Education and awareness need to be adopted, says fire safety expert

Owners and operators should be made responsible for building fire protection across the UAE if safety standards are to improve.

That is the view of Robert Davies, head of fire and life safety at engineering firm WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff, who thinks a combination of the public and private sector must come together to try and prevent any further high-profile skyscraper fires.

Both the blaze at Dubai’s Torch Tower and the flames which engulfed The Address Hotel attracted worldwide attention and experts say it is time for the Municipality and Civil Defence to act in tandem with the design and build business to promote best practice.

READ MORELatest Dubai skyscraper fire raises safety issues

Davies said: “In the UAE we have the UAE Fire & Life Safety Code of Practice. This was released in 2011 and is soon to be updated. The updated version will address a number of the gaps that existed in the original version as well as dealing with the specific fire issues that have been prominent in recent years.

“The code has been developed by industry experts who have brought together international best practice; as a result the UAE Fire & Life Safety Code of Practice addresses the majority of building types. What I would like to see is a greater focus on the installation, testing and maintenance of fire safety provisions in addition to guidance on the rehabilitation of existing buildings. I would also like to see legislation that makes the owner/operator responsible for the fire safety within the premises.

“Codes need to be developed by committees to ensure that experience from all parts of the industry is nvolved such as designers, material suppliers, local authorities, insurers, etc. The government cannot succeed without support from the market and vice versa; we are stronger together working for a common cause.”

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Davies beliives that connections between many of the buildings that caught fire.

He says: “For the majority of the high profile fires in recent years in the UAE, the common factor and the major contributor to the fires rapid spread on the external façade was the aluminium composite panels that were installed.”

A major factor which could help the situation is a greater awareness of the issues surrounding fire safety, Davies says. And although he is full of praise for the professionalism of firefighters they did face challenges unlike anywhere else in the world. And he added that Dubai particularly has such a culturally diverse population that this is a factor in public awareness of the issue.

Speaking about the awareness of clients about the risks of fire to life and property he says: “It depends on the individuals’ backgrounds. I tend to find that those with exposure to the fire safety concepts; either through fire safety training or fire safety design, are far more accepting of the need for fire safety provisions within their projects.

“But the training for fire fighters in the UAE is to a very high standard. This aside, the challenge these fire fighter face is that the training they receive is not necessarily representative of the buildings they will be fighting fires in. The building stock in the UAE is unique; how can they be trained to deal with all possible scenarios when they keep changing with the completion of each new building?

“Added to this is the fact that the building occupants in the UAE come from all over the world and their understanding or perception of fire risk and their reaction to fire warning systems can be completely different. Some people will evacuate when they hear an alarm and some people will ignore it. This means that the fire fighters are now having to undertake rescue operations in the complex buildings and structures.” says Davies

“The diversity of cultures in Dubai must raise issues over safety. The emphasis given to fire safety in their respective countries directly correlates with the different ways people react to any fire situation.

“Those who have received training will typically react to notification of a fire by looking for further cues or by evacuating the building,” Davies concludes.

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