The rash of fires and apartment closures due to the cladding controversy has shed a spotlight on the safety of Australian apartment buildings. Learn how to spot a safe building and what practices can keep you safe from fires.
Before Buying/Renting an Apartment
Buying an apartment is a huge investment, but it could lead to bankruptcy if you buy the wrong apartment. Even if you’re renting, you’ll need to put some thought and research into finding and choosing a suitable apartment. The Victorian Building Authority (VBA) has launched an extensive cladding audit. If the studio has already passed the inspection, then you can assume that it is safe. If the apartment hasn’t undergone the audit, ask the local council’s building department or Municipal Building Surveyor if the apartment building has potential cladding issues. Take into account the safety measures built into the apartments like fire alarms, smoke detectors, stairways, emergency exits, and hallway fire extinguishers. If your building has more than four stories, it is required to have a sprinkler system with the appropriate water tanks. Opt for the building closer to a fire station if choosing between two or more locations.
Everyday Safety Practices
Once you move into an apartment, take note of all the fire escape routes — most notably the fire doors and staircases — as well as the location of any fire extinguishers. Make sure the doors are unlocked and easily accessible, with no debris or clutter. Check your smoke detectors once a month and make sure they are free from dust or other particles. Be mindful of any fires in your home, whether from a stove or a single cigarette. Try to purchase a small dry powder fire extinguisher for your home and store it somewhere it can easily be accessed. Avoid storing flammable materials in your apartment. If you notice behaviors or practices from your neighbors that are potentially risky or dangerous, don’t hesitate to inform the building manager or the owner’s corporation.
During a Fire
If a fire breaks out in your home, assess if it can still be controlled. Do your best to stop or control it while you alert others, but ensure the safety of your family members first. If you detect a fire in a nearby housing unit, pull the fire alarm, and call emergency services. In an ongoing fire that requires evacuation, stay clear of the elevators and use the stairs. Stay low to the ground if smoke is unusually thick. Most fatalities in fires are due to smoke inhalation. Keep one hand to a wall to maintain your bearings if visibility is poor and head to the nearest exit. If there is too much smoke in the hallways, stay in your room. Stop smoke from entering your bedroom by stuffing wet blankets on your door. Open a window and let rescuers outside know you’re still inside.
The government’s stricter standards on apartments are a boon to homeowners and renters. Choose apartments that adhere to government codes and follow everyday fire safety practices.