Improving Fire Protection Systems in Skyscrapers

Improving Fire Protection  Systems in SkyscrapersImproving Fire Protection  Systems in Skyscrapers

In the past, skyscrapers were meant only for commercial and office use, but nowadays more and more high-rise residential apartments are being constructed in Tehran, mostly in the upscale northern districts as well as in other bigger cities such as Mashhad, the second most populous city in Iran.

Tehran is a highly urbanized city with a population of nearly 12 million and in recent years vertical living is becoming more common following the demand for high-rises due to paucity of urban space.

Smaller places like the port city of Bandar Anzali are also seeing a spurt in high-rises.

But most of the new structures especially outside Tehran have been constructed without paying proper attention to the fire safety norms.

“Unlike the other cities, we have strict supervision on construction of tall residential buildings in the capital. Completion certificate is not issued without safety approval certificate granted by Tehran’s Fire Department,” claims its spokesman Jalal Maleki, as reported by Tabnak News Agency.

Although residential towers are partly a solution to accommodate the increasing population growth in major cities, the high rate of fire breakouts is alarming and a big threat to the occupants. Extinguishing fires in buildings taller than 6-stories is not possible with firefighting ladders, Maleki says.

The number of fire stations in Tehran has increased to 120 in 2015 from 103 in the previous year and the average response time of fire departments is 4-6 minutes globally, says Saeed Sharifzadeh, director of Tehran’s Fire Stations and Safety Services Organization. With the additional fire stations response time has been reduced to between 4.20 and 4.30 minutes in the capital.

He said the organization has several functions in addition to responding to a fire emergency, including regular safety inspection of shopping centers, storage rooms, schools, sports complexes and cinemas.

According to the Tehran Municipality’s five-year plan (2014-19), the number of firefighting stations should increase to 150 by the end of plan period. Purchasing 30 fire service ladders and 45 narrow-axle vehicles (for better emergency access) are also on the agenda.

Additionally, the number of citizens trained to face fire and natural disasters emergencies has also increased from 800,000 people in 2000 to several million now.

  Susceptible to Risks

“People living in the skyscrapers are more susceptible to fire risks, so the structures should be equipped with standard fire extinguishing systems and equipment,” says Davoud Barati, an expert in Fire Safety Engineering.

Pointing to the massive fire that broke out in a 17-story residential tower (Salman Tower) in Mashhad, the capital of Khorasan Razavi Province on June 10, he said although there were no causalities, “a dozen firefighters were hospitalized due to respiratory problems as the superheated gases burned their respiratory tracts.”

Investigations showed that using sub-standard electrical cables in the building façade was the root cause of the accident.

After the incident, 46 other unsafe tall residential buildings were identified in the shrine city and were reported to the Crime Prevention Department of the provincial judiciary office to address the issue of fire safety violations.

In another incident, on July 4 a huge fire spread and consumed a 20-story high-rise building (Tavoos Complex) in Anzali, Gilan Province. Fortunately, there were no human causalities as people had not yet occupied the tower. “Many firefighters from different cities of Anzali, Rasht, Khomam, had to be dispatched to control the blaze.”

In the two aforementioned cases (and almost in all similar cases) fire departments were notified of the accidents promptly; however, due to the lack of the required safety systems and facilities in the towers and poor quality material used in buildings, it is difficult to control the flames in the initial moments, and therefore fire spreads to large parts of the building.

Based on regulations, each tower in high-rises should be equipped with standard fire extinguishing systems. The residents also should receive fire extinguishing training, while most of them don’t.

  Poor Quality Material

Using unsuitable or poor quality materials for facades of buildings can dramatically increase the flames to spread and the rate of toxic smoke generation. Toxic smoke from the burning of poor quality materials can be more dangerous than the flames itself.

It is unfortunate that producers of construction materials still use the simple test of holding a lighter flame to the product samples to prove they are heat-proof and fire-resistant. “Fire temperatures can go up to 750 to 1000 degrees C after continuing for one or two hours,” Barati noted.

Mahmoud Qadiri, deputy for fire prevention at the Tehran Fire Department says in tall buildings fire moves vertically and flammable construction materials or non-standard windows can increase the speed by which the flames spread to the upper floors.

In recent years, with the increase in the number of tall buildings and the use of substandard elevators with poor maintenance service, the number of elevator-related accidents including getting stuck in the lifts, have also increased.