This article about the need for regular smoke and fire barrier inspections has been written by Greg McCulloch, Westside Fire Services.
Table of Contents:
- QUESTION: Can you force an owner to allow you access? What happens if you can prove that you tried to get access for a fire inspection and the lot owner wouldn’t provide access?
- QUESTION: What does quoting for fire services cover? Does it include long term maintenance items like the replacement of smoke detector batteries, etc?
- QUESTION: Can the strata company make the lot owner accountable to check internal smoke alarms if the management statement says ‘these need to be checked annually’?
- ARTICLE: Have you had your smoke and fire barriers inspected this year?
Question: Can you force an owner to allow you access? What happens if you can prove that you tried to get access for a fire inspection and the lot owner wouldn’t provide access?
Can you force an owner to allow you access? What happens if you can prove that you tried to get access for a fire inspection and they wouldn’t provide access.
If there was a fire, how would you address this? Or in the case of major water ingress due to old hoses, etc, and the owner denying access to assess and attend to the damage?
Answer: We document the original request. We document when our technician was on site. We document where they couldn’t get into. You can’t force anyone to be home.
Yep, so we document everything. We document the original request we document when our technician was on site, and we document where they couldn’t get into. For our protection, we definitely leave a solid trail.
You can’t force anyone to be home and things happen to people. They might have had the best intentions to be there but they weren’t. It only becomes a problem if there’s an incident, but you can’t turn the clock back.
It’s really difficult for us because we get this all day every day when we’re out on jobs. We just can’t get access. So yeah, we note it.
We always offer the strata manager or the owner that they can get back in contact with us and we will come back and do the test again for them. But it is disappointing how often that offer isn’t taken up, because, people are busy doing other things and it’s not a concern and they think ‘That’s never going to happen to me’.
This post appears in the March 2021 edition of The WA Strata Magazine.
Question: Will quoting for fire services cover long term maintenance items like how often the fire panel batteries need to be replaced or the 10 year replacement of smoke detectors, etc?
Answer: Generally with fire services, it’s only the required testing to be done within one year that is included in the quote.
Generally with fire services, it’s only the required testing to be done within one year that is included in the quote. Different types of fire systems have different requirements.
Generally, the longer term items are not included in a standard pricing model. They’re quoted as they come up. Which is another scope of works that you can put out to tender so that you don’t feel that you’re locked into your current maintenance contractor. You can test the market.
As far as the batteries, generally we would recommend that every two years they be replaced but every year as part of the annual test they get load tested. If they’ve failed or if they look like they’re getting a bit low, we would flag that.
This post appears in Strata News #431.
Question: Can the strata company make the lot owner accountable to check internal smoke alarms if the management statement says ‘these need to be checked annually’?
Answer: The short answer is no.
The short answer is no.
I can’t think of what penalty you could apply against an owner for not checking the smoke alarm even though it’s a fair and reasonable request.
Most smoke alarms have a nine volt battery in them, and that battery will run out of life after a couple of years and then make that annoying ‘beep’. That’s generally the thing that triggers somebody to actually go and test the alarm and put a new battery in it. That would be the worst case situation.
However, the latest smoke alarms actually have rechargeable batteries. So as long as you have power on them for a period of time, the batteries aren’t going to eventually have a low life and then make that annoying ‘beeping’ noise. So then you are reliant on the tenant doing Annual test.
I don’t know of a way of forcing somebody to do the test.
This post appears in Strata News #399.
WA: Have you had your smoke and fire barriers inspected this year?
The purpose of a building’s passive fire and smoke system is to contain both fire and smoke to one location by preventing it from spreading from barrier to barrier. In a building, there are various systems, such as firewalls, smoke barriers, fire doors and firestopping to help minimise property damage and providing a safe evacuation path for occupants. These systems are required to be inspected, tested and serviced to ensure the compartment integrity and its vertical and horizontal barriers have retained the designed fire-resistance level (FRL).
- Access Panels
- Control Joints
- Service Penetrations
Australian Standard 1851 requires these to be inspected annually.
A firewall is an internal or external fire-resistance-rated wall designed to contain a fire within the area of its origin for a set amount of time. Firewalls extend continuously from the base of the building all the way to the roof. They are built with significant structural stability, which allows for firewalls to remain standing if the rest of the construction were to collapse.
A smoke barrier is a continuous membrane that is designed and constructed to restrict the passage of smoke. They can either be vertical, like a wall or horizontal, like a floor or ceiling.
During construction and over the course of a year various service contractors will make penetrations in walls, ceilings, floors and other structural components of your building. Commonly these penetrations are made for communication cables, plumbing services, mechanical services etc. Many contractors do not attend to the appropriate fire stopping procedures if at all. Gaps and holes from penetrating items allow for both fire and smoke to spread quickly throughout the building.
Firestopping has become a key component to a building’s overall fire and life safety system. Firestop materials are used to seal up any spaces that surround penetrating items, such as plastic pipes or wires. These items will even melt or change shape during a fire, which is why some firestop materials will also expand in the presence of heat. This swelling action seals and stops the spread of fire and smoke to other rooms and even floors within a building.
Unfortunately, the main cause of failure in fire barriers is unprotected or improperly protected openings from penetrations. If a building’s fire barriers have not been properly maintained, fire and smoke will spread quickly causing unnecessary property damage as well as putting people’s lives in danger.
Common Firestopping Issues:
- Incomplete firestopping
- Mixing manufacturer’s products
- Improper Installation
Contact a reputable company to carry out an inspection to ensure your building is compliant and safe.
This post appears in Strata News #316.
Have a question about fire and smoke barrier inspections or something to add to the article? Leave a comment below.
Please note this advice was provided prior to the proclamation of the new strata title amendments and will be updated in due course.
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