‘How building designs can curtail fire incidents’


The risks of fire outbreaks in building and construction sector have been on the increase recently due to the harmattan in some cities.However, professionals in the built industry are urging homeowners and managers of buildings to adopt designs that mitigate impacts of fire outbreaks, get prepared and be watchful by putting in place other necessary safety measures that could prevent loss of lives and property.Globally, more than 71per cent of fire outbreaks in homes, companies and factories are reportedly caused by open flames especially electrical fire and cooking items like; hot plates, gas and heaters, smoking, and fuel flames.

The fire accident in the 24-story Grenfell tower in London, in June 2017, which claimed over 70 lives and injured 79 people has brought to the front burner the need for fire safety in building. It also threw a light to the need for fire safety concerns on high-rise buildings across the globe.In most high-rise, which are classified as buildings above 15 meters in height and in the form of apartments, malls, hospitals or multiplexes in most cities, fire safety preparedness sometimes takes a back stage. Culturally, users do not emphasis on being proactive or the relevance of fire safety system hence, the violation of safety laws and its consequences on livelihood and properties.
 
According to the United States of America Fire Administration, there are more than 4,800 construction site fires every year, which cause approximately $35million in property loss in construction sites.These fires are more likely to cause more damage than a residential fire because they tend to have little protection from fire in the form of working smoke detectors or sprinklers.

 
In Nigeria, due to ever-increasing population and crowded city centres, firefighters often arrive late to scenes of outbreak thereby increasing the degree of human and material damage before solutions are offered. Importantly, experts say one major way to mitigate fire disaster challenges in buildings especially in high-rises, which are fast becoming model for buildings, is to adopt an integrated fire safety strategy incorporated into building designs as well as making provisions for ambitious spaces, safe assembly point and safety exit paths/escape routes.

Former President, Association of Consulting Architects of Nigeria (ACAN), Mr. Kitoyi Ibare-Akinsan said building designs and specifications are two things that must be considered for health and safety in structural designs. He said specification in the use of building materials is vital to control fire and enable people to escape within a very short time in emergency situation. According to him compartmentalization of building designs is equally one of the latest methods to mitigate impacts of fire outbreaks on residents. This design, he noted prevent the general spread of fire to all part of the building at once.

“The design which is needed most in high-rise and other residential buildings must be done in such a way that if there is fire, people could escape without injuries/burns. In high rises, fire breaks designs are needed to contain fire spread within a reasonable time before the arrival of fire brigades who are expected to come and put off any case of reported fire”.

Corroborating Ibare-Akinsan, the Managing Director of IAA Associates Limited, Lagos, Dr. Adeleke Akintilo emphasised that when structures are being designed there is the need to include component like fire retaining walls which are fashioned out specifically to curtail fire in buildings especially high-rises.

Akintilo who specializes in structural designs explained that the essence of the fire retaining walls components is to prevent the spread of fire to all part of the building by positioning them in some areas, for example the staircases. He noted that what kills people in most fire outbreaks is the smoke, not necessarily the fire.

“In building designs, the fire rated walls must be positioned in such a way that fire will not spread and smokes will not come across. In any tower structure, fire rated walls must be properly positioned. The walls are not designed like the normal concrete wall.“The usual concrete walls are constructed from the basement up-to the building but fire rated are floor by floor designs and are not loaded into the next floor. If you design a fire rated wall to a floor, it will not touch the next floor if it touches, the next floor, it then becomes gravity wall and all the loads will go to the foundation but fire rated walls are supported on floor to floor basis”, he explained.

Also, he said a building needs to be equipped with firefighting equipment like automatic sprinklers which automatically function at certain high temperature which could be sensed as a sort of fire outbreak to helps curb a fire before a firefighter could reach from outside. Aside, he pointed out the need for compliance with fire safety laws, drills, regular inspection and regular safety audit.

Contributing, the immediate past president, Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA) Tonye Braide said modern architectural designs for buildings including high rises now create special access points for fire servicemen to easily access buildings.

According to him, apart from providing alternative staircases and lift devices, buildings designs should incorporate fire alarm systems and smoke detector components while there should be regular performance matrix review of fire prevention devices at least every six months to check the effectiveness of the devices.

“Fire rated building materials should be in design and the right rating helps ensure a safe building. Functional design is a safe design, ensuring escape route; stairs and safe practices helps prevent or minimize fire outbreaks. The ease of access to and around the building is important in preventing fire outbreaks. Less combustible materials are needed in design for areas prone to fire outbreak”.He revealed that with the recent devastating incidents of fire in Dubai and London, architects have realized the need for special swimming pools design in buildings to serve as water reservoir in case of an outbreak stressing that under ground tap water could also be inbuilt into building designs to curtail water shortage.

“Additionally, private and public buildings should be provided with sprinkler designs that could automatically dispense water when the room temperature graduates to a fire outbreak level. The fire service must ensure that every multifamily building also comply with the nations’ building and fire codes especially being fire certified as a means to reduce incidences of outbreak of fire in the country.

“Equipment useful in fighting fire outbreak like fire extinguishers and water hydrants should also be stationed in appropriate locations for easy access when emergency situation comes up”, he said. Braide further suggested that developers and would-be building owners should ensure that the public engages only certificate and qualified architects. He also stressed the importance of collaboration between the fire services, the standard organization of Nigeria and all the professionals in the built sector to ensure that most of the imported building materials are fire certified.

A real estate developer and managing director of Tetramanor Nigerian Limited, Mr. Femi Beecroft disclosed that currently in most building designs abroad especially commercials, developers and homeowners now add sprinkler designs in the walls and roofs which to will trigger outpouring of water to pull off fire in case of such alert.

According to him, such design is important for high rises, which are often difficult to get to the top when fire breaks. He stressed that Nigerian developers must adopt such model to reduce issues of fire accidents in buildings. Beecroft posited that estates developers must apart from planning for how residents will need water for their daily use, should also plan for a situation whereby if there is fire, volume of available water, should adequately help in controlling the outbreak.

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