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  • Holger Dielenberg

Horrific fire almost cripples Space Tank Studio

A potentially horrific fire almost crippled Space Tank Studio, Melbourne’s iconic business Makerspace last month.

The fire started in the woodwork room at 12.30pm on Tuesday 12th July. Emergency services were immediately called, and 3 fire trucks attended the incident. 25 fire fighters battled for 3 hours to put out the blaze and save the Melbourne’s iconic business makerspace from burning to the ground.

Space Tank is a unique and valuable part of our startup ecosystem. The business makerspace is Melbourne’s only independent incubator that supports early-stage manufacturing businesses. All other incubators are geared mainly to support app developers.

It would be a tragedy For Melbourne’s startup business community to lose Space Tank. We believe it is important to ensure that physical product development has a place in Victoria’s startup ecosystem.

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. A fire in your workplace is one of those events that you hope will never happen. So, you prepare with the best OH+S procedures to ensure the safety to your community.

We know there are inherent risks in providing our members with access to industrial machinery and we have always worked closely with safety consultants and industry professionals to develop best practices that minimise these risks. We worked with Felder Australia and Advanced Duct Systems to ensure we had the best possible explosion proof and fire-resistant extraction system in place.

After a thorough inspection and investigation in conjunction with woodworking machinery experts from Felder and Work Safe Victoria, it has been determined that the dust particulate flowing through the flexible ducting pipes caused electromagnetic static leading to ignition.

The Worksafe Victoria inspector who attended the workshop to investigate the incident was impressed with Space Tank’s safety protocols and explosion proof dust extraction system. “It took us a while to determine the actual cause of the fire since the system was designed very well to mitigate the risk of static and ember fires”, the inspector said.

Space Tank installed a top-of-the-line Felder RL350 dust extractor that is specifically designed to be used entirely indoors and to be explosion proof. “The system is designed to contain fires and withstand spontaneous combustion events”, said Cornelius Badenhorst. The extraction pipes are also earthed to the concrete building and columns and connected to the heavy cast iron machines via copper wire spiral ducting. This follows best practice methodologies that are intended to stop static build up and minimise fires in dust extraction systems.

The fire started in the spiral duct connected to the panel saw and quickly travelled through the extraction pipes to the dust extractor where the fire was mostly contained. Major fire damage has been limited to the panel saw and the dust extractor and to the immediate walls, floor and ceiling around these machines.

Within a few minutes of the fire starting, the entire woodwork room was full of thick black smoke. There was only a narrow space of clean air just above the floor. Space Tank owner Holger Dielenberg managed to temporarily put out the first flames with a fire extinguisher, but the smoke was so thick that it was impossible to see anything.

“We were all wearing respirators but even these weren’t enough. Everyone at Space Tank followed our safety protocols. Within minutes, we realized we could not extinguish the flames ourselves and because of the thick smoke filling the building, we couldn’t see into the woodwork room anymore. We quickly and safely evacuated the building and called emergency services.”

The fire brigade arrived within 3 minutes and quickly took control of the incident. “We were very impressed with the fire brigade’s professionalism and calm response to the situation.” Of concern was the growing lack of visibility. Thick black smoke filled both levels of the entire building and poured out of the front roller door and upstairs windows. For three long hours, fire brigade personnel in full oxygen suits entered the maelstrom and slowly and carefully put the fire out.

Smoke has stained the walls and ceilings and thick sludge left behind from the fire brigade dousing flames mixed with saw dust from the dust extraction system has covered the entire floor area.

Space Tank now faces the challenges of repairing fire and water damage and replacing machines that have suffered irreparable damage. Some of the machines were subjected to temperatures of around 300 degrees for at least 2 hours and simply did not survive. Insurance assessors are working with Space Tank to cover damages and the cleanup process has already begun.

The remediation work will take weeks and will disturb Space Tank’s daily operations. There are many jobs that need to be carried out to repair damage from the fire and return Space Tank back to full operations. This includes cleaning walls and ceilings, replacing destroyed machinery and acoustic panelling to painting and repairing damaged electrical wiring and servicing smoke and heat damaged equipment.

We ask our community to be patient as we work our way through the tasks at hand. We have itemised the damage and carried out a full safety assessment. As a priority, any damage that is deemed hazardous including electrically compromised systems have been decommissioned.

Fortunately, we have built our electrical system such that we can completely isolate different communal spaces and workshops. Due to this foresight, we can continue safe operations in all other areas of Space Tank.

We will keep our community informed of all important updates and wish to reassure Melbourne that Space Tank has survived!

Aside from two main pieces of machinery in the woodwork room and some off-limits areas, we are largely still operational and members are able to continue safely working at the makerspace.

As a final note, I would like to acknowledge the brave members of Space Tank who swiftly and calmly worked together to put out the initial fire. There was no panic and everyone followed our evacuation procedures perfectly. Congratulations and huge thanks to you all. You make me incredibly proud and grateful.

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