Fire experts say victims could have survived tragic house fire

Fire and Emergency New Zealand

Fire experts say victims could have survived tragic house fire

Fire and Emergency has agreed with a range of recommendations in a Coroner’s report into New Zealand’s worst house fire since the 1970s.

The Coronial Inquiry examined evidence from a fire on 23 December, 2016, in Flat Bush, Auckland, that resulted in the tragic death of four family members.

Fire and Emergency’s Fire Investigation National Manager Peter Wilding says a range of unfortunate factors contributed to the deaths, but the fire was definitely survivable.

Mr Wilding says two people sleeping downstairs in the two-storey home escaped, but a grandmother, mother and child asleep upstairs weren’t able to get out.

“It appears that by the time they discovered the fire, it had already blocked the stairs leading to the exit. So they sheltered in the en-suite bathroom of an upstairs bedroom,” Mr Wilding says.

The investigation discovered two doors were left open between the top of the stairs and where the family members fled.

“Tragically, our investigation shows that if they had closed the doors, the intense heat and toxic smoke from the fire probably wouldn’t have reached them.’’

Another family member tried to escape through an upstairs window but was severely burned and later passed away in hospital.

Mr Wilding says quickly escaping from a building that’s on fire is usually the safest option but that isn’t always possible.

“If you’re trapped inside, you can increase your chances of survival by shutting all doors between you and the fire, then placing bedding or clothing along the bottom of the door to keep the smoke out. This buys precious time for firefighters to arrive.”

Mr Wilding says this was particularly important for people living in multi-level, terraced housing. Interconnected smoke alarms would also increase the chances of people being alerted to a fire, giving them more time to escape a building.

Investigators also learned that neighbours had heard sounds of windows breaking but didn’t immediately call emergency services.

“We’d rather respond to a 111 call and find we weren’t needed because it was a false alarm, than not be notified early enough.

“As communities, we need to look out for each other,” Wilding says. “The earlier emergency services hear about an incident, the sooner we can get there to help you.”

The Coroner’s report also recommended authorities should look at reducing furniture flammability.  Large, padded furniture containing polyurethane foam is the single biggest contributor to the speed that fires develop in New Zealand homes. In a fire, they quickly produce intense heat and release highly poisonous gases, meaning there is less time for people to escape.

It also found that current building codes and tenancy regulations don’t adequately ensure that people in multi-level homes will be alerted by smoke alarms.

The report recommends looking at changes to building regulations around the installation of smoke alarms and residential sprinklers.

For more information on what it’s like to be in a house fire, see www.escapemyhouse.co.nz

To develop your own escape plan, go to https://escapeplanner.co.nz/

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Media contact:

Pete van Schaardenburg

021 348 696