Fire systems fall short in places

Knox Church. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Knox Church. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Some of Dunedin's historic church buildings appear vulnerable to the sort of fire that badly damaged Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral on Tuesday.

The two larger Presbyterian churches in the city, First Church and Knox Church, both have sprinkler systems and smoke alarms.

But Catholic cathedral St Joseph's, in Rattray St, and Anglican cathedral St Paul's, in the Octagon, do not.

A ferocious fire devastated Notre Dame on Tuesday, destroying its spire and a large part of the roof.

Dunedin churches are already struggling to maintain and keep their buildings as a requirement for costly earthquake upgrades and falling congregation numbers stretch budgets.

Catholic Bishop of Dunedin Michael Dooley said St Joseph's did not have sprinklers.

There was a risk of issues like electrical faults, as the church was often empty, which did leave it vulnerable.

Fr Dooley said the building had a warrant of fitness and met required safety standards, and the church was "very careful" to make sure those who visited were safe in terms of exiting the building in case of a fire.

St Paul's Cathedral keeper of the fabric David Tucker said the main church building had neither sprinklers nor a smoke alarm.

In 2017 the church had reports done on earthquake strengthening, heritage and fire issues.

Once funds were raised, that work would be done.

The building was not far from full fire standards and more work should probably be done soon, "now that we've got the inspiration of Notre Dame".

The church was "pretty conscious" of the safety of churchgoers and of their escape routes if there was a fire.

First Church consultant architect Graham Spence said that church had a sprinkler system, and an alarm system connected to the fire station.

The alarm system was sensitive enough to pick up people smoking outside the front door of the church.

The church was "well covered, thank God".

The system had been in place for more than a decade.

Knox Church Deacons' Court chairman Chris Bloore said Knox also had a full sprinkler system "throughout the entire church".

The main church building was closed for a period in 2008, when sprinklers and a smoke-detection system were installed.

The smoke-detection system sucked air from various parts of the building and passed it through a laser particle detector.

Dr Bloore said after the Notre Dame fire it felt good to have the system in place, but it did not mean the building was completely safe.

"They don't get earthquakes in Paris."


And we don't get dill renovators in Dunedin.

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