Over the years, residential and high-rise fires have urged authorities and fire experts to question the safety of buildings, not only around Melbourne and Sydney, but all over Australia as well.

Recently, the Spencer Street fire, which started on the 22nd floor and quickly spread up to the 27th floor has sparked another inquiry into the fire safety of residential buildings. A discarded cigarette butt on the balcony of the 22nd floor started the fire, and the combustible cladding on the exterior of the building contributed to the  quick spreading of the fire.

The combustible cladding was made from aluminum composite material, like the ones used on London’s Grenfell Tower. Fortunately, the fire didn’t spread inside the building because of the building’s sprinkler system.

Fire investigations also revealed that the building’s fire safety systems have not been maintained or replaced for several years, compounding the risk of fire. Apartments are required to undergo annual fire safety checks, but most residents felt that the fire industry is too unregulated, with private companies leaving incomplete work. Because of this, residents considered working with private companies to be a waste of time and money. 

Because of the Spencer Street fire, the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) has initiated an inspection of 30 other city apartment buildings that were previously rated as safe to occupy during the 2015 audit. The Neo200 apartment tower has also passed the 2015 audit and was deemed “safe to occupy.”

Inspections like these are spreading all over the country as the government implements higher standards when it comes to fire safety. Fire authorities are also adopting a stricter assessment tool for building assessments.

If you’re looking to buy an apartment or rent a unit, how do you make sure that your building is safe from fire?

Here are some things to look for when searching for a residential apartment in Australia.

Check the latest property inspection certification.

Has the building been inspected recently? If not, move on to your next option. If the building has complete inspection papers, you also need to check who did the inspection. Is the fire company trustworthy and legitimate? Check their website and compare it with registration. If you notice any inconsistencies, there must be something wrong.

Check the building for fire safety system installation.

Aside from checking the certification, it is also important to see for yourself what fire systems are installed in the building. Are the fire exits properly labeled? Is there a sprinkler system? Are there fire extinguishers all over the place? Are the smoke alarms working? It is better to double-check yourself if these systems are working for your own peace of mind.

Check for an evacuation plan.

If a fire does break out, where do you go? In the case of the Spencer Street fire, the fire crept through the cladding, making it dangerous to use the fire exits. In cases like these, what are your options? Where do you gather once outside? What are the emergency numbers you should call?

Check fire safety regulations in the building.

Does the building allow propane or butane gas for cooking or heating? Is smoking allowed inside the building? Are these rules being implemented strictly and what are the consequences for breaking these fire safety regulations?


The Spencer Street fire was a result of negligence on the part of the occupant, the builders, the building administrator, and the fire inspection companies. To ensure that incidents like this are minimised, the local government should work closely together with fire experts and building managers to strictly implement fire safety protocols and inspections.