Fire Safety in Tall Buildings

As we evolve into a nation of vertical cities, there is a dire need to understand and enforce fire safety in the high-rise towers.

Evolved structural forms, high-rise buildings, and mixed-use projects present several unique challenges that are not found in traditional low-rise structures. Every additional levels results in a direct increase in the number of people that need to travel vertical distances to evacuate the structure. This emphasizes on the need for expert risk analysis, longer egress times, evacuation strategies, fire department accessibility, smoke movement, and fire control.

Often the fire engineers and consultants are on board when matters related to fire performance technology come into play, yet architects should not leave it all up to them. When it comes to fire performance technology architects should not leave it all up to the fire engineer. Knowing the pros and cons of various construction materials and how they can affect the design is essential.

Over the years, the cost of fire protection and safety has decreased drastically because of the new products and increased competition in the market. While several fire-retardant coatings and measures are applied on site, there has also been an increase in the built-in fire retardant properties of products themselves. Intumescent coatings, paint-like materials that expand when heated to form a char, provide excellent insulating properties and are widely used.

Shreepati Arcade, standing at 153 meter tall, was the first high-rise designed at ARK Reza Kabul Architects, and the then tallest in India (2002). To ensure fire safety, we integrated the latest of its time, fire proof Korean bus-bar technology. It acted as a tested fire barrier and functional endurance in case of fire to ensure a high degree of safety. Parts of the structure were also clad in glass mosaic tiles as they are heat resistant, protecting it from fire against latent heat. The added advantage was that this material is crazing resistant and keeps the structure safe from hairline cracks below its surface.

Our design for the upcoming mixed-use high-rise Altitude, which stands at 383 meter tall, is equipped with modern and responsive state-of-the-art fire fighting systems. The structure contains a mix of spaces and users, including retail, commercial, entertainment, hospitality, and residential. Keeping in mind the safety of the occupants, a four hour fire rating arrangement has been provided with an intelligent addressable fire alarm system that can pinpoint the exact location of the fire across all levels and spaces. The lift well, lobbies, and staircases are pressurized with the help of pressurization fans located on the service levels. This system protects escape routers and fire fighting shafts against the ingress of smoke by maintaining pressure within the spaces. The drencher system has been adopted for the car park podiums, while the emulsifier system is put in place for electrical equipment such as transformers. Standard fire safety instruments such as voice evacuation systems, sprinklers, fire safety and breathing apparatus, and extinguishers are available on all levels across several zones.

High-rise buildings have garnered significant attention towards fire safety over the years. We need to highlight and emphasize on is the frequency of conducting mock fire safety drills; they are an important part of the fire safety procedure. It helps the occupants understand what they need to do if there is a fire, and how much time do they have to complete a successful evacuation. Implementing this will help drastically reduce the loss of life in the case of a fire outbreak. As it is rightly said, don’t let your dreams go up in smoke – practice fire safety!

**Excerpts from Fire Safety in Tall Buildings by Reza Kabul featured in Fensterbau Frontale India.