Safety in high rise buildings

OUR TECHNICAL ADVISOR, Mr. R.R. NAIR SPEAKS AGAIN ABOUT SAFETY IN HIGH RISE BUILDINGS :

The Indian economy has opened up new business avenues that have changed urban dynamics. With the growing incomes, people’s aspirations for comfort and convenience have increased many folds which in turn motivated the demand for lifestyle homes. The growing demand for accommodation has created a boom in the real estate sector. Space crunch in urban areas has led to vertical development of buildings – special type of buildings for housing industries and construction of high rise buildings for residential, commercial, and institutional purposes. The invention of a safe and high speed passenger clivator and the development of better structural framing system made such buildings possible. Today, in any major city, you will see high rise buildings stretching across the skyline!

The word ‘skyscraper’ was coined in the late 19th century, reflecting public amazement at the tall buildings being built in New York city. The structural definition of the word ‘skyscraper’ was created later by architectural historians, based on engineering development of the 1988’s, which had enabled construction of tall multistory buildings. The high rise buildings are generally considered as one that is taller than the maximum height which people are willing to walk up. There are many definitions for high rise buildings and some highlights on the number of floors and others on the height of the building such as 15m, 25m, 35m etc. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) of USA defines “high rise building”, as a building greater than 75 feet (25 m) in height where the building height is measured from the lowest level of fire department vehicle access to the floor of the highest occupiable storey. As per the National Building Code of India, 2005, all the buildings 15m or above in height shall be considered as high rise buildings.

As the demand for housing is on the up swing, the number of high rise buildings in the cities of India is rising day by day, especially in metro cities and their out skirts. However, no comprehensive data is available for the number of high rise buildings existing or under construction in the country. Higher growth in the construction of high rise buildings were noticed in some of the metro cities in the country. For example, the Greater Mumbai and its outskirts, like Navi Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan has registered a higher growth in construction of high rise buildings during the last decade. It is estimated that about 5000 high rise buildings are already in Mumbai region and about equal numbers are planned for the next decade or so. Even the high rise buildings having more than 100 floors have either planned or under construction at not only in Mumbai but also in other cities such as Bangaluru, Gandhinagar, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Noida, etc.

The construction industry has gone through major technological advancement. Of Late, building design, especially for high rise and special buildings, has become a complex process, integrating many skills, products and techniques into its system. Many high rise buildings were constructed with marvelous designs and adopting advanced construction technology. Though these high rise buildings offer many advantages such as consumes optimal space, accommodate more people, round the clock security, back up power supply, car parking, provide healthy environment by making environment sensitive development, etc., high rise buildings have their down side too. A high rise building is prone to natural calamities if not built on structurally strong foundation. It also created extra burdens for various authorities in providing infrastructure such as roads, power and water supply. Many of these high rise buildings also lack adequate infrastructure needed for the prevention and fire protection in the building and also the life safety measures required for the occupants.

The fire risk in a high – rise residential building would be significantly higher than in a lower rise building. The probability of a fire and the consequence would be much higher and the resulting risk would be even higher. A good building design is required to cater to various potential emergency situations. The high rise buildings which are built on strong foundation can even stand firm against any external disturbing factors. The main objective of fire safety design of buildings should be assurance of life safety, property protection and continuity of operations or functioning. A fire in any residential building has the potential to cause harm to the occupants, and severs damage to property. It poses high risk to the life and property of its occupants. When it comes to the high-rise buildings the problem become much more complex. As a building gets taller, the number of occupants increases, and potential fire disaster increases. Its magnitude can be reduced only when the buildings and structures are designed, constructed, equipped, maintained and operated so as to avoid danger to life and property. For the prevention of fire, it is necessary to create a basic infrastructure and maintain them for meeting any eventualities at any time. It should be born in mind that a fire can happen at any time at any structure, irrespective of the past fire free record. To contain a fire, the buildings should have a system capable of fighting a fire. It is a known fact that if a fire cannot be extinguished in the initial stages, it would become more and more difficult for the fire fighters to extinguish a fire as the time advances. The amount of water required for fighting a fire within the initial 3 minutes will increase to about 1000 folds within 10 minutes, which is the normal time for a fire engine to reach the site of the fire. Thus, a good fire protection system shall not only be installed but also to be maintained in good working condition so as to meet eventualities at any time.

Facts and Figures:
According to a report of Delhi Fire Service, Delhi had more than 75,000 fire incidents during 1995 – 96 to 1999 – 2000 (5 years), resulting more than 1825 deaths and injury to 7600 persons and loss of property valuing more than 176 crores. According to Tamil Nadu Fire Service, Chennai had more than 8950 fire incidents during 2001 to 2006 (5 years), resulting in more than 31 deaths, loss of property valuing more than 10.39 crores. There is no comprehensive data available for the number of fires reported in India for high rise buildings. However, the data regarding the accidents due to structural Collapse and Fires are compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India. For our purpose we relied on the data, published by NCRB. There were 24414 persons died due to fire accidents in 2010 (See Table 1). Besides, 1362 persons died due to house / building collapse during the year 2010. However, there is no record available for the number of persons died in the high rise buildings due to structural collapse or fire. Major Potential Hazards involved in residential buildings can be grouped into two viz. (a) Collapse of Structures and (b) Fires. The Structural Collapse can be divided into two viz. (a) Houses and (b) Buildings. Fires in a residential building including high rise building can happen due to various reasons. However, the main causes can be attributed to 4 categories viz. (a) Fire Works & Crackers, (b) Short Circuits, (c) Burst of Cooking Gas Cylinders and Stows and (d) Other Causes.

The Table shows the number of Persons died and injured due to the collapse of structures and fires during the year 2010. It may be seen from the Table 1 that, during the year 2010, there were 26025 fire cases, which resulted in the death of 24414 persons and injury to 3134 persons. During the same period 1362 persons died and 923 injured due to collapse of houses and buildings. For the purpose of comparison, the table also provides the data for the year 2009.

Table 1
Number of Persons Injured, and Died due to Structural Collapse and Fire During the year 2009 & 2010

Causes 2009 2010
No. of
Cases
No. of
Persons Injured
No. of
Deaths
No. of
Cases
No. of
Injuries
No. of
Deaths
A Collapse of Structures

  1. House
  2. Buildings

Total

1033
279
242
47
1091
265
1003
252
714
209
985
377
1312 289 1356 1255 923 1362
B Fires:

  1. Fire Works Crackers
  2. Short Circuits
  3. Gas Cylinders/Stow Burst
  4. Other Fire Accidents

Total

583
14104104
18787
268
207241
2328
547
13284127
17266
387
13874912
18339
163
158313
2500
276
13124820
18006
24884 3044 23268 25025 3134 24414

Ref: National Crime Records.Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs 2010.

The Table 2 gives an account of the number of persons injured due to fire accidents in selected states during the year 2010. Accident statistics for seven states having the highest number of accidents are given in the Table. It may be seen from the table that, amongst the states, Maharashtra, had registered the highest number of cases and deaths i.e. involving the death of 5536 persons in 7337 cases. The state of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu had also registered the highest number of deaths.

Table 2
Number of Persons Injured and Died due to Fire in Selected States During the year 2010

Sr.
No.
Name of States No. of
Cases
No. of Persons Injured No. of Persons Died
Male Female Total Male Female Total
1. Andhra Pradesh 1842 44 70 114 661 1157 1818
2. Gujarat 2693 25 40 65 928 1723 2651
3. Karnataka 1571 19 16 35 499 1052 1551
4. M.P 3138 47 30 77 1004 2211 3215
5. Maharashtra 7337 688 1228 1916 1448 4088 5536
6. Tamil Nadu 2279 38 47 85 917 1653 2570
7. Uttar Pradesh 1184 124 80 204 434 735 1169
8. Other States 5981 325 313 638 2266 3638 5904
All India 26025 1310 1824 3134 8157 16257 24414

The Table 3 gives an account of the fire accident by city wise. Accident statistics for 7 cities out of 35 are given in the Table. It may be seen from the Table that Mumbai city had registered the highest number of deaths due to fire, which resulted in the death of 423 (Male – 135 and Female – 288) persons during the year 2010. The Bangalore, Delhi and Pune also registered the highest number of deaths. The Nashik had 785 fires resulted in the death of 99 and injury to 712 persons.

Table 3
Number of Persons Injured and Died due to Fire in Selected Cities during the year 2010

Sr.
No.
Name of City No. of
Cases
No. of Persons Injured No. of Persons Died
Male Female Total Male Female Total
1. Bangalore 390 12 15 27 119 246 365
2. Delhi City 256 31 3 34 138 151 289
3. Hyderabad 213 6 13 19 68 140 208
4. Mumbai 421 1 0 1 135 288 423
5. Nasik 785 339 373 712 24 75 99
6. Pune 291 0 0 0 78 213 291
7. Surat 211 0 0 0 95 116 211
8. Other Cities 1880 67 26 93 717 1248 1965
All Cities 4447 456 430 886 1374 2477 3851

Fires are caused due to various causes. The Table 4 shows Cause wise data for fires occurred in various states during the year 2010. In the Table the data for major 3 causes viz. (1) Fire works and crackers, (2) Short Circuits, (3) Bursting of Cooking Gas Cylinders and Stows. All other causes are categorized under Other Fire Accidents. It may be seen from the Table that the state of Uttar Pradesh accounts for the largest number of deaths (40 persons) due to Fire Works and Crackers. Andhra Pradesh had registered for the highest number of deaths (273) due to short circuit. Gujarat accounted for the highest number deaths (882) due to the bursting of Cooking Gas Cylinders and Stows. Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh had also shared highest number of deaths.

Table 4
Fire Accidents by Cause Wise in selected states during 2010

Sr. No. Name of States Fire Works & Crackers Short Circuits Gas Cylinder or Stow Burst Other Fire Accidents Total No.
of Cases
Total
No. of Deaths
No. of Cases No. of Deaths No. of Cases No. of Deaths No. of Cases No. of Deaths No. of Cases No. of Deaths
1. A. P. 24 25 271 273 601 584 946 936 1842 1818
2. Gujarat 29 28 205 206 897 882 1562 1535 2693 2651
3. Karnataka 17 13 78 66 410 384 1067 1088 1571 1551
4. M.P. 20 20 54 55 130 122 2934 3018 3138 3215
5. Maharashtra 35 11 199 152 609 596 6494 4777 7137 5536
6. Tamil Nadu 38 23 90 103 697 746 1454 1698 2279 2570
7. U.P. 70 40 62 62 140 144 912 923 1184 1169
8. Other States 154 116 428 395 1428 1362 5742 4031 5981 5904
All India 387 276 1387 1312 4912 4820 2111 18006 26025 24414

The Table 5 shows the Accidents due to structural collapse by state wise during the year 2010. It may be seen from the Table that the state of U.P. had registered the highest number of deaths i.e. 233 deaths from 245 cases. Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat had also registered the higher number of deaths.

Table 5
Accidents Due to Structural Collapse by State Wise During 2010

Sr. No. Name of States House Collapse Building Collapse
No. of Cases No. of Deaths No. of Cases No. of Deaths
1. Andhra Pradesh 69 82 10 27
2. Gujarat 80 95 10 10
3. Karnataka 33 35 11 36
4. M.P. 103 100 7 6
5. Maharashtra 128 108 60 54
6. Tamil Nadu 78 62 27 39
7. U.P. 245 233 30 34
8. Delhi 22 23 12 81
9. Other States 245 217 85 90
All India 1003 955 252 377

The Table 6 shows the account of structural collapse of 7 cities out of 35 cities in India. It may be seen from the table that the Delhi City had registered the highest number of deaths i.e. 126 persons (85 – Male and 41 – Female). The cities like Meerut, Pune and Ahmadabad had also registered higher deaths.

Table 6
Structural Collapse by city wise during 2010

Sr. No. Name of City No. of
Cases
No. of Persons Injured No. of Persons Died
Male Female Total Male Female Total
1. Ahmedabad 30 0 0 0 23 7 30
2. Delhi City 160 77 36 113 85 41 126
3. Hyderabad 19 10 3 13 20 11 31
4. Meerat 38 35 5 40 34 10 44
5. Mumbai 33 7 0 7 26 5 31
6. Nasik 41 26 15 41 0 0 0
7. Pune 31 0 0 0 26 5 31
8. Other Cities 44 18 9 27 108 52 160
All Cities 396 173 68 241 322 131 453

Design Strategy:
Those responsible for building Codes formulation recognize the need for a modern, up – to – date Fire Code, addressing conditions hazardous to life and property from fire & explosion. Periodic fire drill, removal of encroachments in the courtyard, removal of obstructions in common corridors or staircases, a vibrant wet riser system and a sump of adequate capacity are some of the fire safety requirements in multi storyed residential buildings. There has been tremendous advancement in the use of various kinds of plastics in the building industry. New types of roofing, walls, doors and false ceiling panels, case panels for walls and interior finish materials are been increasingly used. These have brought in their wake new fire and life safety problems. The need for all such products to be tested and evaluated for their behavior in fire and flame propagation properties, cannot be overemphasized in the interest of fire and life safety requirements.

Ensuring life safety is the most essential aspect of Building Codes. High rise and multi storey assembly buildings pose particular challenges due to the large number of occupants and large vertical travel distances. The collapse of World Trade Center on 11th September 2001 has raised numerous questions on relationship between fire service response and building design. The disaster has also highlighted the increased threat from terrorism and the impact this might have on fire fighter safety and on the build environment. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), USA, in its final report on the collapses of the World Trade Center Towers recommended 30 recommendations in 8 groups. Many of the recommendations were logical outgrowths of the event, but some others could lead to substantial changes in the building design. These recommendations will be an eye opener for the designers and architects.

Though, it is beyond the scope of this article to highlight the recommendations of NIST, the readers would be interested to know the main topics covered in the report which are as follows:

  • Increased structural Integrity.
  • Enhanced fire resistance of structures
  • New methods of fire resistance design of structures.
  • Improved active fire protection.
  • Improved building education.
  • Improved emergency response.
  • Improved procedure and practices and,
  • Education and training.

According to a report by Ontario Association of Architects (OAA), residential high – rise building fires illustrate a number of points that designers should take into consideration:

  • Unsuspected fires in high rise buildings generate large quantities of smoke that can spread vertically or horizontally through the building, even if the fire is contained to only one room or apartment. A contained, but not extinguished fire can also generate significant smoke.
  • Vertical smoke spread is exacerbated by wind and by stack effect, which occurs when the buildings inside temperature is greater than the outside.
  • Despite the type of structure (steel or reinforced concrete), most damage, deaths and injuries result from the spread of smoke.
  • In multiple – death fires in residential high rise buildings, many facilities occour in egress routes (stairways and corridors) due to smoke from a fire elsewhere in a building.
  • In apartment fires with doors left open or burned – through, smoke will spread to the corridors, shafts and upper levels.
  • Sometimes it may be safer for building occupants to remain in their apartments or rooms rather than to exit through smoke – filled corridors and stairshafts.
  • Appropriate instructions to occupants during a fire are essential of it is expected that they should take specific actions.

Architects must realize the consequences of failure of built in protection or the absence of appropriate occupant based programme on risk to life for occupants of high rise residential buildings. Architects must also understand how building and occupant – based safety need to work together. Simply complying with a building code does not necessarily provide optimum fire safety. Evaluating a design for building fire safety represent a systematic approach to a fire safety strategy. To achieve fire safety in a building is through fire prevention, which involves separating potential heat sources from potential fuels. It must be born in the mind that major building fires are started by heat sources and ignitable materials that are stored in the building. Fire prevention is enhanced by careful observance of codes and standards in the design and installation of electrical and lighting system, the heating system and any other built in equipment such as cooking, refrigeration, air conditioning and clothes washing and drying. Venting system is also needed to be designed carefully to carry carbon monoxide and potential fuels along protected paths. Protection from lightning and explosion fires affects the external design of the building. A fire in one building creates an external fire hazard in neighboring structures by exposing those structures to heat by radiation, and possibly by convention currents, as well as to the danger of flying branch of fire.

Traditionally the means of escape strategy by and large is based on the principle of single stage evacuation. To achieve this, buildings are designed with stairways of sufficient width to enable all the occupants to evacuate simultaneously. In high rise buildings with large number of occupants it has been found that single – phase evacuation is a time consuming process and is impracticable. This has led to a system of evacuation known as phased evacuation in which the building is evacuated in different phases in the event of fire. This method is today recognized as the best method for evacuation in high rise buildings in several countries. Fire fighters as well as disabled people use fire fighting lifts in tall buildings. However, there is a much wider potential use for fire protected lifts in ordinary buildings for general evacuation purpose. This method is particularly useful in super high rise structures where the large vertical travel distances result in a number of significant problems like possible increased exposure to smoke and fire, increased fatigue during evacuation and difficulty in safe evacuation of injured, infants aged or disabled occupants.

National Building Code (NBC):
The National Building Code of India (NBC) 2005, required compliance with fire safety measures in all residential buildings. The NBC was first published in 1970. The code was revised in 1983 and 2005. The National Building Code of India is a single document in which, like a network, the information contained in various Indian standards is woven into a pattern of continuity and cogency with the inter dependent requirements of sections carefully analyzed and fitted into make the whole document a cogent continuous volume. The Code contains regulations which can be immediately adopted or enacted for use by various departments, municipal administrations and public bodies. It lays down a set of minimum provisions designed to protect the safety of the public with regard to structural sufficiency, fire hazards and health aspects of buildings; so long as these basic requirements are met, the choice of materials and methods of design and construction is left to the ingenuity of the building professionals.

The Code also covers aspects such as administrative regulations, development control rules and general building requirements; fire protection requirements; stipulations regarding materials and structural design; rules for design of electrical installations, lighting, air conditioning and lifts; regulations for ventilation, acoustics and plumbing services such as water supply, drainage, sanitation and gas supply; measures to ensure safety of workers and public during construction; and rules for erection of signs and outdoor display structures. The provisions of the code are intended to serve as a model for adoption by Public Works Departments and other government construction departments, local bodies and other construction agencies. Existing PWD Codes, municipal byelaws and other regulatory media were either replaced by the National Building Code of India or suitably modified to cater to local requirements in accordance with the provisions of the code.

The 2005 version of the National Building Code is representing the present state of knowledge on various aspects of building construction, which is followed by various states in the country. The Code contains about 1150 pages divided into 10 parts. The Part – 3 and Part – 4 are more appropriate to our subject. The Part-3 of the Code covers the development control rules and general building requirements for proper planning and design at the layout of the building, level to ensure health and safety, public safety and desired quality of life. The Part-4 of the Code covers the requirements for fire prevention, life safety in relation to fire, and fire protection of buildings. The code specifies planning and construction features and fire protection features for all occupancies that are necessary to minimize danger to life and property.

The Part-4 has been divided into the following broad clauses:-
(i) Fire Prevention – Covering aspects of fire prevention to design and construction of buildings on passive fire protection measures, also describing the various types of building material and their fire safety rating.

(ii) Life Safety – Covering life safety provisions in the event of fire and similar emergencies, also addressing construction and occupancy features that are necessary to minimize danger to life from fire, smoke, fumes and panic.

(iii) Fire Protection – covering the significant appurtenances and their related components and guidelines for selecting the correct type of equipment and installation meant for fire protection of building, depending upon the classification and type of the building.

There are 5 Annexures viz. A, B, C, D, and E attached to Part – 4. Amongst the 5 annexures, annexure C and E are more relevant. Annex.C deals with Fire Protection Requirements for High-Rise Buildings – 15 meters in Height and above. Annex.E deals with Guidelines for Fire Drill And Evacuation Procedures for High-Rise Buildings – above 15 meters in height.

Development Control Regulations (DCR):
The National Building Code as a whole including Part 4 is the basic model code for all other building codes in the country. After the introduction of National Building Code of India, by and large, most of the States and Local Bodies in India have adopted many of the code provisions in their own building Regulations. The Development Control Regulations are made by the respective municipal corporations and they are applied to building activity and development work in areas under the jurisdiction of the respective municipal corporations. The Development Control Regulations are available in most of the major cities in the country. The norms and provisions available in these regulations are more over similar in nature. These regulations have been amended from time to time for meeting the ground realities. For example, Mumbai Regulations on fire prevention and life safety requirements of buildings are mostly based on NBC Part 4 and framed under the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act 1966.

Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act:
The protection of life and property of the occupants of the high rise buildings became a serious problem for various authorities especially those who deal with fire and safety. Probably to overcome these difficulties many states have came up with fire codes / regulations for example, Tamil Nadu Fire Services Act, 1985, Delhi Fire Prevention and Fire Services Act, 1986. The state of Maharashtra has also came up with a new Act, entitled “Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act 2006”, adhering to the Natural Building Code of India 2005.

Some of the salient provisions of this Act are given below:

  1. As per section 3 of the said Act, the developer/ owner/ occupier shall comply with all the fire and safety measures, failing which it shall be treated as violation of the said Act. It is also obligatory on the part of the developer/builder/occupier/owner/tenant by whatsoever names called to abide with the provisions of the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act 2006, failing which it shall be actionable under the provisions of the above said Act.
  2. According to Section 10 of the Act, no person other than the Licensed Agency shall carry out the work of providing fire prevention and life safety measures for performing such other related activities required to be carried out in any place or building or part thereof.
  3. According to Section 45 of the Act, the owner / occupier or developer shall appoint Fire Officer / Officers and staff for taking adequate fire and safety measures, qualification and experience of such persons be got approved from the Director, Maharashtra Fire Services.

Current Requirements:
While designing and constructing a high rise building the designers and developers should focus their attention towards many areas with a prime objective of tackling the potential hazard and life safety measures for occupants. Some of the concerns of high rise buildings are given in Annexure 1. Some of the areas needing attention are height of the building, automatic sprinklers, fire alarms, voice communication, emergency power, refuge areas, dynamics of air movement, smoke control, availability of adequate water, car parking, viability of total evacuation versus stage evacuation, the level of information needed by the occupants, etc. Some of the basic requirements for high rise buildings are given in Annexure 2. The lessons learned from various fires occurred in high rise buildings all over the world, the sprinkler systems are the best protective methods suited for high rise buildings. Automatic sprinklers are the most extensively used installations of a fixed fire fighting system. It is a facility designed to discharge water automatically in sufficient density to control or extinguish a fire in its earliest stages. The sprinkler system apart from control and extinguishing fires also give out an alarm an alerts people to take suitable action to tackle the fire.

Conclusion:
Although building codes do exist in various cities in India, enforcement of these regulations leaves much to be desired. Due to the vested interests and the political pressures, implementations of some of the provisions in the regulations are rendered difficult, and code violations are frequent. While conducting Fire Safety Audit on a number of high rise buildings in Mumbai and its outskirts, the author had observed that the means of exit and fire protection requirements in many of the high rise buildings were not adequate as per the standards prescribed in the Development Control Regulations of various local bodies such as Greater Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane etc. The most commonly found fire fighting items in these buildings were risers and fire extinguishers. It was observed that they lacked in proper maintenance. Escape Routes blocked in many buildings. Housekeeping was almost a neglected area. It was also observed that the majority of the residents were ignorant about the installations and their working principles. There was a mere lack of awareness about the rules and regulations on fire safety. Only a negligible percentage of people have attended the awareness campaigns when organized. Even the residents of the societies hardly conduct any fire drills. Inspite of the provisions / norms available in various standards, codes, acts, rules, and regulations, many high-rise buildings were constructed, being constructed without strictly adhering to fire safety norms, probably due to lack of awareness on the subject.

Fire and life safety in buildings are essential requirements in public interest irrespective of weather the building are owned by public or individuals. By and large, state of fire and life safety standards in high rise buildings are not at all satisfactory, mainly because of inadequacy of the fire protection requirements provided in the buildings and their lack of periodical maintenance. The general state of fire safety in the high rise buildings is by no means reaching the required standards. Most of these high rises are commercial – cum – residential complexes (multi – occupancy units) and are believed to have flouted fire safety norms. They need to be brought up to the satisfactory level by ensuring more frequent inspections of the premises by the Fire Department officials and by enforcing more stringent enforcement measures. The periodic fire safety audit should be made compulsory so that it can bring out the grey areas. Occupancy certificate for high rise and special buildings shall be issued only after obtaining the clearance from the Chief Fire Officer that all the requirements of means of exit and fire protection as specified in these regulations have been fulfilled. Some of the general precautions that need to be followed by the occupants to prevent fire hazards in high rise buildings are given in Annexure 3. Above all, the developers, builders, contractors, architects and engineers, societies / associations of persons and occupants should see that they shall not compromise on any safety norms. On the contrary they should act as a guardian for preserving fire safety norms.

Annexure 1:
Concerns of high rise buildings

  1. Buildings are very tall – some are even more than 70 floors.
  2. Built up area per floor is high.
  3. Wide use of false ceiling.
  4. Availability of large number of ignition sources such as cooking gas, electricity, and smoking.
  5. Tremendous increase in the use of air conditioning, with consequent fire risks due to ducts, movement of
    conditioned air and return air.
  6. Vertical spread of fire in high rise buildings is astonishing by fast due to chimney effect.
  7. Fires in electrical cables and lifts are swift in high rise buildings.
  8. Convection and radiated heat from floors below can ignite carpets, curtains and furniture in upper floors.
  9. Buildings are used for multiple occupancies.
  10. Basements are used for various uses including storage of combustible materials.
  11. Enormous problem of evacuating large number of people in high rise buildings.
  12. The problem becomes extremely complex in evacuating sick and old persons.
  13. The staircases are the only safe means of escape and evacuation in such situations.
  14. Electrically operated passenger lifts and elevators behave erratically during fires.
  15. Quite a few upper storey’s are beyond the reach of aerial fire fighting equipment available, with Fire Brigades.
  16. Fire fighting equipment installed in the building could be made inoperative at times of emergency, due to poor maintenance.
  17. House keeping becomes a serious problem.
  18. Refuse disposal become a difficult task.
  19. Sufficient car parking is not available.
  20. Security Staff do not have adequate training on fire fighting operations.
  21. Lack of safety awareness amongst the occupants.
  22. Disaster plans are not drawn.
  23. Mock Drills are not conducted regularly.
  24. Escape routes are blocked.

Annexure 2:
Basic Requirements for High Rise Buildings

  1. Application for construction or reconstruction or additional or alteration of any high rise building shall be accompanied by one set of structural design, including that regarding seismic forces as per the provisions contained in the National Building Code of India as amended from time to time and drawings and a structural stability certificate prepared and used by a registered engineer.
  2. Every high rise building shall have at least two staircases.
  3. Every slab or balcony overlooking any exterior or interior open space which are 2 meters or more below shall be provided with parapet walls or guard rails of height not less than 1.20 meters and such guard rails shall be firmly fixed to the walls and slabs and may also be of blank walls, metal grills or a combination.
  4. Every high rise building shall be provided with a fire escape stairway.
  5. Fire Escape stairway shall be directly connected with public or common areas on all floors and shall lead directly to the ground.
  6. Every opening provided to ducts from the interior of a building shall be closed with strong materials.
  7. Every high rise building, if it does not abut on two or more motorable roads shall be provided with a maximum of 5 meters open space on any one of its sides contiguous to the road abutting it to facilitate fire fighting.
  8. Every high rise apartment building having more than 16 dwelling units shall be provided with at least one lift capable of carrying a stretcher.
  9. Where access is provided over the terrace floor or to the terrace floor, the edges of the terrace floor shall be provided with parapet walls made of stable material to a height of not less than 120 cms.
  10. Electrical Installations in high rise buildings shall be made in accordance with relevant rules, codes & standards prevented from time to time.
  11. Ensure electrical wiring and fittings are approved type and are inspected periodically by an electrician.
  12. Provide earth leakage circuit breaker.
  13. Every high rise building shall have refuge area for every high rise building and its location, size and the number shall be decided upon the number of floors in the building.
  14. The height of every high rise building shall be restricted to FSI stipulated in local DCR.
  15. Every high rise building shall be provided with emergency power supply.
  16. Every high rise building shall have adequate ventilation and lighting in the corridors.
  17. Every high rise building shall have sufficient car parking,
  18. Every high rise building should have smoke detectors and fire alarms.
  19. Every high rise building should have automatic sprinkler system especially in basements.
  20. Every high rise building should have a fire lift.
  21. Every high rise building should have adequate water supply – both underground and on terrace for fire fighting.
  22. Every high rise building should have riser and hose reels preferably on every floor.
  23. Lightning arrestors should be provided for every high rise building.

Annexure 3:
Fire Precautions For High Rise Buildings
The following are some of the precautions that have to be followed to prevent Fire Hazard in High Rise Buildings:-

  1. Do not carry out additions and alterations in the building.
  2. Do not allow encroachments or storages in the courtyards of the building without the approval of structural engineers.
  3. Do not allow storages or obstructions in the common corridors, staircases and electrical meter rooms.
  4. Do not allow the Fire doors of the staircases to be kept open.
  5. In case of fire, do not use lifts for escape.
  6. Do not use the basement for any purpose other than permitted purpose.
  7. Seal the electrical ducts at each floor stab level.
  8. A.C. ducts should not pass through one floor to another, sectionalize them.
  9. Do not decorate walls and ceilings of common corridors with combustible materials such as wooden paneling, etc.
  10. Do not allow fire fighting tanks to be misused or remain empty.
  11. Do not switch off “Fire ‘Smoke Detector “System”.
  12. Acquaint yourself with the layout of the escape routes, staircases, refuge areas and location of the fire alarms.
  13. Always keep the doors of the staircases closed.
  14. All the fire protection installations should be kept in a good state.
  15. Ground all the lifts, including “Fire Lift”, in case of fire.
  16. All receptacles for waste should be emptied at regular intervals.
  17. Faulty electrical appliances should be repaired, replaced immediately.
  18. Switches and fuses should confirm to correct rating of circuit.
  19. Don’t plug too many electrical appliances in one socket.
  20. Don’t tamper with electrical switches and meters.
  21. Keep smoke / fire check doors closed.
  22. Keep means of escape clear of obstructions.
  23. Fire rescue drills should be carried out at regular intervals.
  24. Impart elementary fire fighting training to occupants.
  25. Don’t paint fire detectors / sprinkler heads.
  26. Fix warning labels wherever required.
  27. Display, escape routes and labels on every floor.

REFERENCES

  1. Menon, G.B and Vakil, J.N. – Review of Fire Codes and Byelaws.
  2. Delhi Fire Prevention and Fire Safety Act 1986.
  3. Delhi Fire Prevention and Fire Safety Rules 1986.
  4. IS 9668 – 1990: Code of Practice for Provision and Maintenance of water supplies for fire fighting.
  5. IS 3844 – 1989: Code of Practice for Installation and Maintenance of Internal Fire Hydrants and Hose Reels on Premises.
  6. IS 13039 – 1991: Code of Practice for Provision and Maintenance and external fire hydrant system.
  7. IS 2189 – 1999: Code of Practice for Selection and Maintenance of Automatic Fire Detection and Alarm system.
  8. IS 15105 – 2002: Automatic Sprinkler System.
  9. IS 2189 – 1992: Code of Practice for Selection, Installation and Maintenance of Portable First Aid Fire Extinguishers.
  10. Nair. R.R & R.Veeraraghavan – Fire Technology: Fire Prevention and Fire Protection, CEP Publication, All India Council for Technical Education, Bangalore, 2002.
  11. Nair. R.R & Joshi. D.K – Safety Audit Bangalore, All India Council for Technical Education, Bangalore, 2002.
  12. Nair. R.R. – Safety Audit, National Product News, Volume 13, Annual 2001.
  13. National Building Code of India, 2005.
  14. Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2006.
  15. Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Rules, 2008.
  16. Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966.
  17. Development Control Regulation of Greater Bombay.
  18. Indian Electricity Act and Rules.
  19. NFA Fire Protection Handbook 19th Edition.
  20. Fire Protection Engineering, Archives – High Rise Buildings.
  21. Society of Fire Protection Engineers.
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