Nuff Nuff

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Fire Bunkers in The News Again – Are They Safe?

Thursday saw the release of first state government accredited fire-bunker. I understand people are looking for ways to protect their families, pets and valuables but I am not sure that fire bunkers are the answer.

Personally and this is a purely personal thing – I am against bunkers of any sort. I would never use a bunker – but that is MY personal choice. I am concerned for people, perhaps not this year, perhaps not next year, but in 10 or 20 years time, when maintenance has not been done correctly and perhaps the neighbours have moved and no-one knows the location of said bunker.

If the bunker is a commercially purchased bunker, the companies providing these bunkers, clearly state that “ABC does not claim this product will save lives. There is NO Guarantee of personal safety. Nothing works better than timely and safe evacuation.”

It concerns me greatly that people may be putting their lives in the hands of things that may not provide the protection they are expecting.

Some comments from people who know far more than me state:-

From the Master Builders Submission to the Royal Commission
1. Master Builder has participated in discussions with the Building Commission and the State Government’s Building Advisory Council (BAC) regarding bunker installation in high risk bushfire regions.
2. Master Builders does not support mandating bunker construction on private property. We believe that the decision to construct a bunker on private property is a risk management decision for individuals. Thus, we do not believe government has a role to play in restricting individual freedom of choice in this area.
3. Master Builders also does not support the introduction of regulations for bunker design in Victoria. We consider the development of such regulations to be fraught with danger as this could engender the incorrect belief that bunkers will guarantee a persons safety.
4. Master Builders instead recommends the Building Commission develop a voluntary checklist for consumers. Such a checklist would help improve consumer awareness without unnecessarily regulating an area of policy where few absolutes exist. Matters which could be included are:
• Maintenance of tenable conditions;
• Suitable location (ease of access and exit and proximity to vegetation / trees);
• Size, strength and occupancy level;
• Bunker entry and locking mechanisms;
• Capacity to observe fire threat;
• Bottled oxygen supply;
• Appropriate signage to locate the bunker;
• Separation requirements if adjacent to other buildings; and,
• Resistant to embers

From Consumer Affairs – Victoria
Consumers should note that research conducted under Australian conditions has yet to prove that bunkers save lives. They are not compulsory for properties in fire-threatened areas and should not be considered as a substitute for a comprehensive fire safety and evacuation plan.

Not one organisation is prepared to say that these bunkers replace any sort of forward fire preparation and planning and all state that early evacuation is the BEST OPTION IS ALL CASES.

Some experts even fear that a fire bunkers when not being used as a fire bunker – may pose another threat and that is entrapment and suffocation of children and this is something that the authorities are extremely concerned about

My greatest fear is not for tomorrow but in 10-20 years time or even longer, when the location of these bunkers is forgotten by neighbours and when people remove any indication of a bunker or allow trees and shrubs to grow near the bunker, that the existence of the bunker will be forgotten by all except the householders and when the fire approaches, retreat into these bunkers.

What happens if they are trapped? What happens if the air runs out? What happens if smoke does manage to enter the bunker?

Will these people be lost forever, killed by something they thought would save them and people and companies (long since out of business) have proclaimed these bunkers safe to protect human life?

I have spoken to many people from areas affected by the fires of Black Saturday and EVERYONE I spoke to have declared quite loudly that next time (if there is a next time for them) they would prepare their house, stay as long as possible and then move to cleared ground. This is not what I call an ideal solution, but it is a solution they are prepared to take on.

Many people in the Narbethong/Marysville area survived the night by remaining on cleared ground, people in Marysville on the oval and people in Narbethong on ploughed soil. Many residents in both areas declare they would do the same thing again.

They would not retreat to bunkers, they are fully aware of the dangers of what may go wrong and would rather die in the open, where are least they have a chance of surviving or being found after the fire front has passed. It is a well-known fact that the fire-watchers bunker on Mt Gordon in the Marysville/Narbethong area melted. If the proposed occupant had decided to stay he would be dead now. The locals are well aware of this fact and have made their decisions accordingly.

NOTHING AND I MEAN NOTHING is more important than you and your families safety. If you are not 110% prepared both mentally and physically or have previously suffered health problems GET OUT AND GET OUT EARLY.

DO NOT rely on bunkers to save your life. By the time you realise something is wrong it may be too late and too dangerous to exit and you may perish.


Andrew said...

We are so lucky that is hasn't been a bad fire season. The needless yoyo of people leaving and returning hasn't happened, never mind where they would go to. A large cleared area, with water and a blanket may be a last resort, but quite a viable one.

It ain't so (most of the time) said...

Thanks Andrew, I agree with what you said but the problem really is that councils and governments refuse to state what is safe, this causes more problems. They want people to leave, but refuse to state where. If you check the rest of my blog out - you'll see the questions raised and it scares me stupid.

Kate Carruthers said...

One of the facts that stood out for me from the Bushfire Royal Commission is that nobody who went into a body of water died but many who sheltered died. I suspect a proper (and that is yet to be effectively defined) shelter would be prohibitively expensive to create and maintain.

It ain't so (most of the time) said...

Kate - you are so right - and it's the maintanence that scares me, or lack of.
I had a discussion not long after the fires with my daughter and this was the Outcome
But getting back to the Bunkers issue - The next big fire that goes through a community (it's only a matter of when not if really) and people have retreated to these bunkers, I hope and pray that the bunkers are clearly marked and the neighbours know where these bunkers are located because I can see people never being recovered and that would be heart-breaking for the family - absolutely heart-breaking. As it is, some people who did die on THEIR property, there is so little left that DNA testing is inconclusive and death certificates have not been issued, even though they died ON THEIR OWN properties. The heart-ache of those families must be enormous.