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Emergency plans for high-rise fires

Friday, November 17, 2017
By Property Team

More and more high-rise buildings have emerged in modern cities, but emergency evacuation of tall buildings has been a difficult problem worldwide

Most of casualties resulting from a fire, earthquake or explosion are caused not only from the direct result of the event, but can be attributed to inadequate provisions for evacuation of occupants. When these events occur in enclosed spaces, such as a residential building, for example, with limited capacity for rapid evacuation, there is every chance of casualties. Wherever people live, work or use recreational services, there needs to be an emergency plan that will result in quick action to avoid casualties.

High-rise buildings have been rising day by day in city skylines of India. Almost every building in India that is more than five stories high, relies on passenger lifts to transport occupiers to upper floors, and a single staircase that serves as both a passage for cargo and furniture, and is described as an emergency escape route as and when required. There is usually no dedicated Fire Staircase built in compliance with current Fire Safety Regulations. The tall buildings have unique features which can adversely affect the fire safety of a building. These features are height beyond available resources of local fire brigade ladder, extended evacuation time, pronounced stack effect and water supply limitations etc.

Emergency services
Electrical faults in the mains or in the appliance, leaking gas pipelines or cylinders, and careless smokers are the major reasons for fire and even an explosion. It is usually possible to determine the areas at a higher and a lower risk from fire. In the event of a fire, its occupants need to know what action should be taken to leave the building safely along protected escape route. Occupants evacuating in stairs could be exposed to other kinds of dangers such as becoming dizzy or slipping on surfaces, especially when descending thousands of steps of stairs in high-rise buildings. The large number of occupants descending down the staircase may also hamper the fire-fighting access to the fire floor through staircases. Although the total evacuation is the simplest strategy to implement, it is usually only ordered by the fire department.

In a city like a Mumbai more buildings at risk than can be served by the City Emergency Services. Occupants must understand that without self-help and systems in place, they face a great risk from fire and other emergencies. It has become increasingly imperative to develop and install systems for quick and safe evacuation to allow the Emergency Services to concentrate on rescue and fire fighting. In emergency services two options are very important.

Dedicated Fire Lifts with a large capacity, using a separate power supply, are available for mounting on the external face of the building. They rise, rescue personnel and equipment, and descend carrying evacuees. There are external emergency ladders, and stairs, and also the internal Fire Stairs.

Importance of escape chutes
Another very appropriate design is an Emergency Escape Vertical Chute. Fire escape chute is an emergency exit that permits rapid, mass evacuation from high-rise buildings during life threatening emergencies. Escape chutes can be used from most high areas, where there is a possibility of being trapped by fire or any other reason that could result in the event of life or serious injury due to non-availability of alternative means of emergency egress. Escape chutes today are becoming an accepted alternative means of emergency evacuation from high-rise buildings and industrial plants.

The increasing use of synthetic materials of construction or interior furnishing makes the risk of casualties from toxic fumes and smoke a real possibility. Escape systems need to be designed to prevent smoke from entering the system. Fires are often undetected till they are close to being out of control by ordinary hand held extinguishers. Raising an alarm requires adequate alarm systems to be in place and in operating condition.

Most of the time, fire rescue equipments have been installed in buildings for the sake of regulatory compliance. But their quality leaves a lot to be desired. Therefore, what is required is equipment of standard quality. The fire service authorities also need to carry out routine drills to check the efficacy of such equipment, feel experts in the industry.

To ensure that occupants of high-rises escape fire hazards, each building needs to prepare a professional Disaster Management Plan that is then shared with the occupants. That plan will surely provide what to do in the event of an alarm, accompanied by an order to evacuate and the residents must respond without delay.

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