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A full architect’s guide for firefighting

portrait of a firefighter in the operations centre at the fire-fighting vehicle

Building fires are considered to be one of the most traumatizing experiences any human being can go through. It doesn’t only damage material objects, but also comes at a cost for those who put their dreams and hopes into making it a place to live. It is not a momentary situation but rather a traumatic one, requiring a long healing process. Studies have shown that building design and construction have a great influence on the average rate of fires per year. By the end of the year 2018, the number of fire and rescue incidents in the United Kingdom reached 177,844 fires with a 5% increase compared to the previous year 2017 (170,007). Fire safety concerns should be considered to meet the required rescuing strategy in order to design a safer building from the early stages. There is a lot of architecture and construction factors that affect the fire escape plan as people flow, number of exits, door details and dimensions, vertical and horizontal circulation of the building and visibility of signage. These factors and more are the main pillars that change fire strategies from a reactive emergency into a more proactive one. Generally, the design of buildings can be improved to mitigate the impact of fire emergencies on users if these factors are investigated in detail to develop the needed design guidelines. However, fires in the construction sectors can also happen during the construction process not only after delivery. This article provides a full guideline with the causes, preventative measures, fire protection strategies and systems used during and after the project.

During the Construction of the Project

Constructing a building is one of the most perilous and unsafe working types. You need to follow specific safety code requirements in order to achieve a safe work environment. A comprehensive and updatable firefighting plan should always be ready for execution at any time. Nevertheless, preventive maintenance is always better than last-minute procedures. Next, are the main causes of fire at the construction site so you can avoid them the next time.

Smoking: Yes, we all know that a construction site should be a smoke-free space, yet it’s hard to control such huge labor force, therefore sharp punishments should be added to eliminate this deed.

Hazardous material: Each project includes a specific range of materials, whereas some of them are hazardous material which should be kept in special designed isolated storages off-site to prevent any interaction in this area.

Heat appliances: Cooking appliances such as cookers, ovens, toasters and kettles formulate one of the main reasons for initiating a fire. That’s why using them on site require a special designed space and approved agreement from the responsible safety engineer.

Mechanical rooms: Mechanical rooms that include big servers or air conditioning system is one of the most places at fire risk. A small spark can lead to a catastrophe in such a space.

After identifying the reasons for originating a fire in the construction site, here are the main recommendations for preventing these causes to take place:

  • Follow the design code for firefighting management.
  • Hire a safety control engineer in your project to control the contractor and other laborers actions.
  • Ensure proper safety training and crisis management basics are given for all the project parties.
  • Isolate any hazardous material as chemical solvents, tar and flammable liquids in storage off the site place.
  • Prohibit smoking all over the site.
  • Check for any electrical or mechanical defect that can lead to sparking a fire regularly, preferably go for an automated defect management software as PlanRadar for an enhanced accuracy in defect tracking.

After Building Delivery

 

fire sprinkler and detector

Once the building is finished and delivered the causes can’t be controlled anymore, it can arise accidentally from smoking, cooking, electrical appliances, candles or heating systems. However, we still can plan for the fire safety strategies we need to install in each building in the following order:

  • Prevention: controlling ignition and fire triggers so that fires do not start.
  • Communication: if ignition occurs, ensuring occupants are informed and an active fire alarm system is working.
  • Escapism: after communicating the threat of the fire ensuring that the users of the facility are able to move out safely.
  • Repression: fire should be contained to the smallest possible area to limit the damages.
  • Extinguishment: ensuring that fire can be extinguished quickly through the fire system and with minimal consequential destruction.

 

Though, to reach such a target of dealing with a fire you need to install fire safety building system. And to design a full network system of fire protection an architect and mechanical engineer should coordinately work on designing fire sprinklers, fire detectors, standpipes, hazard systems controllers, smoke detectors and structural fire resistance of the building. A building should be designed to provide an easy way of exiting beside a long-time fire resistance. According to the whole building design guide WBDG   in order to design a fire protection coordinated system, the architect and mechanical should both work on:

  • Coordination of sprinkler system zoning with fire alarm system zoning.
  • Coordination of sprinkler system water flow and tamper switches with the fire alarm system.
  • Coordination of fire alarm and egress system with building security.
  • Coordination of smoke control systems with detection and HVAC system designs.
  • Coordination of fire separations with architectural designs.
  • Coordination of penetrations of fire rated assemblies with mechanical and electrical designs.
  • Coordination of means of egress with architectural designs.

 

Fire system maintenance is a mandatory aspect for each building. We should always choose to follow a preventive maintenance strategy over using curing or emergency one. An unanticipated fire can go far beyond a normal disaster into a culture and historical catastrophe as for the Notre Dame cathedral this year. Always follow a regularly scheduled defect tracking strategy and comprehensive maintenance plan to keep your facilities and beloved ones safe.

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