No alarms in empty hostel

THE former caretaker of Hostel Milligan is concerned there’s no fire alarms or detectors in place to proof the building against another blaze, and the council doesn’t require any. 

Tony Ransom ran the hostel there until the owners, Singapore-based Fragrance Group, ceased his lease in 2019 to make way for a double-tower redevelopment that’s yet to start. 

The building was supposed to be secured by the owner under a heritage agreement signed by Fragrance, Perth city council, and the WA Heritage Council. But it wasn’t secure enough and after months of break-ins, a fire damaged the innards in March.

At last week’s Perth city council meeting Mr Ransom lodged a question, first noting: “Thankfully the fire department extinguished the significant fire which would otherwise have become a massive inferno in the heritage-listed Milligan Hostel/Pearl Villa last week.

“Can you advise if the building is still protected with 30 smoke detectors, two heat detectors, emergency alarm lights and alarm bells being active?

“Or is the building now unprotected, with power to the detectors now being disconnected? If disconnected, how does the council now match the previous protection?”

Council CEO Michelle Reynolds responded: “The building is declared as non-habitable by the city and therefore cannot be occupied. All access points remain permanently sealed. Persons illegally entering the building, actually breaking and entering, is a matter for local police.

“As the building is declared non-habitable and is to remain unoccupied (vacant) there is no requirement to have an operational fire system in place. All services to the building have been disconnected.”

That’s in line with DFES recommendation to switch off all utilities to deter break-ins and reduce the risk of fire, but the catch is that wired smoke alarms become useless. 

When Mr Ransom showed us around the building in 2019 he pointed out they had an arsenal of fire extinguishers at the ready in case of any fire, and council inspectors regularly visited to ensure all fire-preventing gear was up to standard. 

Shortly after the fire when we spoke to Fragrance’s local agent, architect Laurie Scanlan, he told us they were doing everything they could to secure the place.

We queried if it’d have been more secure just leaving the hostel tenants in place until closer to the development date. Mr Scanlan said work was supposed to start much sooner and the original start date had been delayed due to “Covid; these are things we couldn’t have imagined” and his focus now is on keeping it secured.

Ms Reynolds also told councillors “a structural engineer was engaged, at the city’s request, by the property owner and found that the recent fire did not damage the heritage elements of the building” including the villa, which is to be kept as part of the redevelopment approval. 

By DAVID BELL

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