  • Once out, stay out and call Triple Zero (000).

Common fire safety breaches in strata buildings

Fire safety breaches are a significant concern in residential strata buildings. Typical violations can compromise the safety of the inhabitants and may lead to severe consequences in the event of a fire.

Understanding these breaches is key to ensuring compliance and safety:

Obstructed or blocked fire exits: Obstructed or blocked fire exits pose a critical safety hazard, as they can significantly impede evacuation and rescue operations during a fire, increasing the risk of injury or fatalities in emergencies.

Insufficient smoke alarms and fire sprinkler systems: Insufficient smoke alarms and fire sprinkler systems that fail to meet required standards can critically compromise a building’s safety, potentially leading to delayed fire detection and inadequate fire suppression, thereby elevating the risk to life and property.

Absence of fire-rated front doors: Fire-rated doors are crucial in preventing the spread of fire and smoke. Their absence can lead to rapid fire spread, endangering lives and property.
Lack of effective fire protection between units: Proper fire barriers between adjoining apartments or spaces are essential to contain fires within a limited area and prevent widespread damage.

Inadequate escape routes: Buildings must have well-designed escape routes, typically staircases, that are properly isolated from fire. Inadequate fire isolation in staircases can be a major hazard during evacuations.

Missing fire services: The absence of crucial fire services like hydrants and hose reels can hamper firefighting efforts and increase the risk of extensive fire damage.

Non-compliant ceilings and service penetrations: Ceilings must be fire-rated, and any holes around service pipes should be adequately sealed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke through these openings.

Non-compliant handrails and balustrades: Handrails and balustrades that do not meet fire safety standards can contribute to the rapid spread of fire, especially in multi-storey buildings.

Theft of hydrant fittings

Since November last year, FRNSW and NSW police have  identified thefts at over 38 locations in 12 suburbs, including Blacktown, Merrylands, and Eastern Creek. These incidents have seen the removal of approximately 850 kilograms of copper and brass from hydrant fittings, presumably for sale as scrap metal.

FRNSW is deeply concerned about the ramifications of these thefts on emergency response capabilities. Fire hydrant systems are critical for controlling the flow and pressure of water in a building’s fire suppression system. The absence of these essential fittings could render the hydrant systems inoperative, posing a serious risk to residents and creating significant delays for firefighters during emergency operations.

Given the gravity of the situation, FRNSW and the NSW Police are calling on all owners corporations and residents of apartment buildings to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activities immediately. The safety and rapid response capability in case of a fire emergency are paramount, and community vigilance can play a crucial role in preventing these potentially dangerous thefts. More on the subject on their website.


OCN Webinar

Our friends at the OCN (Owner Corporation Network) are holding a free webinar on Thursday 15th February on lithium-ion battery safety in strata. This includes advice on fire risks and prevention. Visit OCN’s website to register for the webinar.

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