The heat has been turned up on balcony barbecues as a cause of fires in apartments … but in a part of the world where you might least expect it.
Last month, Zurich Insurance in the UK said there had been 550 balcony fires in London alone in the past three years and said that “barbecues should never be used on balconies under any circumstances.”
In a press release reported in Insurance Business magazine, the global insurer has warned that the majority of balcony fires are caused by barbecues and discarded smoking materials.
Just four UK balcony blazes cost a total of $15 million in damage last year, with fires quickly spreading to neighbouring flats and sometimes entire buildings.
$350 million pay-outs
“Fires not only put people’s lives at risk, they also destroy homes and irreplaceable personal possessions,” said David Nichols, chief claims officer at Zurich who added that the $350 million that the company paid out on fire damage last year “doesn’t include the emotional turmoil and disruption these events cause.”
And in a story in Acturial Post UK, Fire Brigades Union assistant general secretary Andy Dark, commented: “It’s clear from Zurich’s damning evidence that using any kind of barbecue on a balcony should be banned.
“Time and again, firefighters have fought fires in blocks of flats where the accidental source of ignition has been a barbecue used on a balcony.
“We are mindful that living in flats already poses restrictions on how people live their lives. It’s important that government and building owners invest in providing safe and inviting communal spaces surrounding flats so residents don’t take risks like such as barbecuing on a balcony.”
And what does this have to do with Australia? Nothing and everything. Checking the NSW and Victoria fire services advice to home owners, balcony barbecues don’t even rate a mention.
For the record, half the domestic fires in NSW are caused by unattended cooking, the implication being that these occurred in kitchens rather than on balconies.
But the best-known unit block fires in Australia illustrate both why fire safety in apartment blocks can be a lifesaver when it’s observed and fatal when it’s ignored.
In the Lacrosse and Neo200 fires in Melbourne, external cladding caught alight but the fires didn’t spread though the building. That was at least in part due to effective fire prevention measures in the buildings.
In the case of the fatal Bankstown fire in 2012, compromised fire safety led to the rapid spread of smoke and flames and the trapping of the two female residents, one of whom jumped to her death.
We suffer fewer serious apartment block fires in Australia (than in the UK), partly because our housing stock is newer and therefore has more up-to-date fire safety measures. But they are useless unless they are observed.
And, as we know, sometimes the only way to get people to do the right thing is to create by-laws demanding that they do, and then enforcing them when they don’t.
With that in mind, the Owners Corporation Network (OCN) has commissioned a strata lawyer to prepare a detailed by-law dealing with the fire safety responsibilities of lot owners and Owners Corporations
And it even includes rules passing the cost of false alarm call-outs to the residents who cause them.
The by-law also has specific provisions relating to:
• properly maintaining fire safety equipment;
• not interfering with the effective operation of any fire safety equipment;
• co-operating with any contractors engaged by the Owners Corporation to carry out inspections or any works in relation to the fire safety equipment;
• carrying out any required fire safety works directed within their lot;
• not interfering with or chocking open any fire doors including to individual units;
• The Owners Corporation’s responsibilities, functions, powers, authorities and duties.
The by-law, also includes specific provision for a lot owner to pay the cost of a call out for a false alarm, in certain circumstances.
The by-law is available exclusively to OCN members at $220 including GST. It was introduced at the OCN’s “In the Line of Fire” webinar in June 2020, which is available to members on their website under “Events”.