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Fire’s Big Impact

Fires within our buildings present the biggest impact of our known safety risks. Although fire impact is big, there are some things we can do to prepare for the worst and minimise the impact when disaster strikes.

This year we have had many water damage insurance claims, which is unsurprising given the amount of rain and flooding. In comparison, we have had a small number of fires, but the insurance payouts on average per fire event are over twice as much as the average payout for water damage events.

Both fire and water contamination (smoke and flooding) can make a building uninhabitable. Whereas flooding gets into the layers of a building’s material, smoke damage doesn’t always get in. Flood contamination should cause an outright replacement fix, whereas smoke contamination triggers cleaning attempts before replacement is considered. A critical difference between contamination sources is that flooding contamination occurs from the ground up, and smoke starts from the top down and can access multiple rooms regardless of levels. For example, a flood would have to be very deep to affect a higher floor of a building, but unimpeded smoke is almost sure to involve a higher floor.

With fire events, there is also heat damage. Generally, within the vicinity of the fire, this can melt things that aren’t outright destroyed. Water damage from the fire fighting also affects building fittings, electrical equipment and floor coverings. One parish (see link below) also had asbestos to contend with during their repair process. Identifying where the asbestos was, added delays to the repair process and costs outside of the fire-damage expenses. The fire forced the asbestos removal timeframe to happen in conjunction with the fire repair work, so those costs were unplanned, significant and involved areas outside of the primary fire-damaged areas.

Depending on what a building is used for, when it becomes unusable, owners are faced with possible loss of income if there were tenancies, loss of contents from either the fire or smoke damage and the interruption of finding an alternative building accommodation for 1-2 years.

Minimising the Impact

Fire impact is big, but there are some things we can do to prepare for the worst.

The first and foremost is to get people out of a building if there is a fire. Most of our larger and newer buildings have building warrants of fitness. This is a regime that monitors and tests our building’s warning and safety features if the building has them, such as fire alarms, sprinkler systems, smoke or heat detectors, emergency exits, smoke doors, elevators, etc. These systems help provide us with warnings, or the safe means of exiting a building in the event of an evacuation.

Work is underway with our local councils to identify which of our buildings have BWoFs and to confirm that they are up to date. I would like to thank those parishes I have contacted for information, as they have been very helpful.

Secondly, we need to know how to ensure a building is evacuated. This is easy for our simple buildings, however, some of the more intricate church buildings that have developed over time require more thought and consideration as to how to achieve a building evacuation easily. For example, an aged care facility’s evacuation differs vastly from a parish-building evacuation. Evacuating multiple buildings on one property differs from a single building and is different from a church complex that has evolved into a warren over years of add-ons.

Work is underway with Fire and Emergency NZ to confirm which buildings have evacuation plans lodged with them and if those plans have been kept up to date. This should be a priority task for many parishes and entities across the church – we have a lot of room for improvement.

Thirdly (and lastly for this article), be prepared for “after the event of fire”. Have your team sorted and ready to work together, and know your building through the building plans, asbestos management plans etc., and have those plans ready in a safe place to help you make decisions.

There are many other things we can do to be fire-safe, but BWoFs, evacuation plans and asbestos plans are some basics that we can start building from.

Send your questions or requests for further information to Trudy Downes,

’Insurance Claims in Action’ Two stories of different fires – learn what went well and what could have