Fire Safety Issues
Prevention of Fire
In the prevention of fire, there are a number of particular risk areas that must be identified including where fire may break out, possible size and intensity of the fire, and possible consequences of the fire. "Fire load" is the word to be considered. Examples of high-risk areas in a building are kitchens, large storage areas, dangerous goods stores, plant rooms, switch rooms, manufacturing areas and undercover carparks.
Once these high-rise areas have been identified, we can then put into perspective how large the fire may become and whether the Fire Resistance Levels of the structural elements of the building will be able to cope with such a fire to allow sufficient time for evacuation, fire fighting and to some extent, the minimisation of property damage.
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Prevention of Spread of Fire
If a fire does break out, how likely is the fire and smoke to spread:
- to adjoining properties,
- to other buildings within the same property,
- from one fire compartment to another within a building.
The likelihood of spreading fire and smoke to other buildings depends primarily on the external wall i.e. its construction, the number, sizes and distribution of openings and its proximity to other buildings. Situations of open-air storage near property boundaries will also be taken into account.
The BCA stipulates limits to the sizes of fire or smoke compartments as well as when fire-rated enclosures and fire-isolated stairs are required. These provisions form the basis for us to determine if it is necessary to create fire or smoke compartments inside a building so that fire or smoke can be contained in the compartment it originates. That may include the creation of fire-rated enclosures to high-risk areas and fire-isolated stairs.
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Provision of Fire Fighting Equipment
This type of fire safety measures is necessary for the suppression or fighting of fire. Typical equipment include:
- Portable fire extinguishers
- Fire hose reel system
- Fire hydrant system
- Automatic fire sprinkler system
- Smoke control / stair pressurisation system
Not all of these measures are expected to be present in all buildings. The requirements are stipulated in the BCA and the relevant Australian Standards. Nevertheless, portable fire extinguishers are the bare minimum provision for any premises.
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Safety of Occupants in case of Fire
The safety of the occupants is one of the most important considerations in building fire safety. The following critical questions will always be considered:
Are the existing exits adequate?
The nature of use and floor area will determine the anticipated population in the building. Can the occupants be evacuated within a reasonable time using the existing numbers and widths of exits within acceptable travel distances?
Are the exit routes clearly defined?
Do the occupants know where to find the exits. This can be achieved by a combination of illuminated exit and directional exit signs, emergency lighting, other forms of non-illuminated warning signs or means of delineation e.g. floor markings. The latter is of particular importance if occupants have to pass through storage areas or machinery before reaching an exit.
It is also important that these exit routes lead to a safe open space.
Are the exit routes always available?
Defined exit routes need to be clear from any obstructions at all times. Obstruction can be caused by deliberation, ignorance or neglect, for example storing material (temporary or longer term), presence of non-complying locking devices (e.g. dead locks, bolts, padlocks, etc) on exit doors, presence of other security measures such as security gates, roller doors, etc. Obstruction of exit routes is an offence and Council can issue infringement notices on the spot that carry a $300 penalty.
Council acknowledges that there may be ongoing conflict between fire safety and security and it may exercise discretion in order to achieve a mutually acceptable solution. Please consult Council before any deliberate action is taken.
Will the exit routes maintain a tenable condition long enough for the occupants to seek egress in a dignified manner?
Occupants seeking egress should be able to see the way they are going without being overcome by fire or smoke.
This brings out two questions:
How soon are they aware of a fire and start to evacuate?
If the occupants can be warned to start evacuation as early as possible, the exit routes should remain in tenable condition during the entire evacuation. This brings in the concept of automatic early warning systems such as automatic fire/smoke detection and alarm system, emergency warning and intercom system (EWIS). Smoke alarm system is mandatory for all new dwellings and other residential buildings. For other Classes of buildings, we have to refer to the BCA to determine if early warning systems are required. However, in the case of fire safety upgrading, we may exercise discretion in requiring for an early warning system to be installed as a compensating factor for deficiencies in other areas e.g. inability to upgrade the structure to the required Fire Resistance Levels, excessive travel distances where additional exits cannot be created, etc.
Manual intervention by fire wardens or ushers as stipulated in your organisations emergency evacuation procedures will be given favourable consideration.
Are there any means that will extend the tenability period e.g. by shutting down the mechanical ventilation system, activation of smoke exhaust system, stair pressurisation system, smoke and heat vents, etc?
Again, Council will refer to the BCA whether these systems are required in your building. One general rule is that if there is a central mechanical ventilation system serving more than one fire compartments, it should be shut down upon detection of smoke if it plays no part in smoke extraction so that smoke is prevented from circulating to other fire compartments.
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