Probe into hospital work reveals fire safety issues

BIG SPEND: Dialysis machines have been fitted with filters in preparation of the city's water being chlorinated. PHOTO: MARTIN HUNTER

An investigation has found potential issues with fire protection walls and floors in Canterbury District Health Board hospitals.

As part of its earthquake repair work, the CDHB has investigated its passive fire protection walls and floors, which are designed to keep a fire from spreading.

CDHB acting chief executive Mary Gordon said the investigation found “a number of potential compliance issues.”

The CDHB wouldn’t say what the specific issues were or what buildings were affected.

But CDHB board member Aaron Keown said the problems were mostly around holes drilled through the firewalls or floors to fit new services, like gas pipes and IT system wiring.

The cost of the repair was currently unknown, but was likely to be “quite massive,” he said.

Fire Service specialist investigator Mark Thomas said that would be a particular concern in a hospital, because in a fire patients would be moved to another part of the building, rather than evacuated outside.

If there was even a small hole in a firewall, they could be at risk, he said.

Said Mr Thomas: “You don’t take a sick person and put them outside at three in the morning, so in a fire they initially do a horizontal evacuation, past smoke and fire stop doors. So if they’ve gone past it, to what they perceive is safety, but the wall is compromised, it is possible it (the fire) could come past to where they are,” he said.

Fire Fighting Pacific Canterbury service manager Charlie Loughnan said he believed working firewalls could have prevented the fire in London’s Grenfell Tower last month from spreading.

“My opinion is that the cladding burnt the building down, but didn’t kill anyone. It was the lack of fire separations inside the building which was the cause of the deaths: The fire getting from the apartment into the lobby, from the lobby into a stairwell, then blocking the stairwell.”

He said a lack of firewalls was also what allowed the 1947 Ballantynes fire to spread so fast, killing 41 people.

He said world-leading regulations around firewalls were brought in after the tragedy, but they depended on the firewalls not being compromised.

Ms Gordon said work was being done to investigate and rectify the issues.

She said all hospital buildings had fire detection and suppression systems, and the safety of staff, patients and visitors was her top priority.

“We don’t have any immediate concerns,” she said.

She said the work was a “pro-active investigation done on our own initiative,” not a requirement.

She said the Ministry of Health was aware of the work, and was “reviewing the systems” as part of its planning process.