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Fire-prevention equipment “readiness” was vital in reducing loss of life and property and damage to the environment, said Hans Davel, vice-chairperson of SAQCC-Fire.

Fire-prevention equipment “readiness” was vital in reducing loss of life and property and damage to the environment, said Hans Davel, vice-chairperson of fire systems industry, registering and training body the SA Qualification and Certification Committee (SAQCC-Fire).

While big corporations and a few small and medium business invested in properly designed, installed and maintained systems, which met national and international standards, for the vast majority of businesses, fire-detection systems were a grudge purchase, which they had “installed as cheaply as possible”, to meet insurance companies’ requirements, said Davel.

“Other businesses do not consider fire risk and will only do something when a fire inspector visits the premises or their neighbour has a fire. Fire-fighting equipment is not regularly maintained.

“The standard of this maintenance is often below required standards and norms. This group of businesses is, unfortunately, bigger than what the general public realise,” Davel said.

The SAQCC ensures fire-detection companies and workers have been registered and have the “necessary training, qualifications and experience in the various categories of competence”. These include fire detection and prevention and fire-fighting, sprinkler and gas-suppression systems.

Davel said insurance companies played a major role in getting businesses to adhere to the building regulation code on fire prevention, by refusing to ensure premises which were not compliant.

“More and more insurance claims are refused or reduced when fire-protection systems were not installed and maintained in terms of the necessary requirements,” he said.

“Continued maintenance is the only measure that can ensure the equipment will be ready for use when a fire breaks out. If the equipment fails due to poor, cheap and inadequate maintenance, it may be your life or the life of a loved one that may be lost.”

Davel added about 80% of small and medium companies failed after a major fire.

“A big fire starts as a small fire. Most fire-protection equipment and systems in buildings aim to detect and extinguished small fires, before they start to threaten lives and livelihoods.”

The latest statistics, which are from 2015, indicated fire departments nationally responded to 45784 fires, in which 436 lives and R2 732 024 282 worth of property were lost.

In the high-risk building category, 56 fires were at hotels and boarding houses, with one death, and R29 454 200 in damages; 144 fires were at at restaurants and cafes houses, with one death, and R45 185 500 in damages; 24 fires were at nightclubs and dance halls, with R2 625 000 in damages and 196 were at offices, with two deaths, and R34 624 160 in damages.

There were 47 fires at department stores, with one death, and R13 578 500 in damages. Formal dwellings accounted for 5448 fires, with 82 lives and R997 647 018 worth of property lost, while 5448 informal dwellings burnt, with the loss of 219 lives, and R132 525 415 worth of property.

In Cape Town, there were 15 fires at hotels and boarding houses; 48 at restaurants and cafes; four at nightclubs and dance halls; 21 at department stores; 83 at offices; 1409 at formal dwellings and 1462 at informal dwellings.

With the spectre of criminal charges for non-compliance to national building regulations being brought against hotel owners, Alan Lester, acting chairperson for the Cape Federation for Hospitality Association of SA, said a fire on their property was a “hotelier’s worst nightmare”.

“We see this as extremely important as our guests’ and employees’ lives are a priority,” said Lester, who added some hotels invested in quarterly inspections from their fire industry service provider and some added monthly drills to their preparedness.

Most hotels budgeted for the quarterly inspections and maintenance of their fire-detection and alarm systems, based on the work carried out in the previous year. Spier, for example budgeted R500000 a year, Lester said.

“In most properties, there is a warning alarm that goes off to security and reception first, identifying exactly where the alarm has gone off.

“This alarm is then investigated and needs to be deactivated within four minutes, before the full hotel alarm system activates, requiring an emergency procedure. This is then treated as a full evacuation and there is no such thing as a false alarm when this happens.”

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