Compromise in sight over mini-storage fire safety measures

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The self-storage industry will soon put forward proposals to meet fire safety requirements set by the Fire Services Department and Buildings Department.

Photo: Luigi La Tona of the Self Storage Association Asia.

The self-storage industry is one step closer to reaching a compromise with fire safety authorities on introducing new regulations that the industry can better cope with.

Following a four-alarm blaze last June which left two firefighters dead, the Fire Services Department (FSD) has stepped up inspections and enforcement actions in the city’s 800-plus mini-storage facilities. More recently, FSD director Daryl Li Kin-yat said the authority was planning to table a bill in the LegCo by April to implement stricter rules for the industry by the end of this year.

The Self Storage Association Asia (SSAA), which represents about two-third of the mini-storage industry in terms of gross floor area in Hong Kong, has agreed to terms with the Hong Kong Fire Services Department on a number of key principles put forward by the government for fire safety over signage, lighting, better ventilation, improved fire exits and storage doors, as well as elimination of dead ends. Each facility will be treated on a case by case basis.

In addition to agreeing with the government’s plan to establish a licensing and regulatory regime, the association is continuing its dialogue with the FSD over the requirement to have sufficient space between storage units and ceiling, and between storage zones.

Despite the progress, the industry has warned that strict regulations, such as a 2.4-metre gap between storage zones as required by the FSD, would drive providers out of the much-needed industry amid soaring rents in Hong Kong. SSAA executive director Luigi La Tona earlier noted that some 50 facilities had closed or would close in face of harsh demands.

In response, the SSAA has been working with an Authorized Person from Freevision and professionals from Arup Consulting to look into possible solutions with an ultimate goal of stopping the spread of a fire for at least 30 minutes in a 50 square metres perimeter. One suggestion involves using different configurations of fire board to achieve the 2.4-metre spacing and a maximum 50 square metre storage area while not having to actually leave an empty space of 2.4 metres.

“The FSD is open and willing to accept alternative solutions and has maintained this stance. For the industry it was important to match safety and sustainability in order to meet all stakeholder needs,” La Tona asserted. “The new provisions will improve fire safety and smoke dispersion standards for firefighters to quickly reach specific perimeters, and for the authorities to be comfortable in allowing the self-storage industry to continue to thrive in Hong Kong.”

The group is also finalizing a comprehensive code of conduct for its members and will submit proposals to the Buildings Department and the FSD respectively.

“This has been a difficult time for the industry and we give a lot of credit to the FSD for their continued efforts in working with the industry in order to find safe and sustainable solutions,” La Tona added.

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