Fire safety is an important factor for any building’s design and construction. The architect and engineers need to work together to ensure that buildings comply with safety standards and meet the necessary fire protection regulations. High-rise buildings present a particular challenge when it comes to fire protection and safety.
Tall residential buildings and office blocks have longer evacuation times, more restricted firefighter accessibility, greater smoke containment and more difficult fire control. In many high-rise buildings, the only fire escapes are staircases – occupants cannot use the windows to escape the flames and smoke.
Making high-rise buildings safe from fire
Here are some guidelines for constructing high-rise buildings with good fire protection mechanisms:
- The national building code should be followed when designing and constructing tall buildings. This document will outline all the procedures and regulations that need to be followed, including fire escape guidelines and emergency evacuation procedures.
- Any high-rise structure should have at least one staircase that is designated as a fire escape. The doors should be linked to a fire alarm and kept closed (but not locked) to prevent people from triggering the alarm unnecessarily. The closed doors will also isolate the stairwell from the smoke and external open air space, which could speed up the spread of the fire.
- The high-rise building should have access to its own water supply in the case of a fire. If no municipal fire hydrants exist nearby, the building should have its own borehole or underground water tank to supply water for firefighters. This water supply needs to be connected to accessible fire hoses on every corridor of every floor.
- Smaller, dry-powder fire extinguishers should be located in convenient and accessible places throughout the building. Security personnel should also be given access to fire extinguishers and they must be trained in firefighting techniques.
- A detailed plan of the building should be accessible to all occupants. This plan will highlight fire escape routes, as well as the locations of fire hoses and extinguishers.
- Another building plan should also be made available to local firefighters that describes where external fire hydrants and water pipelines are located. They can use this plan to see the cross-sectional layout of the building and plan their firefighting strategy accordingly.
- The electric circuits in a high-rise building should be separated from one another. Two lighting circuits should be installed – one for regular use and one at floor level in case of smoke and flames. The elevators should run on a separate circuit that can be disabled if a fire breaks out.
- All tall buildings over the height of 25 metres should have backup generators that can switch on in the case of a power failure due to fire. Lighting is essential in an emergency evacuation event.
- All the requirements outlined in the building code should be signed off by the building owner, the architect, contractors and local council. The government can request further building plans and drawings as they see fit.
These guidelines will help to make high-rise buildings safer in the event of a fire. In any apartment block or office space with hundreds of occupants, the risk of fire is increased – especially in high-rise buildings with multiple homes and kitchens. All architects and contractors must be familiar with their national building code and ensure that structures are built in-line with these regulations.
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