Fire Australia 2021: Day Two Program Highlights

Posted on : Thursday, 13 May 2021

Day two of Fire Australia 2021 opened with an examination of the role of women in emergency services and closed with an international panel discussing the implications of the Grenfell Tower disaster. 


It also launched a new policy stream - Women in Fire - showcasing some of the leaders of the fire protection and emergency services industries.  



Session 1...


… began with Kristy Walters of the NSW Police Force.  She discussed the increasing involvement of women in police, fire, ambulance, and the State Emergency Services, and raised possible issues for consideration for the fire protection sector.  She recognised the barriers that can exist in some of the emergency services, but commented that she's now in a position to advocate and elevate women in the emergency services"Someone stood behind me and helped me achieve my goals and it's only fair that I do the same."  


This theme was continued by Stuart Ellis  of AFAC, who discussed some of the initiatives being implemented across Australia.  He counted nine challenges facing urban fire brigades, but said that there were plenty of opportunities and solutions to address them, such as technological innovations, that need to be rolled out:     


"We're letting the community down at a time when they want that capability [tech]."



Women in Fire Stream


Bronnie Mackintosh started after morning tea with a presentation on the work being undertaken by Fire and Rescue NSW to create a more diverse workforce.  She commented on the policy decision to increase the in-take of female cadets, and said there were still some attitudes to overcome:  "'How's she gonna drag me out of a burning building?' - do you know how old that gets?"


Bronnie said that diversity is a partnership, because women will find it hard to thrive in the workplace if there aren't also male champions "leveraging their power and influence to bring about change."  


FPA Australia's Amanda Hogarth followed.  She outlined the changes that have been occurring with the Fire Protection Accreditation Scheme in NSW and what it means for practitioners.  She discussed the move from transitional to qualified pathways.  She reminded practitioners that they have until 30 June, 2021, to get transitional accreditation, or else they will have to be fully qualified.  


After lunch, FPA Australia Board Director, Elissa Fazio of News Corp, explained what is involved in managing risk across a national portfolio.  She commented that variations in regulation mean that practitioners have to be aware of the requirements in each state and territory, and that it is often sensible to set a standard across the portfolio that meets the highest standard.  She advised that risk management affects everyone and can be applied to everything, but once you have "process and procedures in place [it's] happy days!"


The program then moved to our Women in Fire panel session, which was live streamed to those who had registered for a virtual pass.  The panel, moderated by Kristy Walters, involved Bronwyn Weir  of Weir Legal and Consulting, Elissa Fazio, Gina Patrick of Plus Systems, and Bronnie Mackintosh, and talked about how well the industry has been embracing gender diversity. 


The panellists identified that resilience, authenticity, and self-confidence are essential qualities if female leaders are to succeed, and it is important to spend time upskilling and networking.   It was pointed out that women need to give more assistance to younger women coming through:  


"Who is going to support our colleagues if not us as leaders?"  


After a quick coffee, the audience heard from Lizzie Sieverts  of Arup, who gave listeners some advice about how to perform annual fire safety assessments in buildings with fire engineering reports.  Lizzie advised practitioners to take the time to understand the details of the report and how it affects the measures they are assessing.  She said that it was a good idea, if practitioners were not sure about how a system was supposed to perform, to ask an expert.   


The last session of the day was our international panel on Grenfell and its implications.  Moderated by Bronwyn Weir, the panel beamed in the author of the UK's Grenfell inquiry report, Dame Judith Hackitt  and Stephanie Barwise QC who represented some of the victims and their families, and also included Nages Karuppiah  of the SA Metropolitan Fire Service, who is the current Vice President of the Australian Chapter of the Institute of Fire Engineering.  This session was also live streamed. 


The panel session was very informative, giving key insights into the disaster and its causes.  The key message from the panellists for the industry were simple - that construction products: 


  • need to be properly certified, by an independent third-party certifier; 
  • must be fit-for-purpose, used in the way they were designed, manufactured, and tested; and 
  • must be installed by people who are appropriately skilled and competent.  


These three steps are essential if the risk of disasters like Grenfell is to be reduced.   



Engineering Stream


Ian Collins  of Fire Awareness Technology started the engineering stream with a discussion about current issues with emergency planning.  Ian went through the steps required to create and manage emergency plans, and guided the audience through the issues they should consider for developing a good strategy.  He reminded attendees that they "need to listen to the concerns of the client - if they highlight an issue, you've got to include it in your plan."  


Tapping into the renewable energy revolution, we had a presentation from Howard Tomlin  of Fire Protection Technologies.  He examined thermal runaway risks with ESS facilities.  These facilities are used to store energy from renewable energy sources, and pose particular fire safety problems.  Howard showed videos of lithium-ion batteries exploding and said that detecting and venting off-gases is very important to prevent a catastrophe.  With ESS (lithium-ion battery) facilities explosion is a greater risk than fire:  "If it's burning, it's not exploding ... but it's not what your client wants to hear!" 


After lunch, Hank Van Ravenstein took a contemporary look at fire safety engineering.  He said that with changes in population demographics, the need to meet sustainability needs and to cater for people with different abilities, and increased government regulation (different in every state and territory), fire engineers need to work as part of a team using scientific analysis.  Fire engineering needs to be seen as a system that considers:  


  • developing closer interrelationships with building surveyors and certifiers; 
  • clear design specifications (covering egress, safety systems, control of internal spread of fire, and control of external spread of fire); 
  • whether the fire brigade is equipped to deal with new designs; 
  • construction procedures, inspections, and monitoring the build; 
  • evacuation regulations, building regulations, and fire safety designs; 
  • planning for and reacting to a large number of adverse effects that affect and threaten human life; 
  • having calculations to support fire design recommendations; 
  • having detailed design drawings; and 
  • inspecting and certifying the installation at the end.  


So, what does this mean for fire safety engineers? Dr David Lange from the University of Queensland, and a contributor to the Warren Centre, reported on the latter's project to professionalise fire safety engineering.  He argued that the Centre's research shows that fire engineering is sufficiently mature in all relevant criteria to be seen as a profession: 


  1. a systematic body of theory and the skill in its application
  2. professional authority
  3. a regulative code of ethics
  4. a professional culture.   


The last session of the Engineering Stream was a panel.  It looked at the fire safety requirements of for building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), or solar power.  Moderated by MC Hui of RED Fire Engineers, the panel comprised Quang Le  and Martin Johanson, both of RED Fire Engineers, and Rebecca Yang  of RMIT University.  The panel explored the risks of increasing usage of solar technology, and reported that key elements of solar systems, such as DC isolators and inverters, need particular attention from a fire safety perspective.  MC asked the question about how best to detect and intervene in a BIPV (solar panel) fire located outside of the building.  He said that performance solutions provided the most options.   



Technical Stream


The technical stream provided a wealth of professional development information for practitioners, starting with a discussion about the design and commissioning of fire hydrants and hose reels, presented by Justin Morris of Wormald.  Justin discussed some of the challenges of commissioning these designs, but emphasised the importance of this process "to ensure the required flow rates, pressure and systems demand for buildings are achieved."  


Michael Stuckings of FM Global walked the audience through the design of sprinklers in line with the AS 2118 Suite.  He raised some challenges, such as those relating to automated warehouses, and suggested that when it comes to updates to AS 2118 water supplies, spacing, and the location of sprinklers and high hazard storage, it's really important to capture hazardous information at the time of design.   


After lunch, David Isaac of Fire and Safety Technologies took a deep dive into the use of AS 1670 to design smoke detection systems.  He walked attendees through the key requirements of the standard, and explained that the layout of the detectors will have a substantial impact upon the system's performance.   


George Nikolas and Michael Ryan of CSR delved into the mysteries of lightweight construction.  They discussed the manufacture and testing of passive products and how they advise architects and other designers to use lightweight construction effectively to ensure the integrity of fire compartments and the control of internal fire spread.   


The afternoon session started with Brett Fairweather  of it's engineered, who talked about the use of mechanical fire and smoke control systems.  These forms of fire protection are often poorly understood, but Brett helped to resolve some of the confusion.  He clarified the standard of performance about fire dampers, smoke dampers, air dampers, smoke hazard management systems, and stair pressurisation.


The day ended with Peter Blain from Plus Systems, who built upon the earlier session on lightweight construction to explain how to deliver better safety to buildings.  He explained some of the key considerations for designers and how the different systems work together best to protect people from fire.  He said that quality is important: "Saying 'we have always done it that way' just won't cut it anymore... It costs nothing extra to do it right the first time." 



Once the sessions were over, delegates went to get ready for the Conference and Awards Gala Dinner.