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Fire Australia 2022: Day Two Program Highlights

Posted on : Wednesday, 4 May 2022


Day two of Fire Australia 2022 built on the day before, starting with a look at coronial inquiries and smashed avocado and finished with discussions about mental health, positive stories about fire protection, and fire separation. 


Throughout the day we examined issues such as insurance and liability, accreditation and automatic mutual recognition, sustainability, risk management, innovation, interfaces, defects, and evidence of suitability. 



Session 1...


… started with a presentation by former Deputy NSW Coroner Hugh Dillon, who described some of his notable cases involving fires, including the 2011 Quakers Hill nursing home fire and the 2012 apartment fire at Bankstown.  These cases led to tangible and long-lasting changes to the property sector, such as the mandatory introduction of cost-effective sprinklers in residential buildings.  However, Hugh raised concerns about current compliance attitudes within the community, where more focus is spent on ticking boxes than on ensuring safety.  He said there are three key messages from these events:  


  1. mistakes are inevitable;
  2. systems are fallible (the Swiss cheese model); and
  3. regulations don't make safe - behaviour does. 


He reminded us that "Checklists by themselves do not save lives.  Nor do regulations." 


In a slight change in tone and perspective, futurist and demographer Bernard Salt  then took the stage.  He talked about the effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic and what it's meant for the size and makeup of the population, particularly the PUMPCINS, KIPPERS, VESPAs, and LOMBARDs (we can't really translate!).  He said that the demographic changes we're seeing now haven't been seen for a hundred years: "Australia changed after the First World War, and we'll be changed by the Coronavirus too".  Bernard identified the "pillowfication of the bedroom" in the changing nature of homes, and (most importantly) reminded us of the perils of eating too much smashed avocado. 



Perceptive Stream


After the break, the "perceptive" stream took a look at insurance, liability, and duty of care.  


First up, Robert McGirr  of Elit Lawyers talked about legal liability, the insurance needs of practitioners and what they need to do for their clients, particularly in light of recent court cases.  He advised practitioners to abide by Codes of Professional Conduct, such as the one signed as part of their FPA Australia membership, because you have a legal liability to your accrediting authority.  You also need to take into account (and avoid) actual, perceived and potential conflict of interest.  He also cautioned practitioners to comply with the conditions and legal obligations in any retainer or consultancy agreement, saying "you must have a one pager showing what you are going to do and NOT do … and renegotiate if the situation changes".  


Dale Spurway-Humphries, from Lucid Consulting, then expanded upon the duty of care owned to clients and the occupants of their buildings when considering the upgrading of fire safety systems.  He explored the degree to which this duty was satisfied by regulations, and whether further action is needed.  Because of the limitations of dealing with an existing system, upgrade work becomes complicated when it potentially conflicts with building regulations and the requirement to meet the requirements "so far as reasonably practicable".  He said that one of the lessons from the Lacrosse building fire was "If you have the word 'fire' in your title, there's an expectation that you are responsible for everything to do with fire, unless you specifically clarify your role".  


Amanda Leck, from the Australian Institute of Disaster Resilience, spoke after lunch about the research by the Institute into the risks of residential fires.  Approximately 64 people per year die in home fires, but these incidents don't get the same attention as perhaps bushfires might.  As a result of the higher death toll of these fires, government and industry are increasing their focus on strategies to prevent these losses.  In discussing the annual loss of life, Amanda observed that "because people are dying in ones and twos, an incident might make the news for 24 hours, but is quickly forgotten… If [the death toll] occurred in a single incident, it would be a national catastrophe."   


After almost a decade at the helm of the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB), Neil Savery has spent a lot of time dealing with building regulations.  Several changes have been made to fire protection rules during that time, and new construction is arguably safer.  However, despite most of the Code covering structural and fire safety, most of the recent work has been in other areas.  He encouraged the fire sector to continue its advocacy, because "it's important that industry maintains active engagement"  if it is to keep improving fire safety in the Code.  


Firefighting is ever changing, with new technologies and practices being developed constantly.  Rob Webb of AFAC observed that the brigades have spent a lot on being innovative, but said that there are new approaches from overseas that are always worth more investigation.  Bushfire agencies in particular have been embracing the use of drones, artificial intelligence, the new National Large Air Tanker, and resource sharing to improve their effectiveness.  Rob talked about the principles behind good innovation, including the need to focus on the customer, saying that "you're ultimately chasing the things that keep them up at night".  


For the last session in this stream, we had a discussion about mental health.  Fire protection can be a stressful industry, but there appears to be little being done by the industry at present to ensure that practitioners are supported.  Hamish Park, from Lysander, talked about the work his organisation has carried out on an infrastructure construction project, which delivered improvements in different metrics by 30-60%.  He said that a key finding was that "the leadership team needs to understand what mental health looks like and how to support that".  Hamish was then joined by Professor Shantha Rajaratnam, from Monash University, and Rob Webb  to discuss with John Kilgour  possible solutions for the industry, including the need for understanding about the importance of sleep health.  



Political Stream


We started the "political" stream with a presentation on automatic mutual recognition (AMR) by James Cameron  of the Australian Construction Industry Forum.  He has been keeping a close watch on developments with AMR and gave a helpful overview about what was likely to happen.  In relation to accreditation and licensing, he said that a lot was being done to examine how borders might be opened to experienced practitioners, and said that "it makes sense to have national harmonisation, as it makes it easier for businesses to work across jurisdictions"


When it comes to active and passive systems it seems to be a bit of "us versus them".  To dispel these views, Ian Childs, of Fire Assess, discussed the opportunities both present and how they only really work in concert.  While he leaned slightly towards containment as being a priority, he said that "it's a holistic system - active and passive systems are complementary and back each other up".  


Sustainability is a big focus for all industries, and fire protection is no exception, so the session after lunch looked at the problems it can pose for safety.  The panel of Simon Barratt  (Viking EMEA), Brett Staines  (Special Hazards Fire Protection), and Michael Wood  (Australian Organics Recycling Association) discussed with Allen Mitchell  the challenges replacement substances can create when extinguishing certain types of high hazard fires.  While the panellists recognised the need to phase out fluorine-based foams, the big question was "how quickly?"  We may have some time - as Michael observed: "we're not banning PFAS from firefighting anytime soon"


Annual fire safety assessment has been under the microscope since accreditation was made mandatory in New South Wales.  Alex Hoyle  (GMBS), Bill Lea  (IMEA), and Mark Wilson  (Phillip Chun) observed that the traditional ways of conducting fire assessment work are being challenged, and business as usual is no longer an option.  There was a lot of discussion about certification, training and upskilling, and community engagement, and the panellists agreed that the customer is starting to see a difference, and the change was worth it.  But Bill said that the industry has a lot to overcome:  "The industry has let itself down.  We didn't install it properly, we didn't certify it." 


As the world moves to greater digitisation, what will this mean for the fire protection industry?  This was hotly debated by Glenn Talbot (Verified), Bill LeaRussell Porteous (FireWize), and Rob Broadhead (2020 Fire).  The discussion revolved around how quickly digitisation was likely to occur, and whether the regulatory environment would permit or facilitate it.   Issues such as data security and access to information by stakeholders still need to be resolved.  Ultimately, the panel agreed that records are a valuable part of a building's history and should be universally accessible.  


The last session of the day for this stream looked at the positive effects of fire safety and its capacity to minimise danger to the building.  Peter Collina questioned Dr Jonathan Barnett (Basic Expert) Steven Baxas (City of Melbourne), Peter Johnson (Arup), and Danny Gasbarro (Windsor Management Insurance Brokers) about when fire protection works.  They discussed two fires - the Lacrosse building and the Neo 200 building - which, despite differences in how the buildings were managed and maintained, both fared very well when their cladding ignited.  Jonathan commented that "[Neo 200] had so many bells and whistles … the systems worked despite the fact they weren't maintained".   



Practical Stream


The "practical" stream for Day 2 looked at interfaces, defects, compliance, and passive fire protection. 


In the technical session before lunch, David Isaac  (Fire Industry Academy), Duncan Glendinning  (Fire Risk Solutions), and Scott West (Cee3 Pty. Ltd.) examined interfaces.  They discussed a variety of interfaces between systems and how they should be maintained and assessed for performance, and agreed that fire standards need to be written in simpler language to support comprehension.  David said that fire-rating is a key issue but:  "if there's a fire at the FDCIE, well, it's all over Charlie Brown."  


The session after lunch considered defects.  Experts often appear on opposite sides of court cases, arguing about whether a problem within a building is a defect or not.  If something is declared a "defect", the builder will be held accountable; if not, it's the owner's responsibility, so it's important to get it right.  Peter Collina (FPA Australia) put the question to Stephen Kip  (SKIP Consulting) and Ari Akritidis  (Akritidis Group Building Consultants) to see how opposing parties can come together.  A key message was that work needs to be done properly and practitioners need to take personal responsibility for what they do.  As Stephen said, "Do what you said you'd do. Do it in the timeframe you specified. Do it for the fee you charged." 


The afternoon session was broken into two.  The first was a panel of representatives from some of the leading testing and certification agencies - Chad Mclean  (Warringtonfire Australia), Keith Nicholls  (CSIRO), Matthew Wright  (UL), and Peter Whiting  (BRANZ) - who were grilled by Leigh Gesthuizen  (FPA Australia) about NCC changes to the evidence of suitability rules.  They commented on the need for better product certification and testing to ensure that products are appropriate for use.  Chad observed that we need to do a lot of work: "Australia is behind the rest of the world and need to catch up."


In the last session, Jason Forest of Warringtonfire Australia talked about the issues surrounding the fire separation of fire-rated floors and non-rated external wall systems.  He said that a trusted and effective fire sealant is needed to ensure that the spread of fire is prevented.  However, he commented that "the UK standards are far easier to understand than the Australian standards around what practitioners need to do, and we are a long way behind other countries"



Once the day wound up, delegates went home to get glammed up for the Conference Gala and Awards Dinner and looked forward to a night of networking and celebrating industry excellence.