Fire safety in high-rise buildings: 12 things residents should know - Hindustan Times
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Fire safety in high-rise buildings: 12 things residents should know

Jun 01, 2024 11:03 AM IST

Amid the ongoing heatwave, here’s what residents must know about fire safety if they reside in high-rise buildings

A fire broke out on the 10th floor of a high-rise building in Noida’s Sector 100 this week following a short-circuit in the indoor unit of the air conditioner (AC). While the fire was doused within half an hour even before firefighters reached the spot, there have been several incidents of fires caused by short-circuit, especially in heat wave conditions during the summer months.

Fire breaks out in Noida's Lotus Boulevard Society. Here’s what you should know if you reside in a multi-storey building,, more so if you live on the higher floors.
Fire breaks out in Noida's Lotus Boulevard Society. Here’s what you should know if you reside in a multi-storey building,, more so if you live on the higher floors.

Also Read: Noida Sector 100: AC blast triggers massive fire in flat; video goes viral

Here’s what you should know if you reside in a multi-storey housing complex, more so if you live on the higher floors.

1. Air conditioning units should be maintained regularly

Most high rise fires occur on account of poor maintenance of electrical appliances, especially air conditioners. This is important considering most residential societies experience high load conditions during peak summers. 

“While societies should ideally be increasing their power load capacity in anticipation of higher consumption, many do not because of the time consuming process and the costs involved,” said Munish Kumar, founder director of EHS Guru Sustainable Solutions Pvt Ltd, a company that undertakes EHS (environment, health and safety), ESG, fire and life safety, ergonomics and regulatory compliance audits and conducts training and provides consultancy to developers and commercial firms.

Housing societies should proactively assess their consumption demand and take steps to tackle the issue of peak load during summer months, he said.

2. Regular fire audits should be carried out

Fire audits are a proactive step but sometimes owners feel that this is an additional investment or an unnecessary financial burden. 

Fire audits assess the adequacies of fire systems in a building and their readiness to avoid any fire situation. During a fire safety audit, fire experts carry out fire prevention drills that include electrical systems related thermography assessments. They assess electrical, fire safety risks, the readiness of fire systems, emergency preparedness of occupants and most important whether emergency systems in a building are in working order or not, Kumar explains.

Also Read: Fire audit thwarts major fire at Noida high-rise: CFO

Resident welfare associations should ideally carry out fire audits at least once a year. “The National Building Code 2016 states that high rise structures should be audited once in two years. The cost of conducting a fire audit ranges from 1 lakh to 2 lakh depending on the building size and the number of towers. A township may cost anything upwards of 3 to 4 lakh,” said the fire safety expert.

3. Ensure smoke detectors inside the apartment and in the common areas are in working condition

While a fire safety audit does assess risks, it has been seen that most smoke detectors are not in working condition in high rise buildings because several residents carry out massive interior work before moving into an apartment.

As per the national building code 2016, all buildings with more than 30 m height (more than 15 floors) require smoke detectors inside the apartment. What this means is that smoke detectors installed inside the apartment are mandatorily linked with fire control panels and sprinkler systems. For buildings less than 15 m, smoke detection systems in common areas are mandatory under the code. 

“Residents should ensure that the smoke detecting systems are not destroyed or done away with while carrying out renovation work,” said Kumar.

4. Don’t run air conditioners for long hours, set temperature at 24 degrees

Maintain all electrical appliances, especially the high consumption electric devices such as air conditioners. In peak summers, excessive use of air conditioners leads to an increase in power demand, and there are often complaints of tripping.

Also Read: Noida: Two fires reported in IT firm and grocery store, none injured

The temperature at which an air conditioning unit is set is also important. The tendency is to set it at 17 degrees but ideally it should be kept at 24 degrees and the reason is that 17 degrees ‘cannot be achieved’ in the prevailing climatic conditions in North India and this puts pressure on the compressor. “Often in situations where the temperature is set at 17 degrees and the air conditioners are operational throughout the day, there is pressure exerted on the compressor often resulting in a fire,” said Kumar.

5. Install fire extinguishers inside and outside apartments located in high rises; train residents to use them

Extinguishers should be installed in super high rise apartments both inside and outside the apartments. Most importantly, residents should know how to use them during an emergency situation. For this it is essential that the resident welfare associations should conduct practical drills and training sessions for all residents.

6. Install gas pipeline sensors

Often leakage in gas pipelines can lead to fire, especially in high temperature conditions, Kumar says. It is, therefore, important that there are sensors in place to detect such fires.

7. Should you use the lift in case of a fire? Pressurisation systems and more

Experts say that lifts should be used in an emergency only by fire fighters. In case of a fire the staircase becomes the safest zone for residents to escape. “Staircase is the last area that gets exposed to smoke because there are pressure systems in place, especially in high rises,” said.

Pressurisation systems (high pressure fans) are installed usually in the basement and terrace areas which are connected to smoke detectors. Smoke detectors installed to detect fires immediately get activated in case of an emergency. High pressure fans create a high flow air zone inside the staircase to prevent smoke from entering the area. Residents welfare associations should check if these units are operational, explains Kumar.

8. Staircase areas should be free from obstruction

It is on account of this reason that all common areas should be kept free of obstruction. Residents should not park their cycles or store household items in common areas, especially staircases.

9. Residential kitchens, clubs with commercial kitchens and more

Residents should undertake regular maintenance of chimneys as oil deposits can lead to fire under high temperature conditions.

If there is a kitchen or a restaurant being run within the society club premises, it requires additional fire protection systems that needs to be maintained at all times. This comes under the commercial category of kitchens.

10. Do swimming pools play a part in fire safety?

Swimming pools can play an important role in case of a fire, especially if they are integrated with the fire tank. In a residential complex, these fire tanks are often located underground near the fire pump room area or above the terrace area. While the former has a capacity of more than 1 lakh liters, the latter has a capacity of 20,000 liters, explains Kumar.

11. This is what the Noida fire department has to say

Pradeep Kumar, chief fire officer, Noida fire department told HT Digital that the department is well equipped to handle fires in high rises. “Fire engines are well-equipped to fight fires up to 20 and the floors above. Audits have been carried out in 370 housing societies in Noida so far. As many as 3154 towers have been checked so far. Having said that, as many as 125 societies do not have fire fighting facilities. Most of these have cases pending before insolvency courts. That has become a challenge.”

The Noida fire department has also ordered fire fighting equipment that can handle fires up to 72 m, he added.

A few private developers have rescue equipment that can handle fires upto 90 m (up to 40 to 45 storeys). These are known as Bronto Skylift fire trucks, explains Kumar.

The Noida Federation of Apartment Owners Associations, a body comprising high-rise apartment owners in Noida, has written to the chief fire officer on the issue of fire safety in high rise societies of Gautam Budh Nagar.

Rajiva Singh, president, NOFAA said that “the role of the fire department in educating and creating awareness about fire safety among high rise dwellers is crucial. Government-approved fire safety specialists can also help AOAs to create safe societies. Even classification of societies based on fire safety norms can help to make condominiums a better and a safe place to live.”

12. Legal issues, compensation for damages in case of fire and more

A development authority awards a fire safety certificate to a developer once he complies with all fire safety norms. “A fire safety certificate is essentially a legal document and holds tremendous significance as it lays the foundation on which completion and other clearances are finally granted by the authority to the builder,” said Akash Vashishtha, a Supreme Court lawyer who specializes in environment-related matters.

Referring to a Uttar Pradesh government order dated July 2000, he explains that the norms stated in this order are applicable to township schemes of authority and group housing projects. “In a layout of various housing schemes over 20 acres, it is essential to have a water body (different from a pool which is for leisure purposes) - pond or a reservoir - in at least 5% of the total area. These should be at least 6 m in depth. In areas and housing schemes that are less than 20 acres, it is essential to have water bodies, or parks or green belts (as per the applicable standard) in one corner of the park or green belt. This could be a recharge well or a recharge tank.”

“While the government order is meant to ensure that these bodies be created for ground water recharge purposes, the water bodies can also be used as and when required for any emergency purposes. These can also provide water security considering the present heat wave conditions,” he said.

Dwelling on compensation issues in case of a fire, Vashishtha said that an allottee/flat owner cannot claim compensation from the builder/developer in case of an occurrence of a fire after having willfully dismantled or removed or rendering nugatory any fire safety equipment installed within or outside his flat.

“The flat owner is not entitled to claim compensation for having committed an act that jeopardizes the life and safety or omitting to do something which is required for ensuring fire safety and which he has reason to believe that such an act or omission may result in a fire accident/incident. Such a claim of compensation may not be maintainable,” he adds.

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