Calls are growing for change to the Building Act following the deadly Loafers Lodge fire.
At least six people are dead after the massive blaze ripped through a Wellington hostel early yesterday morning, with more still unaccounted for in what is one of New Zealand’s deadliest fires.
Dozens of people were trapped as thick smoke filled the lodge’s corridors and rooms, many woken by yelling and warnings to evacuate.
National Party leader Christopher Luxon told RNZ he would support the strengthening of regulations around fire protections for buildings if an inquiry into the Loafers Lodge tragedy deemed it necessary.
Luxon said the fire was horrific and devastating and an inquiry needed to take place, RNZ said.
“I’m all up for strengthening regulations, if we find that there are real challenges or things that haven’t happened,” Luxon told RNZ.
“You know we need that inquiry to be taking place and then if we need to strengthen regulations then we definitely need to do that.”
Wellington City councillor Ray Chung told Newstalk ZB’s Nick Mills it should be compulsory for any building used for accommodation to have sprinklers. Loafers Lodge had none - and was not required to under the Building Act.
Chung says that needs to change.
He says one of his first thoughts after the fire was whether the council could have done something to prevent it.
“Did the building have a current compliance certificate, did it have a warrant of fitness?”
He says council officers have told him the hostel was inspected in March and complied.
“It’s very difficult for council officers to go to building owners and require them to put sprinklers in if it’s not required under the Building Act. This is something the Government needs to do, councils don’t control the Building Act.
“We run the compliance in council, but we have to adhere to the Building Act which is central government.”
Chung says the fire has also prompted the council to look at its own housing stock. He says not all council housing units have sprinklers but it is progressively retrofitting older flats.
Wellington fire engineer Michael Belsham joined the call for change after the deadly fire.
Belsham told Mills and said that sprinklers are vital for saving lives during fires.
“Sprinklers are really important for saving lives, particularly for people who are sleeping.”
Belsham said sprinklers could not be put into every home and business, as they are expensive, but a cost-benefit analysis must be carried out.
“It all comes down to the use [of the building] - when we have hospitals, care homes, places where people are sleeping – sprinklers are really important because you’re buying time. People need more time to get out of bed, it takes longer to escape a tall residential business than it does an office.”
He said when the building was built, it was likely used for standard residential use, so the building code did not require sprinklers.
“However what seems to have happened is the use has changed over time, the type of people that were in the building, I mean, this is only the anecdotal but they seem to be more vulnerable and people of all different mobilities and needs that probably had an issue trying to escape.”
“I think we could do a lot more I mean there’s a complex system that we work in, these older buildings there’s not a lot of triggers to address the safety as use changes over time. A lot more can be done about inspecting buildings and checking we still have the right systems in place.”