Photos of TIO Stadium’s fire panel taken while the building was fully occupied during the NTFL Grand Final last month appear to show government officials had disabled the fire alarm system for the public event, the NT Independent can reveal.
The photos from late March show the brigade switch on the panel was turned to “isolate”, which means that any emergency fire alarm activated within the main grandstand would not have been relayed to fire services if a fire had broken out at the event.
The government and fire rescue services refused to comment on the public safety issue yesterday or explain if the manipulation of the fire panel meant that the stadium’s fire alarm would also not have sounded if activated.
The photos raise more questions about the safety of the building which the NT Government has been unable to certify due to multiple unresolved serious safety issues, including improper emergency exit issues, fire safety concerns and electrical problems.
Last month, Infrastructure Minister Eva Lawler made an extraordinary ministerial order to exempt the building from certification laws meant to protect the public, which permitted people to enter for major events including the Grand Finals and this weekend’s NRL match, despite the public safety issues remaining uncorrected.
The order was seen as a tacit admission that the government was aware it had previously broke the law by allowing people to enter the facility without an occupancy permit which sparked a current ICAC investigation into Ms Lawler and building controller Mark Meldrum’s handling of public safety issues at the venue.
Ms Lawler and Mr Meldrum both refused to say yesterday whether the fire alarm system will be disabled for this weekend’s NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and North Queensland Cowboys or what safety ramifications isolating the fire panel had on Territorians attending the stadium last month.
The NT Independent revealed last month that an unredacted 2021 internal government engineer’s report found the unresolved safety issues at the stadium “may impact life and safety”.
The government had attempted to hide that report from the public by releasing a redacted version that covered up serious safety concerns including electrical issues, emergency exit issues, emergency lighting failings and concerns about faults with the same fire panel that was manipulated during last month’s event.
The stadium’s current fire hydrant water flow also fails to meet the minimum national standard, the report found, further adding to the potential to put lives at risk if a fire were to break out.
According to NT Fire and Rescue Services rules, any request to “alter, relocate or remove fire alarm equipment” would require approval from a registered building certifier.
Ms Lawler and Mr Meldrum refused to answer whether the government sought or obtained permission to alter the fire panel during the event last month, if fire authorities or a certifier were notified or if proper fire authorities were on site to monitor the situation when the system was impaired.
TIO Stadium’s fire system is part of the NT Fire Alarm System Transmission (NTFAST) program, dubbed an “innovative fire alarm monitoring system” that relies on “remote radio telemetry” to notify fire services of incidents.
“[Building] owners and their representatives must ensure that their fire alarm system, and the entire site it protects, are managed effectively to provide fire safety and to mitigate unwanted false alarms,” the NTFRS legal responsibilities for owners state.
A building industry source who was shown the photos told the NT Independent that the isolation of the fire panel system was irregular.
“Everyone who enters TIO Stadium should expect to feel safe,” they said. “This serious matter makes you wonder what on earth the NT Government is doing at the stadium and raises more questions about the public’s safety at major events there.”
Questions to NT Fire and Rescue Services also went unanswered yesterday, including if they were aware of the fire panel isolation practice at the stadium and if it breached the legal responsibilities of the building’s owners.
Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Michael Riches said last month he had been making enquiries about the stadium’s ongoing issues with government officials including Ms Lawler, Mr Meldrum and Chief Minister Michael Gunner before officially deciding to launch the investigation, after Ms Lawler made the ministerial order to permit occupancy of the stadium before responding to him.