Fire protection shortcomings raise concerns


Doubt has been raised about the effectiveness of passive fire protection in buildings in New Zealand, particularly multi-storey buildings, in a report presented to the annual Fire NZ conference of the Fire Protection Association.


Presenting to the conference, Association chairman Kevin Kennedy said effective passive fire protection relies on well-sealed penetrations in fire-rated barriers that stop or delay the advance of smoke and fire.


Breaches to these barriers by building services such as cabling and piping compromise their effectiveness.


Mr Kennedy’s comments arose from a pilot survey of 11 buildings throughout the country representing a mixture of commercial and institutional buildings. More than half of the sample was found to have problems with passive fire protection.


The most common problem, and the one which poses the greatest threat, is penetrations made for reticulated services in fire-resistant barriers which are not sealed.


This problem was often compounded in older buildings by the alterations and additions of subsequent tenants, although problems of this nature were even evident in newer buildings.


“Our view is that this emphasises the lack of understanding of the role of passive fire protection amongst designers, contractors, inspectors and even building owners and managers.”


“Passive fire protection is one of a number of defences against the threat of fire. It is designed to delay the advance of fire to allow people to clear a building safely. Many buildings have sprinklers and other systems, so passive protection is just one set of measures, but it is important.


“However, there is a trend towards greater reliance on passive fire protection which only heightens the importance of this issue.


“Buildings with these types of issues are not compliant with the Building Code. This whole matter needs putting right to ensure we retain the very impressive fire safety record we have in our commercial building stock.


“Resolving this issue is going to involve a programme of remediation over the next few years to ensure buildings meet the required standard,” Mr Kennedy says.


The pilot survey was funded by BRANZ from the Building Research Levy. The Fire Protection Association, together with BRANZ, has been involved in bringing together relevant parties to review the situation and work with the fire safety community to collectively find solutions.

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