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FEATURE # 86
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SAFETY FROM FIRE HAZARDS IN BUILDINGS
Er. Rajesh Kumar Das
Fire safety is a fundamental consideration in all kinds of building design and management. In our country, we have already noticed a number of fire – incidents in which there is violation of fire safety norms. Among recent incidents some are like fire incident at the AMRI Hospital at Kolkata, Fire at the Secretariat Building of Maharashtra to name a few.
What is Fire Hazard? :
There is scope for fire hazards if there is any of the following :
1. Obstruction to escape routes.
2. Any alteration on fire safety works.
3. Removal of any fire safety measure.
4. Lack of proper maintenance of fire safety measures.
5. Any matter or circumstance which increases the likelihood of fire.
Common Fire Hazards :
There may be following common fire hazards in a building:
• Kitchen fires from unattended cooking, such as frying, steaming etc.
• Electrical systems those are overloaded, resulting in hot wiring or connections.
• Combustible storage areas with insufficient protection.
• Combustibles near equipment that generates heat, flame, or sparks.
• Candles and other open flames.
• Smoking (Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, lighters, etc.)
• Equipment that generates heat and utilizes combustible materials.
• Flammable liquids and aerosols.
• Flammable solvents.
• Fireplace chimneys not properly or regularly cleaned.
• Cooking appliances - stoves, ovens.
• Heating appliances - fireplaces, wood burning stoves, furnaces, boilers, portable heaters.
• Household appliances - clothes dryers, curling irons, hair dryers, refrigerators, freezers.
• Electrical wiring in poor condition.
• Personal ignition sources - matches, lighters.
• Electronic and electrical equipment.
FIRE SAFETY REQUIREMENTS :
Fire safety requirements are corresponding with:
(a) The number of persons involved,
(b) The type of building and processes involved,
(c) The layout, size, design and nature of construction.
The main criteria which are considered with regard to fire safety requirements of building are:
(a) Means of escape
(b) Means for fighting fire
(c) Means for giving warning in case of fire and
(d) Any dangerous substances stored, used or handled.
Any promoter desiring to develop and invest in the construction sector shall ensure that all the criteria as mentioned above are satisfied.
It is very much essential that the promoter shall conduct a fire risk assessment to determine the requirements of fire safety and adhere to those requirements strictly.
(a) MEANS OF ESCAPE :
Means of escape are structural and integral part of the construction which allows people to proceed to a place of safety in the event of a fire. It includes exit doors, corridors and staircase which lead to the open air.
Every promoter shall ensure that people who are in the building can get out safely and quickly in the event of a fire.
Spiral staircases and vertical ladder are not acceptable as alternate means of escape. At ground floor level an exit alternate to the existing one is acceptable as an alternate means of escape. Whenever a building is occupied, emergency exit doors shall not be locked or fastened in such a manner that it cannot be easily and immediately opened from inside.
If occupancy is permitted at night or if normal lighting levels are reduced during working times, exit signs shall be illuminated and emergency lighting provided along escape routes.
(b) MEANS FOR FIGHTING FIRE :
Every promoter shall provide first aid fire fighting equipment of suitable type specific to the circumstances of his case. First Aid fire fighting equipment includes portable fire extinguishers.
A water fire extinguisher is appropriate for fire involving solid materials normally of an organic nature in which combustion occurs with the formation of glowing embers. (Class A fires). E.g. wood, paper, textiles, clothing.
A foam fire extinguisher is appropriate for fires involving liquids or liquefied solids (Class B fires). E.g. petrol, oil, thinner.
A dry powder fire extinguisher is appropriate for fire involving solid materials normally of an organic nature in which combustion occurs with the formation of glowing embers, liquid or liquefied solids, gasses and metals. E.g. wood, paper, textiles, clothing, petrol, thinner, oil and electrical appliances.
A carbon dioxide fire extinguisher is appropriate for fire involving solid materials normally of an organic nature in which combustion occurs with the formation of glowing embers, liquid or liquefied solids, gasses. E.g. wood, paper, textiles, clothing, petrol, thinner and electrical appliances.
Portable fire extinguishers shall be preferably sited on the line of escape routes, near to room exits inside or outside according to the risk. In multi storey building, portable fire extinguishers shall be located at the same position on each floor, that is top of stairs flights or at corner of corridors where possible in groups forming fire points, where possible in shallow recess.
(c) MEANS OF GIVING WARNING IN CASE OF FIRE :
A fire alarm system is required in a building for one or both of the following purposes:
(i) To enable people in the building to be informed of an outbreak of fire and evacuate the building before the escape routes are affected by the product of fire.
(ii) To enable early detection and mitigate damage that may be caused by the fire by activating fire fighting resources.
A promoter in the construction sector shall ensure that a fire warning system is installed in the building. A fire alarm system consists basically of break glass manual call points which are wired electrically to sounders / sirens and a control indicator panel. The basic system can be enhanced by introducing automatic fire detectors.
Fire detectors are designed to detect one or more of the three characteristics of a fire: heat, smoke or flame.
(d) ANY DANGEROUS SUBSTANCES STORED, USED OR HANDLED.
Liquefied Petroleum Gas – L.P.G, wooden furniture etc.
FIRE RISK ASSESSMENT
The following is a summary of the 5 steps we will need to go through to carry out a fire risk assessment within our premises.
Step 1 – Identification of the fire hazards within premises.
We need to identify:
• Sources of ignition such as naked flames, heaters or some commercial processes.
• Sources of fuel such as accumulated waste, display materials, textiles or overstocked products.
• Sources of additional oxygen such as forced air circulation or medicinal or commercial oxygen supplies.
Step 2 – Identify people at risk
We need to identify those people who may be especially at risk such as:
• People working in close proximity to fire hazards.
•People working alone or in isolated areas (such as roof spaces or storerooms).
• Children or parents with babies.
• The elderly and people who are disabled.
Step 3 – Evaluate, remove, reduce and protect from risk
We need to evaluate the level of risk in our premises. Action should be taken to reduce the level of hazard.
• It is required to replace highly combustible materials with less combustible ones as far as practicable.
• Ensure adequate separation between combustibles and ignition sources.
• Operate a safe smoking policy.
Step 4 – Record, plan, instruct and train
In this step the promoter shall record, plan, instruct, inform and train. The promoter will need to record the hazards and people who have been identified as especially at risk in Step 1 and Step 2.
The promoter should also record what the promoter did about it in Step 3. A simple plan can help to achieve this.
Step 5 – Review
The promoter should make sure you fire risk assessment is up to date. There is need for fire risk assessment every time there is a significant change to the level of risk in building premises. This could include an increase in combustible materials being stored, a new night shift starting or a change in the type or number of people using building premises.
Lessons Learnt from the AMRI & other Fire Incidence :
1.To Be Prepared :
Investments in Preparedness and Prevention (Mitigation) will yield sustainable results, rather than spending money on relief after a disaster.
2. To Create a Culture of Preparedness and Prevention.
3. To Evolve a code of conduct for all stake-holders.
4. Buildings that host the public to have annual fire safety audits.
5. Hospitals, Private and Government, and Nursing Homes must appoint Fire Safety Officers to monitor the building's fire prevention system.
The AMRI fire has been an eye-opener for all the stakeholders.
Fire Safety for Hospitals, Nursing Homes :
All Hospitals and Nursing Homes must have fire department's no-objection certificate. There must include active measures like smoke detection system, fire extinguishers and passive ones like having a broad staircase, clear exits and so on. In the event of a fire emergency may involve the rescue of patients and others, assisting with moving them to safety, sounding the alarm, or just staying out of the way of fire-fighters and other designated emergency response personnel.
All healthcare workers must know the Fire Emergency Plan, the location of fire pull/call boxes, the location of and how to use a fire extinguisher, places of safe refuge and evacuation procedures, and must comply with the Institution's "No Smoking" policy. There must be annual fire audit.
A time bound programme to assess the fire hazards should be taken up at the Govt. as well as private level. This will result in better life safety. In fact, it should be our endeavour that all people of the society is well aware of the risk associated with the environment. Also in every building the first aid fire-fighting appliances specially devised for the extinguishment of fire should be placed. Also proper training should be imparted to all inhabitants of the building. All staff members involved in managing or conducting an evacuation must be thoroughly familiar with their roles and responsibilities. Relevant training shall be provided to each member according to their assigned role. It is recommended that a recognised competency standard be used for training purposes. Personnel conducting the training shall have the necessary knowledge, skills and experience (competence) to meet training outcomes. Let us work together for making buildings safe from fire hazards.
Contributed by : Er. Rajesh Kumar Das, B.Tech in Civil from NIT, Silchar, Assam, PhD Scholar of National Institute of Technology (NIT), Agartala)
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