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Safety first: Fighting fire with technology

As the UAE tightens fire-related regulations for building material standards, regional suppliers are ready to invest in research and development (R&D).

Smoke curtains are in demand in the Middle East.
Smoke curtains are in demand in the Middle East.

The fire that gutted Address Downtown Dubai on New Year’s Eve 2015 spurred not only a review of the UAE’s fire codes, but also a rethink of the construction industry’s fire prevention and suppression systems. Soon after Dubai Police revealed that an electrical short circuit had caused the incident, the hotel’s active and passive fire-suppression systems were commended for containing the blaze, preventing it from causing significant damage to the building’s structure and minimising human casualties.

But the Address fire isn’t the only one the UAE has had to contend with in recent years. In the first half of 2015 alone, Dubai Civil Defence (DCD) responded to 193 fire incidents, an increase from 158 in the same period in 2014, according to local daily, The National.

To reduce the occurrence of fire incidents, DCD has drafted a new list of standards and requirements related to the safety of tall buildings in the Emirates. Furthermore, the upcoming UAE Fire and Life Safety Code 2016 is expected to raise the standards for building materials used on future developments in the country.

Against this backdrop, the GCC’s fire safety market is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 15%, to reach $3.1bn (AED11.4bn) by 2020. This growth will be driven primarily by industrial and commercial investments, although segments such as retail, institutional buildings, and public infrastructure will also contribute to new demand, according to an October 2015 study by Frost & Sullivan.

Indeed, the UAE and neighbouring Saudi Arabia are at the forefront of a GCC-wide surge in demand for fire detection and suppression equipment.

The Kingdom currently commands $644m (SAR2.4bn) of the GCC’s $1.4bn fire safety market, whilst the UAE – with a share of $476m (AED1.7bn) is also ramping up demand with the help of developments planned or underway.

Fire system suppliers will consume a significant chunk of this booming market, as is exemplified by the UAE’s Mulk Holdings and Alubond, which recently unveiled A2-rated cladding in the country.

Speaking at the launch, chairman and founder of Mulk Holdings, Shaji Ul Mulk, said: “We would like to set a precedent in the UAE market. When it comes to fire safety, there is no compromise. Alubond will offer the safest cladding solutions as per global standards to the UAE market.

“We are committed to the UAE’s fire safety awareness programme, and will be conducting a series of seminars for consultants, fabricators, property owners and architects. The new regulations have amply covered future and under-construction buildings. However, we also want to close the safety requirements for existing buildings.

“We are determined to propose solutions for existing buildings to regulatory authorities and consultants, and hope to see further amendments in the UAE fire code,” Mulk added.

However, the UAE’s new fire code will have to be supplemented by industry-wide awareness of effective fire-suppression designs and systems.

As Jonathan Brown, marketing manager for UK-based Coopers Fire points out, having an understanding and acceptance of the latest product standards and applications is of utmost importance.

Indeed, education holds the key to intelligent fire-resistance for the UAE’s future buildings, according to Brown, whose company has supplied fire and smoke curtains for projects such as Dubai Mall and Louvre Abu Dhabi.

“We have seen a lot of demand for our smoke and concertina fire curtains from our Middle East buyers,” Brown tells Construction Week, suggesting the regional industry is keen to boost the fire-safety credentials of its large-scale developments.

In line with Mulk Holdings’ efforts, UAE-based Danube Group and Alucopanel USA, have also introduced A2 non-combustible graded panels to their portfolio.

“There is nothing more important than human life and we must value and protect it,” Rizwan Sajan, founder and chairman of Danube Group, explains. “We should come together to ensure the best solutions are developed and deployed without compromise. We need to take control by planning how to go about curbing fires.”

The UAE’s fire safety standards will no doubt become more stringent as the country inches closer to Expo 2020 – not to mention Vision 2021. Fire safety will form a crucial component of these plans, and with a collaborative approach, the construction industry can play a major role in making buildings in the Emirates even safer.

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Construction Week - Issue 758
Feb 08, 2020