University Commended For Fire Engineering Work

  • Jack Elder
Internal Affairs

The Minister of Internal Affairs, Jack Elder, has praised Canterbury University for its commitment to fire research and its pioneering work in establishing the first post graduate degree course in fire engineering in New Zealand.

Mr Elder visited the School of Engineering's fire engineering section today and paid tribute to the work of Associate Professor Dr Andrew Buchanan in establishing the degree course and research facility at Canterbury. Mr Elder also endorsed the Fire Service Commission's funding for this work.

"This is a further and important partnership in the Commission's goal of reducing the number and consequences of fire," Mr Elder told post graduate engineering students completing their master's degree in fire engineering.

He also observed a test burn of a typical polyurethane upholstered armchair in the school's research laboratory.

"New Zealand has just experienced two of its worst ever years in terms of fire deaths," Mr Elder said. "Most of these occurred in ordinary domestic dwellings. I am advised that a common denominator in many of those fires, has been rapid and silent fire development as a result of the combustibility of furnishings.

"I am very pleased therefore to see that the University of Canterbury has decided to focus its area of interest on the fire behaviour of the contents of the New Zealand house."

Mr Elder also praised the combined initiative of the university and the Fire Service Commission in establishing a Masters degree in fire engineering in 1992. This was now contributing a steady supply of professional engineers qualified in fire engineering.

Referring to the 1991 Building Act, Mr Elder said that New Zealand has one of the most flexible and modern building codes in the world.

"On the positive side, this permits innovative and cost effective design," Mr Elder said. "But concerns exist that in the area of the fire design of buildings, the design professions have not been trained to operate in this less prescriptive environment. At the time that the Act was passed, none of our universities had a degree course in fire design available."

Mr Elder said the Fire Service Commission had recognised the problem and provided funding support to allow the establishment of a Masters degree programme.

"Every year now, the graduates of this course build the intellectual base of fire engineering skills in New Zealand," he said. "As Minister with responsibility for both the Building Industry Authority and the Fire Service Commission I am pleased that this is occurring.

"But I have some concern that there is not yet a recognised post graduate conversion course for those professionals involved in the fire safety design and regulation of buildings who graduated prior to 1992.

"I share the concern of the Fire Service Commission chairman that this situation may be leading to both under-specification and unnecessary over-specification of buildings.

"The whole purpose of the 1991 Act was to achieve safe buildings at an efficient cost."

Referring to a further multiple fatality rest home fire in 1997 and to commercial and public buildings in which there can be several hundred occupants, Mr Elder said that fully competent design and regulating professions were an essential element of the flexible approach.

During his visit to Christchurch Mr Elder said he would raise these concerns with representatives of the design professions, practitioners and universities at a meeting discussing continuing fire safety education.