Grenfell - High-rise buildings

Fire Safety in High-Rise Buildings – A rising problem for India

The fire accident in the 24-story Grenfell tower in London, in June 2017, claimed over 70 lives and injured 79 people. It is one of the worst disasters in the world and the incident threw a light to the fire safety concerns on high rise buildings across the globe.

In India, the horrific Carlton Towers accident in Bengaluru in the year 2011, took the lives of 9 and injured 69 people. The recent Kamala Mills fire accident in Mumbai which claimed 14 lives gave a burning concern over the fire safety in India.

The real estate industry saw a tremendous growth in the last decade. There are many fully occupied high-rise or multi-story buildings in major cities or many are still under construction.


What is a high-rise building?

A building above 15 meters in height is commonly called as a high-rise building in India. (Roughly ground plus four floors)

The high-rise buildings are in the form of apartments, malls, hospitals or multiplexes in most of the urban areas of India.


Why is fire safety important in high-rise buildings?

When you plan to watch a movie in a multiplex, have you ever considered making a note of the fire exits? Or if you live in an apartment, have you ever checked the fire safety system of the building?

Fire safety always takes a back burner in India. We do not emphasize on being proactive. Majority of the population are still not aware of the fire hazards or they do not even know how to react when there is a fire. Fire safety system helps us to prevent fire. It also helps us to understand the nature of fire and what steps we should take when there is a fire accident.


What are the challenges?

High-rise buildings say an apartment, have a lot of people living in it. Given the multiple floors, in case of a fire accident, it makes evacuation very difficult as there are a lot of people who have to travel vertical distance on the stairs.

A proper fire safety system which includes fire sprinklers, help to control fire and helps to avoid casualties.


Challenges for firefighters during emergencies

  1. As the firefighters have to travel a great vertical distance, evacuation becomes very much difficult
  2. As there is no awareness to fire safety, most often, the occupants do not know how to escape in the wake of an emergency. They are not even aware of the fire exit paths.
  3. It takes time for firefighters to find out the cause of the fire in high-rise buildings


Violation of safety laws

Violation of fire safety laws is one of the major causes of fire accidents in India. Every building in India needs to comply with the state guidelines. Many states adopt The National Building Code (NBC). Hence, the fire safety rules are different in every state.

Violation of safety laws have a serious impact as the country is overpopulated and a fire accident could lead to many fatalities. Fires also damage livelihoods most often and so in a sense can destroy years of having built a business or enterprise.

In our country, unfortunately finding loopholes is easier than compliance. There is a laxity in every level, not just the authorities but also the general public who do not take fire safety seriously.

infographic - before you buy an apartment


Common Causes of fire accidents

  1. Electrical short-circuit – Faulty electrical system and malfunctioning circuit breakers are one of the leading causes of electrical fires. Or Heating equipment in contact with combustible materials like cloth or wood.
  2. Kitchen fires due to unattended cooking or LPG and microwaves
  3. Intentional fires like arson
  4. Careless smoking
  5. Children playing with matchsticks and candles


How to prevent fire in high-rise buildings?

1. Fire safety system – A fire safety system like a fire extinguisher, smoke alarms, sprinklers, hydrants, etc, ensures that a building has all the essential resource that is helpful in case of a fire accident. As mentioned earlier, high-rise buildings are more challenging and firefighting becomes complicated. Hence, a building equipped with firefighting like automatic sprinklers helps to curb a fire before a firefighter could reach from outside.

2. Evacuation Challenges: In high-rise buildings evacuation also consumes a lot of time as the inmates have to be brought to safe areas slowly and through fire exits and stairways

3. Compliance with fire safety laws – Fire safety rules are designed to protect people and property. It also helps us to identify the potential hazards and eliminate them with the help of safety measures.

4. Fire drills – Fire drills help us to be prepared and educate every individual of their responsibility. Fire drills are also very important to ensure that the occupants are familiar with the sound of the smoke alarm, the numbers to dial and exit routes.

5. Regular inspection & safety audit – Fire safety does not end with installing fire safety equipment, there has to be a regular inspection. The inspection should be carried out by the fire department or authorities in every jurisdiction. Surprise inspections by the authorities are also the best way to ensure safety at all the times. Having said that, it is also the role of every association or owners to ensure thorough maintenance of fire safety equipment in their community.

6. Clear exit paths and safe assembly point – The exit paths of a building must be clearly marked and always clutter free. There should be a safe assembly/meeting point outside the building.

These are just a few small steps to ensure the fire safety in a premise that you live in.

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