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Firefighters could be ordered not to enter burning apartments, MFB warns

The MFB say it was lucky no one died in the Lacrosse Docklands building when a fire, fuelled by "non-compliant" aluminium cladding, spread quickly up and down the tower's facade last year.

Acting Chief Officer Paul Stacchino said the MFB could foresee situations where it may need to withdraw its officers from areas of buildings similar to Lacrosse because their lives would be in danger.

"This would involve a risk to the life of occupants and represents a terrible choice and possibly, tragic outcomes," he wrote.

"I hope that the MFB is never in this position."

The grim warning was made in a letter sent to State Coroner Judge Ian Gray last month by Mr Stacchino who called for an investigation into the Docklands blaze.

It revealed the MFB's deep concerns about the widespread use of flammable cladding in Melbourne and continued uncertainty over how the problem would be addressed.

The Victorian Building Authority is currently seeking information about every high-rise building constructed in the CBD in the past decade to identify other towers where the cladding may have been installed in a "non-compliant manner".

The MFB found if it was not for the Lacrosse building's sprinkler system operating beyond its designed capability, the fire would have been much worse.

Fire Protection Association Australia spokesman Joseph Keller said fire systems in high-rise buildings were not designed to operate on multiple levels as they had at Lacrosse, where the fire burnt 19 floors.

The systems were meant to contain a blaze to one or two floors, he said.

"That is why having non-combustible cladding is [required] in the building code," he said. "Everything is designed to restrict the spread of fire."

Mr Keller said that if the Lacrosse apartment building had been more than 40-storeys, rather than 21-storeys, the sprinkler system would have failed.

"That's why it [the MFB] can't guarantee the safety of residents and their own people when there are multiple levels in full burn," he said.

The MFB said overseas fires involving flammable metal composite cladding have already caused multiple fatalities.

Many of the international cases – in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), United States and France - have seen "molten" flaming debris fall to the ground.

A previous Victorian coronial inquest was held into the 2006 deaths of Leigh Sinclair and Christopher Giorgi, who died when an unregistered Brunswick rooming house caught fire.

The MFB are concerned that reforms made after that tragedy have not addressed "fundamental issues" such as overcrowding, education of rooming house operators, search and entry powers and fire safety provisions in the Building Code of Australia.

The recent Docklands fire unearthed evidence of illegal rooming houses and overcrowding was found to have contributed the blaze through the extra fuel load created by personal possessions, which spilled out on to the balconies.

Some smoke detectors in the tower had been covered up or pulled out by tenants.

Mr Stacchino said there appeared to be "very little awareness of fire safety issues" from those occupying some of Melbourne's residential high-rise apartments.

Recently notices were sent to a number of occupiers of the Lacrosse building telling them to clean their balconies, a Melbourne City Council spokeswoman said.

She said the Lacrosse building has been declared "safe" by the Municipal Building Surveyor, with essential safety measures such as sprinklers and smoke alarms reinstated.

Source: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/firefighters-could-be-ordered-not-to-enter-burning-apartments-mfb-warns-20150616-ghp4d4.html


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