Alarm bells ring over high-rise building fires

Christchurch is currently covered by one fire appliance equipped with a 30-metre ladder capable...
Christchurch is currently covered by one fire appliance equipped with a 30-metre ladder capable of reaching an eighth floor. PHOTO: MICHAEL ANDERSON / 111 EMERGENCY 2024
A Christchurch residents’ association chief has sounded the alarm over firefighters’ ability to deal with high-rise blazes as multi-storey residential complexes stay on the drawing board for city suburbs.

With a controversial nationwide housing intensification programme poised to accelerate, Tony Simons from the Riccarton Bush Kilmarnock Association fears Fire and Emergency New Zealand may not be equipped to deal with fires in apartment blocks designated to reach up to 10 storeys.

“If they’re going to build 10-storey buildings in Hornby and Papanui, they’ll have fire escapes and probably sprinkler systems as well," he said.

"My concern is whether the fire service could put out a fire in one of those buildings in a hurry.

“You need tall ladders and that sort of thing. Could they (FENZ) respond quickly if a tall building caught alight in Hornby at four o’clock in the morning?”

Christchurch is currently covered by one fire appliance equipped with a 30-metre ladder capable of reaching an eighth floor.

There is also a 17m ladder, which is mainly used to extinguish fires and act as an elevated monitor to assess how, for example, a factory fire was developing. It reaches about four floors.

Both appliances are based at the FENZ headquarters in Kilmore St.

But FENZ Canterbury assistant commander Steve Kennedy sought to allay concerns saying resourcing was subject to regular review.

“At the moment that (two ladders) is deemed to be sufficient. It’s like anything, we’d always like to have more,” he said.

Kennedy was confident the centrally-based ladder appliances would reach suburban high-rises is a timely fashion. 

“Our standards of cover require our first appliance to be there within eight minutes, the specialist (ladder) appliances would be a bit behind that, it depends on the location,” he said.

“Christchurch is a bit of a wagon wheel really, we’re still pretty central where those appliances are located.”

Kennedy said the key with buildings featuring between four and 10-storeys were the in-built measures like fire escapes and sprinkler systems. 

“If we’re looking at buildings between four and 10-storeys it’s really the ‘life safety’ features that save lives more than our aerial response or appliance response.

“They’d the first factor in getting people out safely, then we come along and put it out.”

Three months ago the city council asked the Government for permission to pause work on implementing new housing intensification rules which would make it easier for developers to build homes and commercial buildings taller and closer together.

However, Housing Minister Chris Bishop denied that request on March 1 because the plan change was necessary to increase development capacity “as fast as possible”.

City councillors are scheduled to receive a housing intensification update from staff on Tuesday.

The city council sought to apply the brakes on the plan change process because it did not believe intensification rules brought in by the previous Government were suited to the city’s needs.

It was also responding to the concerns of many homeowners – including residents’ associations – who feared the new rules would devalue homes and lead to a loss of amenities like green spaces and direct sunlight.