Human Story: 25 up 35 down: Sharba Abbco Fire engulfs building: Family just survives fire stairs in 35 minute terror trip down smoky fire stairs

Human Story: 25 up 35 down: Sharba Abbco Fire engulfs building: Family just survives fire stairs in 35 minute terror trip down smoky fire stairs

Finding themselves suddenly on the top floor in a rapidly combusting apartment tower, a small family takes 35 minutes to escape a fire that takes 25 minutes to engulf the tower. The dark smoky fire stair is their only means of escape with minutes to spare! Dr Drane of Expert Triage provides insights into how this occurred and a way ahead.


Morning after fire ravaged Sharjah’s Abbco Tower: Gulf News 2020
The world has been shocked and mesmerized by accounts of fires that have ravaged high rise apartment towers over the past years with the loss of life and confidence in the new apartment tower sector. From the human tragedy of Grenfell to our own Australian horror stories like Bankstown Fire and Lacrosse Docklands and then on to other structural type defects in Opal Tower, Mascot and more (see our chronology gallery)

Chronology of Apartment Tower Tragedies: 2019 Dr Jonathan Drane: Expert Triage

Chronology of Apartment Tower Tragedies: 2019 Dr Jonathan Drane: Expert Triage

For the people who are featured in the Youtube video on the Abbco Tower, the experience must have been terrifying and traumatizing. Finding yourself in a blazing inferno with just 20 minutes to escape with your family and your life.

In the case of the Abbco Tower, technically, the culprit is ACP or Aluminium Composite Panel which by the way is no stranger to the construction world with the likes of Aluca Bond which has been used effectively across many commercial office towers over the decades. It is basically a sandwich panel with aluminium panels as the bread and polyethylene as the filling.

Fortunately in Australia ACP was officially banned on 15 August 2018 by NSW Fair Trading and panels were restricted to a 30% Polyethylene limit see their ‘Ban Site

In Australia a close example to Abbco is the LaCrosse Dockland fire which led to no loss of life but accounts that the residents did not know the fire was occurring let alone raging up the building at a perilous pace.

The Lacrosse Dockland decision to award damages and attribute them to the various participants in the building’s implementation from builder to architect, building surveyor and fire engineer has sent shock waves through the professional industries that make up the overall delivery system.

See our article for an assessment of the effectiveness of the court ruling and attribution: link to Expert Triage blog article

Expert Triage Breakdown of Abbco Case: Novation and Systemic failure

The creation of a multi-apartment tower is an exercise in entrepreneurship first, then delivery by the various participants in the project such as the architect, the builder, engineers and trades.

The project however is initiated by property developers who are entrepreneurial land traders and speculators. They have no long term interest in the end ownership of the apartment tower. They just want to buy a land parcel, develop it and trade out of the apartments like any product. The land parcel may pass from hand to hand in the development process.

Ignoring the top tier developers who are across the related quality issues, many have been revealed to have little idea of how to ‘deliver’ a complex multi-construction tower. One solution is to seek to completely transfer risk for this delivery to a building contractor. They do this by what is called ‘novation’ through a design and construct or ‘D&C Builder’. Novation means that the developer creates the initial concept with an architect or building designer and then obtains a fixed price for the ‘design and construction’ of the apartment tower from a Design and Construct Builder ( D&C).

At this point the architect changes from a direct client relationship to a subordinated relationship with the builder. This is where the rot can start to set in.

Find out more in our article on how novation can corrupt the process and the design and build legislations which are being created to solve these issues.

Dr Jonathan Drane

5 August 2021