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The UAE is leading the Gulf’s fire safety programmes

Through legislation and investments in technology, the UAE is leading the effort to boost fire safety across the Gulf region, as Neha Bhatia reports

Fire safety is a priority for both the public and private sectors in the UAE [representational image].
Fire safety is a priority for both the public and private sectors in the UAE [representational image].

While it has always been of great significance, fire safety has gained further traction in the Gulf region in the past few years.

Both high-profile and minor incidents have, in the past 24 months, compelled the regional construction sector to look inward and enhance existing fire prevention models.

There is no doubt that the UAE is leading this self-improvement exercise in the Gulf. At the crux of the UAE’s effort lies its updated fire and life safety code, which experts have told Construction Week is a comprehensive document that is due to be officially released soon.

Peter van Gorp, director of fire and life safety at UAE-headquartered consultancy, AESG, told Construction Week in October 2017 that a chapter detailing stakeholder responsibilities had been introduced as part of the UAE’s updated Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice.

He added: “There is a clearly defined responsibility [for] the consultant of record, and a clearly defined role for the contractor, as well. However, the consultant of record has to check [these processes], and it will be held liable if […] a building [system] is not installed as per the design standards [or] specifications that were approved by the civil defence [authority].

“There is also a new, dedicated chapter […] on façades and curtain walls, glazing, and roofing systems, [and another] on flammable and combustible liquids.

“There are new requirements stipulated on, for instance, marinas, [and] there is also a chapter on emergency response procedures.”

The new chapters, van Gorp explained, made the fire code “more comprehensive”, as well as capable of being used “for all sorts of applications”.

He continued: “While the 2011 edition was already a major step forward, [it] was more like a technical code, [and] the new UAE fire code is a more comprehensive [document]. Not only does it explain [fire safety requirements] technically, it also [mentions] the steps that need to be taken [to achieve compliance].”

The updated UAE Fire and Life Safety Code may see an official release within the first quarter of 2018, according to the vice president of development for the Middle East at Jensen Hughes.

“The official release should be this year, possibly in March,” Shamim Rashid-Sumar told Construction Week last month.

“The 2017 draft of the fire code has been available for public comment for some time. The process for the fire code revision was very inclusive, and […] involved many community members,” she added.

However, legislation isn’t the UAE’s only commendable effort to boost fire safety. For instance, the UAE’s Ministry of Interior has launched a platform to deliver online fire system application services. Applications to install fire-alarm systems in residences, and to link them with Civil Defence operation rooms, can now be made through the ministry’s website.

Once an application is submitted, the applicant will be contacted by the suppliers of the system for installation, it was announced this January.

The ministry’s smart service upgrade is in line with the directives of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai.

Last month, Sheikh Mohammed also directed the connection of residential units with adequate fire safety systems, with the operation to be free-of-charge for those unable to afford its costs, state news agency, WAM, reported.

Additionally, the country’s Dubai Civil Defence (DCD) has, in the last few years, invested in a fleet of firefighting jet skis and Corvette Stingray vehicles, as well as a programme to develop nanotechnology that can help to beat fires and reduce the need for large fire-extinguishing devices.

DCD’s roadsters – touted as the world’s fastest fire engines – were modified to hit speeds of up to 340km/h. Two of these $136,130 (AED500,000) Stingrays are already in operation, Lt Col Hussain Al Rahoomi, head of DCD’s station affairs department, said in April 2016.

According to a report at the time, the cars had been modified to include monitoring devices that could track road issues, and were fitted with fire extinguishers and first-aid equipment.

Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, saw the launch of a fire station at its Midfield Terminal Complex last December. Abu Dhabi Airports unveiled the 4,100m2 building, which has eight response vehicles and facilitates 172 to 200 firefighters, who will attend to the Midfield Terminal, as well as other airside buildings and structures. 

In January 2016, John Boyce, head of fire and life safety at Abu Dhabi Airports Company, revealed that the Midfield Terminal project comprised 300 evacuation zones, and more than 20,000 fire safety-related devices.

However, fire safety in the UAE is not the preserve of the public sector, as was most recently evidenced in Sharjah, which is advancing with the development of a fire safety infrastructure.

This January, private sector developer Al Hanoo Real Estate donated a plot of land to Sharjah Civil Defence (SCD), which will establish a fire station at Al Saja’a Industrial Estate to provide early response to fire incidents in the industrial neighbourhood.

Al Hanoo is the developer behind Sharjah Auto Park and Warehouse City.

Commenting on the developer’s support, Col Sami Al Naqbi, director-general of SCD, said: “This is a great example of how businesses can help the public sector in boosting public services – be it fire safety or any other service. 

“We will develop a state-of-the-art fire station at the plot of land that will not only provide industrial safety to all the tenants of the Sharjah Auto Park and Warehouse City, but [also all] other assets in the Al Saja’a Industrial Area.”

It is hard to predict the details of the next fire safety initiative that the UAE’s construction sector might launch. Regardless, if recent experience is anything to go by, then the future of the country’s built environment appears to be secure and fire-proof.

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