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Catastrophic fi re losses avoidable says Fire Protection Association

The Fire Protection Association of New Zealand has expressed concern that the major losses incurred in two factory fi res recently could have been prevented had the buildings been fitted with sprinkler systems. 

Association chief executive Bob Taylor says the areas of the Juken NZ triboard mill affected by fire in Kaitaia and the Pacific Plastic Recyclers factory in Otaki did not have sprinklers, which could have significantly reduced the damage done by these major fires. 

“We are talking not only about material damage, but also the economic damage to the small towns where they are both major employers, as well as the atmospheric pollution,” Mr Taylor says. “And then there are the many hours spent by mainly volunteer fire brigade staff in attending to these fires.” 

Mr Taylor pointed to the example of the New Zealand Yachts plant in Whangarei, where a recent fire in a building that has sprinklers and an overlapping heat detection system was extinguished by just one sprinkler head activating above the seat of the fire in a dust hopper. 

“It could have been very nasty without such a system, because adjacent to the fire area was a lot of fuel such as timber, paint and thinners,” Mr Taylor says. “Instead, damage was minimal — and I’m sure the company owners and their insurers are very happy, compared with the outcome of the other two fires.

“Fires like these, and the damage which occurred, are avoidable and unnecessary. “If regulations existed which universally required buildings of such economic significance to have sprinklers, the social and economic impacts would be minimised,” he says. 

“We know of many other unprotected mills and factories around the country, and these two fires are surely lessons for owners and insurers to again look closely at their risk protection.”

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