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Maintaining Fire Safety In A High-Rise Building

In the wake of the Grenfell disaster, ensuring comprehensive fire safety measures in high-rise buildings should have become a top priority for architects, builders, and property owners. Despite the event happening in 2017, it wasn't until 2022 that The Building Safety Act was passed which gave residents and homeowners more rights, powers, and protections - making homes across the country safer to live in. Whilst changes have been slow and there is still work to be done.


Design Considerations

There are a number of stages in the design of a high-rise building that will look at aspects of fire safety and fire stopping for the structure and its occupants once built. Here are a couple of the major stages that affect a buildings overall fire safety design:


Construction Materials

Fire safety in high-rise buildings begins with their design and construction. Materials used for construction should adhere to the appropriate fire resistance and insulation to prevent fire from spreading. Equally vital is the use of fire-resistant doors, walls, and flooring to contain and help prevent fire from spreading between areas, buying time for evacuation, and firefighting. The fire compartments created are there to hinder the flame movement throughout the building.


The materials used to build the building itself are an extremely important factor in this as we learned from the horrors of the Grenfell fire tragedy. Whilst cladding can enhance the aesthetics and energy efficiency of a structure, it has also come under intense scrutiny in the context of fire safety. Choosing the right cladding material is pivotal in ensuring the overall fire resilience of a building.


Fire Escape Routes

All high-rise buildings need a fire escape route that is easy to follow in the event of a fire. With high-rise buildings, the only way anyone can get out of a high-rise building would be by going vertically. With this in mind, it is essential that the building prioritises the creation of easily accessible, well-marked escape routes and that staircases are wide enough to accommodate a large number of people at one time. 


Fire Compartmentalisation

Designing a building with passive fire protection in mind is a must to uphold high safety standards. A high-rise should have the ability to compartmentalise a fire and block it off to restrict or slow down the spread. This can be wrecked into the designs of walls, floors and ceilings and utilise fire stopping equipment like automatically closing fire doors and sprinkler systems to tackle a fire at the source.


Ventilation

The implementation of effective ventilation systems is essential in minimising the potential for smoke accumulation, facilitating safe evacuation, and aiding firefighting operations. The design aspects of the building can significantly enhance the fire safety standards of high-rise buildings.


Fire Safety Equipment 

It's important to be prepared in case a fire does break out in high-rise buildings. There are several essential pieces of equipment that are crucial to ensuring the safety of occupants whilst also aiding fire fighters efforts to put out the flames.


Fireproof Doors

Fire-resistant doors and screens are specifically designed to withstand high temperatures and delay the spread of a fire, allowing occupants to evacuate safely. Fire doors must always be shut and never held open by a door stopper of any kind to ensure the door can properly do its job.


Automatic closing fire doors can also be utilised. These will close at the trigger of a fire alarm to help compartmentalise a fire and slow its spread.


Fire Alarm Systems

Fire alarms are critical in detecting the presence of smoke or fire within a building. They comprise smoke detectors, heat senses, and alarm notification appliances, which collectively serve to prompt alert occupants to the presence of a fire. Early detection is crucial for initiating evacuation procedures. There are three main benefits of having a fire alarm system integrated; Cost efficiency, 24/7 fire detection, quick installation + minimal disruption.


Fire Extinguishers

Strategically positioned fire extinguishers on each floor of a high-rise building serve as the first line of defence against smaller fires. Usually attached to a wall, they are designed to contain and extinguish fires in their early stages to prevent them from spreading. 


To deal with a multitude of fire classes, a range of fire extinguishers have been developed with different contents suited to specific classes of fire. 

Classes include:


  • Class A fires – are fires involving organic solids like paper, wood, etc

  • Class B fires – are fires involving flammable liquids

  • Class C fires – are fires involving flammable gases

  • Class D fires – are fires involving burning metals (e.g. aluminium swarf)

  • Class F fires – are fires involving fats such as those used in deep-fat fryers

  • Electrical fires (the letter E is not used. Instead the symbol of an electric spark is displayed) – are fires caused by electrical equipment


Fire Sprinkler Systems

Automatic fire sprinkler systems are indispensable for high-rise buildings as they can quickly suppress and control fires before they escalate into catastrophic events. Sprinkler systems are designed to release water or other extinguishing materials directly onto the affected area, reducing the intensity of the fire and minimising property damage.


Smoke Control Systems

Smoke control systems are particularly useful in managing the movement of smoke within a high-rise building during a fire. These systems often include ventilation systems and pressurisation mechanisms that help prevent the rapid spread of smoke, allowing occupants to navigate the building safely and aiding firefighters in their efforts to locate and extinguish the fire source.


Conclusion

Having a thorough understanding of fire safety and design considerations is vital for ensuring the safety of people inhabiting high-rise buildings. With this, disasters such as the Grenfell Tower incident are avoidable and will allow people to live comfortably. Get in touch today to see how we can help you.


Frequently Asked Questions


How often should fire extinguishers be inspected and maintained in high-rise buildings?

Fire extinguishers should be inspected and maintained at least once a year by a certified professional. Water, foam, co2, wet chemical and powder fire extinguishers require a monthly visual inspection to ensure that the extinguishers are in their designated locations, accessible, and in good working condition


What are the key factors to consider when selecting fire-resistant doors and screens for high-rise buildings?

When selecting fire-resistant doors and screens, factors such as fire rating, material composition, installation requirements, and compliance with local fire safety regulations should be carefully considered. It is crucial to choose products that meet the specific fire safety needs of the building while ensuring durability and reliability under various fire exposure conditions.


How can people ensure they are well-prepared to use fire extinguishers during an emergency?

During an emergency, it's imperative that people are aware of the location of fire extinguishers as well as which one is to be used for each type of fire. Participating in fire drills and learning how to assess and respond to different types of fires can significantly enhance their response capabilities during emergencies.


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