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Metropolitan Fire Brigade asks coroner to probe cladding blaze

The MFB has asked the coroner to investigate the use of highly flammable and non-compliant aluminium cladding at the Lacrosse tower as well as the role of the Victorian Building Authority in regulating the industry.

The request, which directly bypasses a current investigation into the Lacrosse fire by the VBA, was made last week and comes despite no deaths or injuries occurring in the November blaze.

It is understood one of Australia’s most prominent firefighters, MFB chief officer Peter Rau, was behind the push to have the Lacrosse incident and the VBA’s role reported to the coroner.

In the request, the MFB asks the coroner to investigate the “origin and circumstances” of the fire, the external cladding and “the role of building surveyors, the building industry and the Victorian Building Authority, including clarity of their respective roles and duties”.

MFB acting chief officer Paul Stacchino said the matter was referred to the coroner because of the brigade’s concern about the reported widespread use across the entire building industry of the highly flammable cladding similar to that found in the Lacrosse tower. “The information available to the MFB suggests that the cladding used represents a significant fire risk, and that this cladding (and similar types) may be widely used in premises in Melbourne,” he said.

Mr Stacchino has also asked the coroner to consider the best options available for high-rise apartment owners to improve the safety of their buildings, including the “retrofitting (of) another form of cladding”.

The fire at the 23-storey Lacrosse tower, co-developed by prominent publisher and developer Morry Schwartz with property funds manager Charter Hall, sparked national concern over the use of non-compliant flammable cladding, which is cheaply and ­directly imported from Asia.

Lacrosse tower builder LU Simon is under investigation by the VBA for misuse of the potentially deadly material.

The VBA has also said it will investigate more than 170 inner-city Melbourne buildings for the use of the non-compliant cladding.

Since an MFB report into the Lacrosse fire was released, The Australian has revealed that the same or similar flammable cladding has been widely used across Australia’s high-rise building industry and is believed to have partly fuelled the country’s apartment boom.

Mr Stacchino said the Lacrosse fire was a “significant incident” and, while no deaths had occurred, the MFB believed it essential that a coronial inquest occurred to “enhance community safety”.

“This was a significant incident with national implications and MFB thinks it is appropriate that the coroner investigates so that fire and emergency services can be in the best position to enhance community safety,” he said.

“MFB has asked the coroner to make recommendations on ­actions to ensure public and firefighter safety is addressed in buildings where noncompliant products have been used.

“This was an extremely rare and challenging fire incident for MFB — (its) most experienced firefighters had never personally encountered such a fire. This is a fire that has the potential to be repeated.

“Fire and emergency services need to gain as much knowledge as possible to handle future incidents.”

The MFB also points out to the coroner that while the Lacrosse tower blaze was the first of its type in Australia, there had been ­numerous external high-rise fires overseas involving the flammable and combustible cladding.

A spokesman for the VBA was unable to comment yesterday.

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