Fire fighting

With the Middle East region developing some of the tallest buildings in the world, Becca Wilson reports on the fire safety measures both developers and FM's should be thinking about.

Mubarak al-Kabir Tower in Kuwait City
Mubarak al-Kabir Tower in Kuwait City

"The most dangerous consequences of ignoring fire protection measures in a building are those posing a risk to the lives of people in the event of a fire, in addition to those threatening the properties. Absence of fire protection measures will propagate the spread of fire and increase the scale of loss and threat to a building," stresses Brigadier Al Matrooshi, director of Dubai's Civil Defence.

But successful and effective fire protection and evacuation plans start to get complicated the more floors developers add to a building.


All evacuation and fire procedures should be discussed with the Civil Defence and Police Department.

"Fighting fires in high rise buildings exceeds traditional capabilities of fire fighting and rescue brigades, which can only reach certain heights and have limited personnel capacity.

"Fire fighting services in high rise buildings basically depend on the effectiveness of automatic fire extinguishing systems, alarm systems and electronic censors that are directly connected to an automatic fire extinguish system. These automatic devices provide occupants with chances to escape fire and suppression of fire as soon as it erupts," he adds.

In a region that currently plays host to the world's tallest building, the Burj Dubai (which hasn't yet been completed), and with more high-rise developments being sanctioned, it's vital that fire safety is given more thought.

"High-rise buildings should integrate means for internal fire fighting operations, including protected stairways to access the fire floor, standpipe hose connections, fire fighting elevators to reach the upper floors of a building, two-way communication system and a fire command centre to coordinate operations," says Jim Antell, senior vice president of fire and security consultants, Rolf Jensen & Associates.

At the beginning

In order for facilities managers (FMs) to do their job effectively, fire safety needs to be thought about at the design stage.

Architects and developers need to consider things like different escape routes, where the fire system will be installed, the number of emergency exits, the kind of sprinkler system to be installed and the kind of fire resistant building materials that will be used.

"Protection strategies for high-rise buildings should include both passive and active fire protection features intended to contain fire and smoke, while providing access for first responders and promoting evacuation of occupants," explains Antell.

Planning and developing a building for a worst case scenario will help make sure the facilities manager can develop and implement best practice fire safety, the best policies and procedures when handover takes place.

It will also allow for cost savings to the building owner as integrating fire safety strategies after the building has been constructed can be an expensive task. It can also decrease the efficiency of the buildings operations.

The provision of a manageable and accommodating water supply is also essential. "A facilities water supply needs to be sized to accommodate the demand of an automatic sprinkler system as well as the demand of a standpipe system. If the municipal water supply is not able to supply the facility with an adequate water supply due to pressure, flow and capacity, the facility needs to be provided with a pump (to compensate for low pressure or flow) and/or water storage tank (to compensate for capacity)," says Antell.

Although the developer will be unaware of the tenants the building will houwse once handed over, it should still make adequate arrangements for the evacuation of disabled people. Antell explains that disabled occupants present challenges that need to be addressed during the development of evacuation procedures.

Failing to think about these areas and others, could result in facilities managers being exposed to a higher level of risk and possible fatalities, not to mention the building owners individual liability.

Policies and Procedures

Once the building has been handed over, the facilities manager (if not already involved) can access the building and start planning effective fire safety procedures.

"FMs should review the potential events that could adversely affect their building operations and occupants. Upon completion of this review, FMs should develop specific response procedures that address each event separately with specific response and evacuation steps clearly identified," states Antell.

He goes on to explain that immediate evacuation is not always the best response and that sometimes, shelter can be another solution.

All evacuation and fire safety procedures should be discussed with the Civil Defence and Police Department as this will ensure the emergency services understand and accept the response procedures being implemented in a building.

"To handle any emergency or evacuation in a high-rise building, a structure response team should be developed and trained to manage the evacuation process until the arrival of the first responders. This team should be made up management staff, building security (if present), building staff and occupants of the building," expresses Antell.

Security and access control can help FMs keep track of building occupants and their locations.

If a FM is alerted to a fire, there should be a procedure in place on how this needs to be communicated to occupants.

Depending on the scale of the fire, a quick risk assessment could be carried out to determine what should happen next. Once all systems and equipment has been installed and logged, planned preventative maintenance (PPM) will ensure they are all in working order should they need to be used.

For example, NFPA 90A, Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilating Systems, recommends ducts be inspected quarterly for the accumulation of dusts and other combustible materials. When warranted, ducts should be cleaned by vacuum or scrubbing/scrapping if residue prevents the effective use of the vacuum.

NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, provides the required procedures for maintaining an automatic sprinkler system.

NFPA 25 provides a breakdown of system components and the frequency for which they should be inspected, tested, or maintained.

Also, regular fire drills will test equipment and keep staff aware of the fire procedures they have to follow. Added to this, Antell says training is vital to the success of emergency response procedures.

"Both training and drills should be conducted on a routine basis to help building staff and occupants understand how they should respond during an emergency event," he adds.

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