EXCLUSIVE: The days of immediately ordering all the residents out of blocks, even where major, potentially life-threatening problems have been discovered, could be a thing of the past thanks to a new system of “don’t panic” protocols introduced by NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler.
Mr Chandler told Flat Chat exclusively that he’s designing a new tool, the Continued Occupation Protocol, to keep people in their homes, avoiding Mascot Towers and Opal Tower-style mass evacuations, while also working to keep residents safe.
“We will implement this protocol where we can because I don’t think that we just have the unilateral right to say, ‘There’s a problem here, everybody out!’,” he said. “We need to take on some of the risk, take some responsibility and work with people.
“Because people don’t deserve that sort of almost wicked problem of getting everybody out, and only then saying that we’ll work out what to do. My view is, ‘Hold on’, and before we take everybody out, what do we have to do to make it safe to stay there?’
The new strategy was devised as a result of a Fire & Rescue team contacting Chandler at 5.30pm on a Friday night several weeks ago and informing him that they were very concerned about the fire systems in a Sydney building, and weren’t entirely happy about its continued occupation.
Chandler’s team inspected the 80-unit block and concluded that the concerns were absolutely valid. But they were reluctant to issue the order to vacate. “That’s not the right answer, because the consequences of emptying such a large building are just devastating,” he said.
“Once you empty a building, it’s very public, very damaging to the individuals and it’s very hard to go back. So I organised a meeting with the Owners Corporation and their strata manager and then met with the council. We worked out the things that need to be fixed straight away, like fixing the fire doors, the smoke detectors and the fire pump service, all that life safety stuff.
“I then told the owners corporation that I wanted them to hire a 24/7 fire warden, to be in the building for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. until they’d done those things, and I was given a commitment by the council that they’d allow continued occupation under those conditions, and Fire & Safety said they were happy with that.”
Since there was no developer or builder left associated with the building, Chandler also told the Owners Corporation they’d then have to do the rest of the longer-term work themselves, and they agreed to do that over the next 12 to 18 months.
“So this worked extremely well in this situation,” Chandler said. “It’s now a tool we are developing to use in future wherever we can.”