- Posted by Jon Drumm
- On July 7, 2017
Fire walls were found to be compromised in some hospital buildings where cables and other services had been installed during an investigation by Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) as part of its earthquake repair programme.
Fire Group Consulting manager Ron Green said the problem of compromised fire walls was “hugely widespread” in New Zealand and could prove fatal.
“If we have to evacuate an area in a hospital [and] if there is holes in the floor or in the wall, then we don’t have that fire separation and the smoke will go from one area to another.”
Green said the issue had not been taken seriously because there had not been any large scale fires like the recent Grenfell Tower fire in London.
The consequences of faulty fire protection measures were underestimated, he said.
“In the worst case someone gets trapped in the stairwell and they can’t get out and they will suffocate or get poisoned by toxic gases.”
The CDHB’s discovery of the problem last year prompted a full review of the fire walls in its facilities
“We are proactively instigating a programme of works to investigate and rectify any identified potential issues with the passive fire elements,” acting chief executive Mary Gordon said.
An “in-house” accreditation system has been established for contractors installing services to buildings, including cabling.
Gordon said all hospital buildings had a current building warrant of fitness certificate, but the compromised fire walls may not meet current building standard requirements.
Canterbury fire investigator Mark Thomas said a building’s safety could be compromised during a fire if holes in fire walls were not sealed up properly.
“Holes where the cables go through can be gummied up in a way that won’t compromise the fire protection,” he said.
Fire engineer Paul Richards said it was critical the process, known as “fire stopping”, was done correctly and the correct treatment was used.
In his 10 years working in fire protection, Richards said he had found the quality of fire stopping for commercial buildings was not high.
“I’m aware of incidents where the lack of fire stopping has substantially contributed to smoke spread throughout the building.”
Richards congratulated the CDHB for taking a proactive approach to the issue.
“Good on them for taking leadership, I fully support that.”
He said often tradespeople did not realise they were drilling through a fire wall because they were not given the original design drawings for a building.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said under the Building Act, it was the owner’s responsibility to ensure any work carried out complied with the building code.
Local councils were responsible for ensuring fire walls complied with the building code as part of the building warrant of fitness regime, which was to be checked by an independently-qualified person), the spokeswoman said.
“MBIE support CDHB’s initiative to identify any potential compromises to fire-rated walls that will lead to protecting their essential community asset.”