Christina Knorr, Managing Director at CJK Fire & Safety.
Built on a foundation of commitment and expertise, CJK Fire & Safety is shining a light on the importance of fire safety in the built environment.
Providing guidance and strategy to make buildings fire safe since 2020, CJK Fire & Safety takes a unique and holistic approach to provide fire preventative solutions to the construction industry.
With Managing Director and Founder Christina Knorr at the helm, the company is striving to educate the construction industry on the relatively new, yet crucial, profession of fire safety engineering.
Knorr came to Australia from Germany in 2008 to study abroad, where she has now built her life and successful fire engineering consultancy. Completing her First-Class Honours Bachelor Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2012 and her Masters Degree in Fire Safety Engineering with distinction in 2016, Knorr also has years of experience working with what is said to be Australia’s first specialised fire safety engineering consulting practice.
Accredited by the NSW Department of Fair Trading and an accredited Fire Safety Engineer in Queensland and Victoria, Knorr is a registered Fire Safety Engineer. She is also a Chartered Engineer who is on the National Engineering Register (NER), accredited to provide fire safety engineering services Australia-wide.
“After practicing for five years in Sydney, my partner and I moved to Cairns, Queensland, and discovered there wasn’t a single fire safety engineering consultancy in the area,” says Knorr. “I saw the opportunity to launch my own business and today CJK Fire & Safety is the only fire safety engineering consultancy in Cairns.”
In just three years, Knorr has established her business as one of the best in the state, backed by strong relationships with fire brigades and certifiers.
A lesser-known profession in the construction industry, Knorr wants to raise awareness and further educate graduates and the wider industry in the field of fire safety.
Risk assessments and reporting
Providing reports and advice on both new build designs and existing buildings, fire safety engineers ensure buildings meet industry codes to protect the property, its occupants and the surrounding environment from the risk of fire.
“Working closely with building engineers and architects, we conduct fire risk assessments to identify areas where fire safety danger is present,” says Knorr. “From this assessment we produce a fire strategy report identifying risk mitigation actions and providing advice and recommendations on a buildings design.”
“This could include additional fire detection to allow for increased travel distances to fire exits, using non-combustible materials or ensuring locations of fire-fighting equipment are accessible.”
As buildings continue to become more complex, technology has also become an integral part of the fire safety engineering role. The CJK Fire & Safety team uses computer simulation modelling to produce effective fire safety designs.
“These designs provide a visual of things like evacuation routes and potential paths for fire and smoke spread,” adds Knorr.
In Australia constructors are required to build in accordance with the Building Code of Australia (BCA), and Knorr says there are two ways to meet compliance in terms of fire safety when designing and constructing a building.
“The first is the prescriptive path where the code tells you that, for example, a corridor needs to be a certain length, or a window needs to be some millimetres away from a fence – if you follow these rules then you meet compliance with the BCA,” she explains.
“For unique builds on the other hand, such as architecturally complex commercial buildings, it becomes difficult for designers to follow these prescriptive requirements, and a fire safety engineer should be brought in to apply their specialist knowledge.
“Through our holistic approach we can find a solution to ensure any building, no matter how complex or unique in design, is fire safe, high performing and compliant to the BCA.”
CJK Fire & Safety can also assist in identified non-compliance issues within existing buildings, such as heritage buildings that may have complied to a code 50 years ago but no longer comply to today’s code. This also includes buildings that have been issued with an enforcement notice from Council outlining that a non-compliant structure needs to be corrected.
“In the case of existing buildings, our role is to demonstrate what the builder needs to do to make the building safe for occupants,” says Knorr. “We look for defects and identify what can be done to fix those defects without having to pull the building apart.”
“For all buildings, new and existing, we develop Performance Solutions for when a construction project, or parts of it, deviate from the prescriptive requirements of the BCA to ensure compliance with the requirements in the code.”
The CJK Fire & Safety team is also trained and experienced in providing expert witness services in building compliance legal matters. These services involve the team providing expert opinion in building defects, post-fire investigation, insurance claims and combustible cladding legal matters.
“An expert witness can be required in legal matters to assist the Court in making a decision on a claim,” says Knorr. “Our experienced team is well versed in Code of Conduct and confidentiality requirements when it comes to litigation and expert reports to streamline an effective resolution.”
Trending fire hazards
Regarding combustible cladding, Knorr says it is a major issue currently being investigated by governments and professionals worldwide. Combustible cladding is generally installed to external building façades, with certain types burning rapidly if they catch alight. The installation of combustible aluminium composite panels and combustible insulation to form external façades has caused large fires in Australia and the world.
“Combustible cladding has affected many apartment owners, because it makes it near impossible to sell their property,” says Knorr. “Whilst updated legislation has prohibited combustible cladding on new developments, existing installations can be subjected to risk assessments.”
“We have been engaged to assess risks associated with combustible cladding that has been installed on certain buildings and offer risk mitigation methods.”
Further, the use of lithium batteries is the latest hazard affecting the fire safety of buildings. Knorr says the danger of lithium batteries is extensive, being in nearly every chargeable battery from laptops and cars to smoke detectors. “Personally, I think this is a bigger challenge because the combustible cladding is just on the exterior of the building,” she says.
“But lithium batteries are regularly located inside the building, meaning dire consequences should they cause a fire – and we can’t control what people keep inside their apartments, so we have a huge challenge in front of us trying to figure out a solution.”
The bigger picture
Although using the services of a fire safety engineer is optional, in the sense that a builder can develop a design that follows the prescriptive measures of the BCA, Knorr says it’s beneficial to engage a fire expert early.
“Fire safety engineers can help save lots of money, particularly in bigger projects that are being planned,” says Knorr. “Without us, a project could be priced and tendered, then later down the track in the middle of construction, issues could arise.”
“Then, they find they need to get a fire safety engineer in retrospectively, which is obviously not ideal – it’s just an additional cost that hasn’t been accounted for and further delays the project.”
When engaged early, CJK Fire & Safety can advise on options to overcome compliance hurdles before they arise.
Providing advice for graduates looking for a role in fire safety engineering, Knorr says the most important aspect is being interested in the subject. There are unlimited resources for self-studies and further education in the field. “It’s an interesting job and it’s versatile,” she says. “You gain insight into a diverse range of projects, you get to design and work with computer modelling, and it never gets boring.”
Many engineering consultancies are currently looking for graduate engineers, and to enter the field of fire safety, the graduate engineer can be from any field including mechanical, chemical and structural.
One of the latest projects Knorr has started working on, under the name ‘CJK Fire & Safety Education’, is an education platform offering online courses for the wider construction industry, and property and legal professionals. She says many of the issues currently being problematic in the industry are because of lack of knowledge.
“It begins with building users when they don’t know what to do when there’s a fire or what equipment they’ve got available, and we also find some architects and even certifiers are not experienced with certain aspects of fire safety,” she explains.
“The goal is to develop a solid educational platform for people to be able to refer back to, find topics of interest, and work on professional development.”
It is also a place where professionals can collect Continual Professional Development (CPD) points for currency.
Knorr is a shining example of the opportunities that arise from a commitment to, and passion for, the fire safety engineering profession. Not only has she built a successful business that services projects Australia wide, but she also sits on the Engineers Australia Committee in Queensland and on two external advisory committees at the Western Sydney University. She is an examiner for the Engineers Australia Chartered Engineers assessment process and a guest lecturer at the UNSW Edge Construction Law Intensive.
For several years Knorr has been representing fire safety engineering at conferences, summits and seminars, sharing the necessary technical knowledge to a broader audience.
With Knorr heading the business, the CJK Fire & Safety team continues to be recognised throughout the construction industry for their fast turn-over of projects, excellent customer service and personalised approach.