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Market overview: Fire prevention in the GCC

by Jochebed Menon on Mar 19, 2017

On the night of 31 December, 2015, just as Dubai was getting ready to showcase a spectacular display of fireworks, The Address Downtown Dubai burst into flames following an electrical short circuit. The hotel’s exterior was engulfed in flames, and smoke could be seen emanating from the building for more than 48 hours.

Polyurethane and the aluminium composite cladding were reportedly the key components that enabled the rapid spread of the fire, following which Dubai Government decided to revisit the fire code, and has enforced stricter regulations on cladding panels to minimise their flammability.

The updated UAE Fire and Life Safety Code, unveiled at Intersec Fire Safety Conference 2017, includes guidelines related to cladding, such as testing and installation, and maintenance responsibilities of each building development party – such as clients, consultants, and contractors. It was launched by Dubai Civil Defence (DCD), and seeks to reduce the risk of fires spreading. The updated code has also listed specific techniques about how cladding panels are to be installed. The new regulations on cladding took DCD six months to finalise.

While the UAE has taken a step ahead when it comes to fire prevention and protection, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, and Bahrain all plan to update their fire safety guidelines soon.

Scott Starr, marketing director at Firetrace, explains: “The general attitude towards fire protection is becoming more conservative, and the expectation of safety continues to grow across all types of facilities and equipment. Much of the regulation has been legislating common-sense steps towards an increased level of safety.

“Demand remains strong across the region as a whole, but particularly in the UAE, and in Qatar. We’ve also experienced growth due to Firetrace achieving civil defence approvals across the region. On the flip side, however, sales in Saudi Arabia have been slightly lower than we expected, but all the signals indicate that this will be reversed with a strong 2017.”

Ed Browning, sales and marketing director at Apollo Fire Detectors, shares a similar opinion: “Over the last five years, our team has witnessed a huge growth in demand for fire prevention and protection products in the GCC. To date, the regions where we’ve seen the most significant growth are the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.”

He adds: “The UAE has been growing at a consistent rate. The tourism market in Dubai continues to drive its growth, as well as its ongoing development for Expo 2020. Qatar has big projects in the pipeline. These key markets are constantly pushing the boundaries of engineering and technology and doing so at speed – once a project has been decided upon, progress is very fast.”

Both of the firms are confident that new rules and regulations will supplement growth and facilitate a better protection setting. “We’re definitely seeing the GCC markets beginning to align with their more mature and established counterparts. This is especially true when it comes to introducing new specifications, such as the civil defence requirement, a current driver within the industry,” Browning notes.

For Sami El Azzami, business unit manager at Bristol Fire Engineering, an integrated fire code among the GCC countries is on the cards. “Geopolitically, GCC countries are committed to strengthening their ties and, throughout history, we’ve observed continuous cooperation among the GCC countries. Unifying their fire codes, and closing any gaps between countries with the aim of providing fire safety expertise and solutions to the region in its entirety, [is on the agenda]. We’ve observed this commitment due to our engagement with civil defence units in the UAE and the region.”

Firetrace’s Starr concludes: “I expect the welcome trend towards a more proactive stance concerning protection to continue. In the wake of the high-profile cladding fires in past years, much attention has become focussed on that specific area.”