Sprinklers, alarm could have saved Pumice - expert

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 04/01/2014
Pumice fire
FOCUSED: Pumice Food Group owner David Kerr says he is determined to rebuild the restaurant.

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The extent of the fire damage to the award-winning Pumice Restaurant was almost certainly avoidable, an independent fire safety expert says.

Fire Protection Association of New Zealand president David Nathan backed Hamilton's Senior Station Officer Daryl Trim, who said the outcome of the fire could have been different if the restaurant had a sprinkler system and a brigade-connected alarm.

But the owner of the building, Jeff Downey, said it was built to code and that the rules were set by the fire service.

Fire crews were called to the Church Rd restaurant in Te Rapa last Sunday morning where the blaze was so extensive they said the building would have to be torn down.

Mr Nathan works independently with councils and is qualified to verify fire safety systems. He said a sprinkler system and adequate warning to firefighters would have protected the building and business.

"The provision of such a system in the Pumice example would likely have seen damage repaired and the restaurant operating again within days," Mr Nathan said.

"Sadly Pumice never had such a system and the resultant damage is evident to see."

He said there was "a void" between the level of fire protection required for a building consent "and what building [and] business owners really need to ensure likely business continuity".

Pumice Food Group leased the building for its flagship restaurant from Downey Construction which had developed the Church Rd business park over the past decade.

Director Jeff Downey said construction firms look to the code as a guideline on what a safe building should be and every aspect of his building complied with the rules.

"It's about the rules. The builders are totally rule-compliant and the fire service writes the rules. You can say that's minimal and go and spend more money if that's what's required but if you do that [with] every aspect, you are going to have a product that is not commercially viable."

Mr Downey would not comment on the cause of the fire until the fire investigation report was released but regretted the decision not to install sprinklers.

He said he was proud of the development and it was tough to see one of his buildings destroyed by fire.

"It was a high-risk venture putting a restaurant in an industrial zone and it was very satisfying that it had worked very well and been very successful. We were very proud of it as a landlord.

"Yes, of course it would have been nice to have a building that had a greater fire protection system, but to do that in every single building, it does become an economic issue when the code suggests it's not necessary."

Pumice Food Group director David Kerr was unavailable for comment.

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- Waikato Times

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