Can I install downlights, ducted air conditioning, ceiling exhaust fans or manholes in my unit ceiling?
Well yes… but you need to be very careful if your ceiling designed to have a “resistance to the incipient spread of fire to the roof space for a period of not less than 60 minutes”.
Fire rated ceilings are an fire safety measure, designed to slow the spread of fire from one part of the building to another.
In an emergency situation emergency lights should run on their backup battery for at least 90-minutes. Australian Standards require that exit & emergency lights be tested every 6 months. Exit and emergency lights have a shorter lifespan when compared to non-emergency lights.
What is hoarding?
Hoarding is defined as collecting or keeping large amounts of various items in the home due to strong urges to save them or distress experienced when discarding them. Hoarders’ homes are often so filled with possessions that the occupants are unable to use the rooms as intended.
These days hoarding is recognised as a mental disorder. A person may be genetically predisposed to hoarding, or hoarding may be triggered by traumatic events, or the hoarding may be a symptom of another disorder such a obsessive compulsive disorder or depression.
It is a complex issue and requires appropriate long-term support.
Why is hoarding a concern for fire safety?
- The build-up of possessions increases the fuel load and provides a much greater opportunity for ignition.
- Exits and paths of travel to exits may be blocked by possessions.
- If sprinklers are installed, they may not be the required 50mm of clearance for the head to operate effectively.
- Heating units may be too close to things that can burn. They might also be placed on unstable surfaces. If a heater tips over into a pile, it can cause a fire.
- Cooking areas may be compromised by encroaching storage & possessions.
FRNSW estimates about 12% of fire fatalities in NSW were persons reportedly living in hoarding and squalor conditions.
Hoarding in sole occupancy units (SOUs) of residential strata blocks
This is a tricky area.
The concern is that hoarding behaviour by one resident may put the whole unit block at increased risk or fire. The concern is valid, but fire contractors, executive committees & even FRNSW have very little power to remedy the situation.
From Civil Fire’s perspective, the annual inspection of SOUs is usually limited to ensuring there is a working some alarm, and an operating fire door for each unit. Whilst we may note excessive clutter, or even extreme hoarding, we don’t have any powers to insist on corrective action.
Hoarding can be reported to FRNSW by completing the Hoarding and Squalor fire risk report form, but since they cannot engage directly with the resident, they will refer the report to the local council as a health and amenity concern.
FRNSW can only enter a SOU if they have been invited to do so by the resident, or if there is an emergency.
What can be done?
To protect the health & safety of the hoarder:
- The smoke alarm should be tested regularly.
- Clear paths of egress should be maintained throughout the unit.
- Appropriate support should be offered to hoarder. Hoarding disorders are complex and require ongoing professional support.
To protect the health & safety of other residents in a strata block, it is important that the fire contractor confirms:
- The fire door on the hoarder’s unit can self-close & self-latch. In the event of a fire, this should delay the spread to other parts of the building.
- That possessions are fully contained within the units, and do not encroach on common areas.
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