As the damping down and cleaning up continues following this week's catastrophic convention centre fire, it's time to ask some crucial and concerning questions.
Identifying the cause will be up to a Fire and Emergency New Zealand investigation but the likely source, as openly discussed at the scene, is a subcontractor leaving a blowtorch unattended on the bitumen-lined roof. This was largely confirmed by Fletcher Building CEO Ross Taylor when he said the fire began where the torches were being used. It must be asked whether naked flames are desirable around a semi-solid petroleum product.
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• The materials in the roof. Straw was reportedly being sandwiched between a plywood ceiling and the bitumen outer layer. This has been likened to a "Three Little Pigs" scenario where a house was made of straw but the technology of the materials must have been superior to the first little pig's, surely? But how fire resistant is this?
• Raising the alarm and the site reaction, including evacuation. Reportedly, the fire was spotted from a crane. Why did no one nearer not notice it? The first reactions would have been crucial to containing the fire. Had proper training been provided to those first confronted with it? Questions have also been raised over how long it took those in the wider precinct to be advised of the problem and ordered to get out.
• Fire and Emergency New Zealand response and resources. New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union vice-president Joe Stanley says the tallest fire trucks needed to battle the blaze - with 32m-high turntable ladders - were out of service or partially broken when the fire started. Fire and Emergency NZ says this would not have made a difference, but Stanley disagrees, so which is it?
As it was, the heavy aerial appliance was in place and spraying water 20 minutes after the alarm was raised, only after being set up in the wrong site and having to be moved. Hamilton's aerial appliance - known as a snorkel - with a 25m ladder, took almost two hours to arrive when the fire was blazing out of control. Both the time taken to despatch the heavy aerial appliance and its placement pose questions that need answering. Would it have brought a significantly different outcome?
• The alerts about toxic smoke, issued by text message, were not received by everyone in the danger area. The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management says not every phone was new enough to receive the alert, yet one CBD resident said he got one alert, but not the other. One office worker said he got one alert multiple times. Despite recent improvements in the system, questions linger over its efficiency.
• The harms to health. Businesses appeared to be receiving and giving mixed messages around risk to workers in the downdraft of the smoke during the fire; the disposal of the contaminated water into the Waitemata Harbour; and what residual toxins remain in the city?
Editorial: Convention centre must rise again from the fire
Ultimately, who will foot the bill? Given all of the above, can the leaders of this $700 million project prove duty of care obligations were met; and does the insurance cover go all the way down the chain to the subcontractors where fault has been alleged?
The expense of this lesson will be all the most costly if we don't learn from it.