Fire Safety and Prevention in Buildings and Structures

Introduction

The economic value of the construction industry is significant and the industry contributes up to 10% of the annual GDP for most nations (Purkiss, 2). The industry encompasses the use of many other complementary industries such as electrical, mining, steel and transportation to name but a few. This involvement of multiple industries suggests that the construction industries success or failure can reflect on a number of other industries.

Humans are physical beings and need buildings and other structures to enable them to carry out their day to day activities in an efficient manner. As such, the need to implement safety and preventive measures in such places is invaluable. Despite the clearly vital role of construction as an economic entity, the industry continues to be affected by inefficiencies and accidents which mostly spring from a lack of proper protective equipments, poor construction and poor decision making.

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Fire is one of the most dangerous occurrences that may put many lives in danger in these facilities. To this effect, all governments and other organizations have put in place standards that stipulate the safety and preventive requirements for the various types of buildings and structures.

Fire safety and prevention should be considered while constructing buildings and other structures. This paper shall give a detailed analysis of fire as a life threatening occurrence. The various causes of fire shall be discussed and their impacts on human life addressed.

The various preventive and safety measures that can be employed to minimize or avoid the occurrences of fire shall also be highlighted. Through the exploration of the vital equipments required to quell fires in buildings and structures, this paper shall effectively provide viable recommendations geared towards fire safety and prevention in a bid to promote the preservation of life.

Brief overview of fire safety and preventive standards

Fire safety and prevention as defined by Brannigan refers to the steps and measures that are taken by people to ensure that the occurrence, control and extinguishing of unwanted fires is effective and safe to those involved (24). The existence of fire safety and prevention standards can be traced back to the late 19th century.

The reason behind their institution was mainly because fires were unpredictable, dangerous and responsible for the deaths of many as well as the loss of property. As such, these standards were put in place to ensure that fires could be contained and controlled such that the losses caused by fire were minimal.

In regards to the control of fires, the standards were set to consider the recommended heights of buildings, the ventilation of the same, the availability of exits and the use of non flammable materials during constructions (Brannigan, 80).

The building and construction codes in the UK have stipulated the various standards that should be met in a building before it is opened to the public. Among these codes are the fire safety and protection standards which dictate the fire safety and prevention equipments that should be installed in a building depending on its size.

In addition, the standards have provided clear directives on the materials that should be used in constructions to prevent and avoid the spread of fires. The materials have been clearly categorized and defined to ensure that all constructors adhere to the requirements.

In as much as there has been an increase in fire related property losses, the number of deaths associated to fires had decreased significantly since the inception of these standards. However, it should be noted that the prevention of fires is everyone’s responsibility and it is important that every person learns the basics as regarding to fire safety and prevention.

Statistics show that most fires are started as a result of individual negligence and carelessness. In addition, fire departments equipped with the necessary fire management facilities have been established in various locations to assist people experiencing fire related issues.

Causes of fires in buildings and structures

There are many causes that may lead to the breakout of a fire. However, most documented fires were as a result of poor electrical, water and structural installations. However, the worst cause of fires is individual negligence and carelessness.

Examples of such carelessness include but are not limited to: leaving the sockets on, smoking in the house and touching electric appliances with water among others. Furthermore, interior furnishings exacerbate the growth of fires, or they could be the primary cause of fire (Clinton, 8). This is because the materials used are more often flammable (wood, refined leather, and fabric).

The induction of IT into fire safety and prevention

Over the years, man’s creativity and innovativeness have bore fruits in terms of his growth and that of the society that he dwells in.

Through his innovative nature, he has managed to discover new and better ways of making life, work and social interactions easier and safer. The highlight of such progress can undoubtedly be placed on the invention of the computers a few decades ago. Nowadays, you find computers in shops, most homes, schools and at various work stations globally.

Due to this technological advancement, computerized fire-detection alarms have been developed and are now available and at reasonable prices globally. These alarms are applied with the necessary IT tools or software which are designed to respond to various fire hazards or warn occupants of a potential fire threat.

Monitoring of high-rise buildings and structures can be a very difficult and costly affair if human labor is to be used. Nowadays, high-rise buildings and structures use sophisticated fire detection alarms to warn occupants and maintenance crews of an existing or potential fire.

There is also an array of heat and smoke detectors which have been designed to meet the safety requirements in various industries so as to increase the levels of fire-detection methods. These can be automatically or manually operated to ensure maximum protection in the event of a fire.

The photoelectric smoke detector is composed of a sensitive electronic circuit that provides alarm in case smoke is detected. Photoelectric detectors can be installed in high-ceiling areas and spaces with medium to high-velocity airflow at the ceiling level. The air-sampling detection system uses a laser beam-based photoelectric smoke detection. Warning and protective devices are also installed in air-conditioning units which may add “fuel load” to an existing fire.

In cases of data agencies, a fire detection and extinguishing system has been developed to ensure that the fire is extinguished without causing any damage to the data stored or the equipments (for example; server rooms and filing rooms). These systems suck out all the oxygen in a room thereby choking the fire immediately.

Fire safety and prevention in buildings and constructions

Considering the significance that fire prevention and safety systems can have in the construction industry, it would be prudent to look into the ways in which these systems can be exploited for optimal benefit. The implementation of such systems in building and structural designs provides the best means for dealing with the various factors that causes fire.

Leber declare that the construction industry is safety dependent and absence of efficient and accurate safety and preventive measures may reduce the capacity and productivity of a construction company (36). The industry has therefore been involved in research efforts to enable it overcome the safety inefficiency obstacle which greatly hamper the productivity of the industry.

In regards to fire prevention, architects and designers must at all times consider the flammability of the materials to be used during construction, the fire resistance capability and duration of these materials, the veracity of the sealing materials used in openings and other structures within and outside the buildings and the organization and arrangement of escape routes within the building.

The main aim of these considerations is to ensure that there is adequate prevention against the starting and spreading of fires and to control the spread of smoke to facilitate escape and/or rescue of persons and animals. In addition, there are active and passive precautions that should be put in place to assist in the event of a fire.

Leber defines passive considerations as those implemented to the building and its components while active precautions refer to the automated systems installed in a building or structure and deployed when a fire starts (43).

As pertaining to passive precautions, Schroll states that they are the measures relating to the structural integrity of buildings (49). They relate to the installation of fire doors and windows, the coating and casing materials used in various components and the recommended measurements required for rooms so that they can contain fires.

Active precautions refer to the smoke and fire detection systems installed. They include but are not limited to fire, smoke and heat detectors, sprinkler systems, Co2 and water extinguishers and automated smoke and heat venting systems among others (Christian, 107).

However, the installation of these systems and precautions may be deemed worthless if the architects and designers lack adequate knowledge of fire. As such, safety engineering is a worth while field of study for these professionals.

This area of study covers the types of fires, their causes, propellants and extinguishing techniques. Depending on the size of the building or structure, it is very important that the engineers ensure that proper precautions are put in place to ensure that fire can easily be detected, controlled and extinguished.

Before installing any fire detection system, the safety engineer must consider the area that these gadgets are to monitor, ceiling height and the type of roof used on the building.

In addition, they must consider the type of fire that may start in that particular building. Identifying the type of fire enables the engineer to choose the most effective system to combat the fire and extinguish it with minimal losses of lives or property. For example, heat detectors should be installed in rooms or structures that emit a lot of heat.

They are therefore set at certain degrees above which they set of the alarm. Smoke detectors are installed in places where the materials therein would emit a lot of smoke if a fire starts. Finally, fire detectors are part of the fire alarm system and they send a transmission to a remote control center (fire stations and police stations) to alert them and the occupants of the building of a fire outbreak.

Fire spread

As mentioned earlier, the materials used during construction and the proximity to other buildings may contribute highly to the spread of fires. As such, all engineers are required by law to ensure that due consideration is given to these aspects while constructing a building or structure. In this section, we are going to divide the spread of fire into two categories: internal and external fire spread.

a. Internal fire spread

During the implementation of fire and safety precautions, there are factors that must be considered as relating to the spread of fires once they have ignited.

In regards to the building’s surface, the linings and coats used on the walls and ceilings may contribute to the spreading of fires within the building. This may be hazardous especially in areas of the building with high activity and circulations because the fire may prevent the occupants from escaping.

To this effect, there are two very important factors that should be considered in relation to the materials used on these surfaces. One of them is their resistance to fire spreading over the surface and the amount of heat that the materials emit once they catch fire. There are various tests that have been conducted to gauge the integrity of surface materials and their potential threshold in the event of a fire.

In the UK, a system has been developed through which these materials are categories depending on their combustibility and their ability to facilitate fire spread. These categories are therefore used to determine the surface materials to be used in buildings and structures depending on their use, size and level of activity.

The other factor to be considered is the structure of the building. Cholin claims that the importance of making a building fire resistant and stable is invaluable (73). This can attributed to the fact that if the building or structure is stable and fire resistant, it would facilitate the escape efforts of the occupants.

In addition, it would also make it safe for by-standers and other buildings incase of a collapse. As regarding to firefighters, stable and fire resistant buildings are safe for them to go in and rescue people trapped in the fire and make it easy to handle and extinguish the fire. The level of fire resistance is classified into three categories.

They are; Resistance to collapse, resistance to fire penetration and resistance to heat penetration. Construction regulations have provided means of determining these aspects in relation to the size of the building occupancy and height of the building.

To further ensure fire safety and prevention in buildings and structures, strict rules are enforced as regarding to the division of complex and large buildings into small manageable compartments. This is done to prevent fires from spreading all over the building and ensuring that the building is fire resistant.

Close attention should be given to the junctions between the floors, the walls and the roofs of the buildings to ensure that they remain fire resistant and that they can prevent fire from spreading.

In addition, openings within these compartments are required to be installed with fire resistant components such as self-closing doors or shutters made of non-combustible materials. Finally, the set regulations require that all buildings be fitted with “cavity barriers”.

This is because there are unconcealed cracks and cavities within the walls, floors and ceilings of buildings which can provide a viable route in the event of a fire.

b. External fire spread

The spread of fire among adjacent buildings is prevented by using fire resistant materials on the external surfaces of the buildings (walls and roofs).

In addition to this, the spread of fires from one building to another can be mitigated by ensuring that there is ample space between buildings. As such, there are regulations which dictate the materials that should be used on the exterior surfaces of a building as well as the approximate distance between buildings and structures depending on their size, use and height.

For example, roofs do not necessarily need to be fire resistant on the inside but it is always important to ensure that the external surface of the roof is fire resistant incase fire spreads from adjacent buildings.

In addition to this, the regulations state that water canons should be strategically placed in various locations to ensure that there is enough water in the event of a fire. Water canons can come in handy in situations whereby firefighters have limited access to the fire location either due to poor urban planning of narrow roads (fire trucks cannot get to the fire).

Furthermore, there is need to install storage facilities for the hose pipes and sprinklers to ensure that they are available when needed. They should also be well maintained to ensure full efficiency.

Smoke and heat venting systems

Fire in its initial stage (during ignition) is characterized by the emission of excessive smoke. In most cases, this smoke has contributed significantly to the loss of lives. This is because it reduces visibility and inhibits proper breathing.

As such, the smoke and heat venting systems play a pivotal role in ensuring that the building on fire is visible. This helps the fire victims to escape and the firefighters to carryout their rescue missions and firefighting efforts.

Therefore, these systems assist in ensuring fire safety and prevention in the following ways: They preserve the routes that can be used to escape from the building or access it (incase of firefighters). In addition, they facilitate in firefighting, protect sensitive equipments and retard the spread of fires.

Recommendations

Fire prevention should be a concern of every individual. As such, governments and firefighting organizations should invest on promotional campaigns aimed at creating awareness of the dangers of fire, their causes and how they can be prevented.

In addition, training programs should be implemented in all commercial buildings to ensure that all the occupants have the basic skills needed to handle fires. They include, first aid skills, training on how to operate various firefighting equipments and procedures that should be followed to escape a building in the event of a fire.

In addition, the prices of firefighting equipments such as extinguishers, detectors, and sprinklers should be subsidized. In so doing, people will only use quality equipments and therefore guarantee safety to all people in buildings and structures.

Finally, the government should sponsor researchers who seek to provide more solutions to the prevention of fires.

This is because, there are many people who would like to do more studies on the types of fire, why they occur and how they can be prevented but they lack the resources in terms of finances and equipments.

Conclusion

In the implementation of fire safety and prevention measures, it is always important to ensure that the various needs required to stop or avoid fires are addressed.

Through the application of the scientific and technical theories, fire can be predicted and viable solutions can thereafter be enforced to ensure that buildings and structures are well equipped to deal with fires irrespective of their intensity or size.

The main objectives of fire alarm systems are to safeguard the lives of occupants within a building, protection of property and to warn people incase of a fire. As such, every building should install these systems to avoid disasters and losses.

However, fire safety and prevention measures may become useless if they are not maintained properly. It is therefore the duty of everyone to ensure that the installed systems are updated, in good working condition and are functioning efficiently.

From this paper, the need of fire safety and prevention has been emphasized. The various precautions that should be taken to facilitate this have been highlighted and possible recommendations as regarding to fire prevention offered. More research on fire behaviors should be done to ensure that our buildings are safe even for generations to come.

Works cited

Brannigan, Francis L. Brannigan’s Building Construction for the Fire Service (Fourth Edition). London: Jones and Barlett Publishers International, 2008. Print.

Cholin, John M. “Fire Alarm Systems: Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance.” Operation of Fire Protection Systems. Ed. A. Cote. Massachusetts: National Fire Protection Association, Inc., 2003. 55-74. Print.

Christian, Dr S D. A Guide to Fire Safety Engineering. Essex: British Standards Edition, 2003. Print.

Leber, Fred. “Fire Alarm System Interfaces.” Operation of Fire Protection Systems. Ed. A. Cote. Massachusetts: National Fire Protection Association, Inc., 2003. 43-52. Print.

Purkiss, John A. Fire Safety Engineering: Design of Structures (2nd Edition). UK: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2007. Print.

Schroll, R. Craig. Industrial Fire Protection (2nd Ed.). USA: CRC Press LLC, 2002. Print.

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