The pros of preventing fire rather than fighting it came to fore after the fire outbreak at Torch Tower, Dubai, bringing the fire safety norms in skyscrapers under the scanner.
The recent fire outbreak in a Dubai high rise, The Marina Torch, has brought fire safety in skyscrapers in the limelight. While the reason for the outbreak in this residential building, also known as Torch Tower, is yet to be ascertained, it should be noted that no lives were lost during the mishap. The building´s height is 351 m with 86 floors consisting 658 apartments.
High rises are more prone to fire mishaps due to their increased height and floors, which elongate the evacuation process thereby making it more hazardous. ´Due to the high risks involved, fire in tall buildings attracts more attention. The fire in the lower floors stops the movement of occupants on the floors above,´ says Mohan Kumar, Senior Technical Manager, EFECO.
What makes tall buildings more susceptible to fire? In such buildings, glass and steel are widely used. But how do they perform in fire? ´Structural steel melts in high temperatures and glass breaks. In high rises, as soon as the glass breaks it allows the wind to enter the building, which increases the fire´s intensity,´ says Mudit Sharma, General Manager, Afcons. Apart from the Torch Tower, the GCC region also witnessed Jumeirah Lake Towers´ Tamweel Tower setting ablaze in 2012. The building was evacuated immediately and has been lying vacant since. Investigations revealed that the fire that engulfed the 34-storey tower was caused by a burnt cigarette that landed on a garbage pile.
Fire in skyscrapers spreads mostly due to the presence of fire near the building structure. Hence, countries across the world give special importance to the use of fire retardant materials in construction, to avoid a fire-prone atmosphere on the surface of the building.
Hong Kong´s Code of Practice for Fire Safety in Buildings 2011 focuses on minimizing the spread of smoke, which may result in suffocation of the occupants of the building. It states, ´Building elements should have adequate provisions to minimize the spread of smoke. The functions of the fire safety provisions of a building should maintain for a reasonable period of time during a fire.´ That said, Hong Kong has more than 300 buildings of 150 m and above.
As per Building Code of Australia, by separating distances between buildings, fire protection to external walls (including any openings such as windows) and the splitting up of the internal spaces of the building into separated compartments, the spread of fire is prevented from one building to another. Building construction should be able to maintain structural stability during a fire to allow for occupants to evacuate and the fire brigade to fight the fire.
In the GCC region, Dubai has the maximum number - 150 m and above - high rises. The city is home to more than 160 high rises, the Burj Al Arab constructed in 1999 being the first. Apart from this, what can truly add to curbing the movement of fire is use of materials, which are not combustible. ´Through use of fire transmission proof materials in cladding and pre-cladding, the movement of fire can be curbed,´ adds Kumar.
´We have used Chartek 1709, from International Paint for our projects,´ says Sharma. Further to such precautions, fire alarms and other technologies may help pass the information of such an outbreak and save more lives.
In case of fire, the age-old maxim ´precaution is better than cure´ holds true. But while most high rises are employing necessary precaution to avoid such situations, even more technological advancements is the need of the hour. Skyscrapers need to be more than just fire-safe; they need to be made fire-proof.