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Fire safety

By Andrew Batt

Following the horrendous disaster at Grenfell tower in North Kensington, London, questions on how high-rise developments can be protected from serious fires have been at the forefront of many debates. Whilst no building can be 100 percent safe from fire as long as there are flammable materials and supplies within the building, complying with fire safety regulations as well as understanding how to prevent and control them will help minimise loss and damage and building owners must be compliant with the law.

In Thailand the 1992 Building Safety Control Act requires that buildings over eight floors must have sprinkler systems, heat detectors and other fire safety features such as fire escapes.Though the act does not cover buildings built before 1992, the law requires all high-rise buildings to receive an inspection by a certified inspector. Results from the inspection will tell if any repair or improvement to the fire safety systems is required. It is important that the building owner must take actions accordingly.

To ensure that the building meets the minimum fire safety standard, the fire safety inspections covers all fire protection and fighting systems, such as fire escape and stairs; fire exit and signage; exhaust fan and smoke damper; emergency power backup; fireman lift; fire alarm; fire-fighting equipment; fire pump and fire hose reel; sprinkler; and lightning protection. It also covers the safety management plans including fire protection and fighting, fire drill, and safety and building inspections.

The building safety inspection is also beneficial to those who are looking to buy or rent condominium units in completed buildings. Most people only look at the basic selection criteria including the location of the property, quality of the construction and design of the unit. Very few pay attention to the safety management of the building. Before making a decision to buy or rent, one should ask for a copy of the valid building inspection report from the owner.

Equally important is the efficiency of property management. In professionally managed buildings, fire protection and control systems should receive proper and adequate maintenance so that they are functional at all times and can operate at the highest efficiency if a fire should break out. Building management staff should be well prepared and trained to operate fire protection and control systems, know how to extinguish a fire at initial stages and have proper process and procedure of how to communicate with relevant stakeholders, evacuate building users and secure help from relevant authorities.

While a professional building inspection and efficient property management can help minimise risk, loss and damage from a fire, property users’ understanding of what causes fires and how to prevent them counts for a lot. Many apartment fires are caused by tenants or residents within the property. These fires can be traced to electrical short circuits, cooking/kitchen blazes, heating elements such as stoves or water heaters, and burning joss sticks, candles, and cigarettes as well as children playing with fire.Owners, occupiers, juristic persons and property managers must plan to ensure that a development is fire safe.

Did You Know?

  • All high-rise buildings are required by law to receive a building inspection and host a fire drill at least once a year.

  • Buildings with more than eight floors that were built before the 1992 Building Safety Control Act took effect may not have sprinkler systems and other fire safety features.

  • Sprinkler systems can always be installed in buildings that are already constructed.

  • Sprinkler systems that work well supply pressurised water via a fire pump, and once activated can usually prevent fires spreading quite rapidly. Fire pumps should be checked monthly by trained technicians and checked by licensed engineers every three months.

  • Every building should have fire wardens or safety wardens.

  • Stairwell doors are fire doors that must be closed at all times to prevent the spread of fire, smoke and poisonous gases.

  • Smoke alarms should be tested once a year and cleaned at least once every six months by gently vacuuming the exterior. For battery-operated smoke alarms, the batteries should be changed at least once a year.

  • Floor plans and evacuation procedures must be posted and visible on every floor.