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Fire Safety in Apartment Buildings

If you live in central Melbourne, chances are you live in a high rise apartment. Would you know what to do if a fire broke out in your building?

Every year, fire services respond to fires in residential buildings that are over three storeys. In a building like that, every apartment or unit is designed with passive fire protection concepts in mind. This protects the surrounding apartments from a fire in the same building.

Plan for a Fire Emergency

Fire Escape Plan

An escape plan for a single storey house will be different than an emergency evacuation plan in an apartment building. The first step should be creating a fire escape plan and familiarising current and all future residents with the plan. This should be undertaken by the body corporate or owner group.

To ensure that you are fully prepared, make an escape plan with your family and fellow residents that acts as a backup option.

Fire Alarm Maintenance

Make sure that all smoke alarms are tested, cleaned and replaced regularly according to their recommended maintenance schedules. Smoke alarms are your first fire safety system to ensure that residents can escape a building so it is important that they also clean smoke alarms monthly.

On every level of a building, there should be fire fighting equipment like fire hose reels, while every apartment should have a portable fire extinguisher for residents to use. It is important that people know where they are and how to use them.

Fire Exit Visibility

Emergency exits must be available at all times. This is a requirement of Building and Work Health and Safety Legislation.

The legislation generally requires that the emergency exits can be opened by escaping building occupants without a key. Generally, locking an emergency exit is an offence.

If building security is compromised (e.g. in a prison), it is essential that fire and building approval authorities are aware of any management system in place to deal with these issues.

Emergency lighting and exit signs are provided where necessary so that occupants of the building can identify the location of exits in an emergency, even in the event of a power failure.

Respond to A Fire Emergency

When alerted to fire you should immediately evacuate through fire exit doors as indicated by bright green exit signs. Every second counts in a high rise because lifts should be avoided at all costs unless labelled for fire evacuation. Don’t waste time collecting belongings or trying to investigate.

Remaining calm is the key to evacuating a building effectively. There are a lot of stairs to climb down and rushing could cause an injury for yourself or other residents that are evacuating.

Close the fire-rated doors in your building behind you as you evacuate to maximise the effectiveness of passive fire protection. The best thing you could do to save the building and your belongings is to allow the building’s fire protection systems to take action. While it may seem helpful, to hold open a door at emergency exits will only aid the spread of fire as these doors are fire resistant and part of a passive fire protection system.

If you locate the source of the fire and it is small, you should consider trying to extinguish it with the equipment located on each level if safe.

Only once you are safely at the designated evacuation point should you call 000 (triple zero) and ask for FIRE.

Elements of  Fire Safe Apartment Building

While specific requirements vary with building size, however, provisions in the building codes of Australia that achieve fire health and safety for a typical high-rise apartment building include:

  • Smoke detection and occupant warning systems.
  • Fire-isolation of exits, such as exit stairs, using fire exit doors with door closers.
  • More than one exit for each storey to allow alternative means of escape should one fire exit become unusable.
  • Exclusion of smoke from exit stairs.
  • Fire sprinklers.
  • Fire-resisting construction to limit the spread of fire between apartments and between storeys.
  • Non-combustible external walls.
  • Resistance to collapse as a result of fire.
  • Features to assist fire brigade operations, such as fire hydrants.