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Safety in high-rise buildings

Just who is to be blamed when a fire breaks out, asks K. Sukumaran



Safety first: Firemen need quick access to the top floors of tall structures when a fire breaks out

How do vital public service departments coordinate and act in times of emergencies? This has come into focus in the wake of the recent fire in the Public Utility Building on M.G. Road in which there was substantial loss.

The existing rules and regulations, fire safety measures in high rise buildings and the role of the Fire Services department are under the scanner.

The stipulation in the Development Plan-2015 evolved by the Bangalore Development Authority and approved by the State Government, wherein ‘high rise’ is defined as buildings with a height of above 24 metres, too needs some fresh look.

Controversies

The following controversies have emerged after the PUB fire:

What should be the definition of high rise?

Who is primarily responsible for ensuring fire safety measures?

Is it not necessary to have fire safety plans in all buildings?

Which are the agencies involved in the matter?

While the plan preparing and approving authority is primarily responsible for giving permission subject to fulfilment of all conditions regarding fire safety measures, which are the other agencies/departments which are to be involved/consulted?

Let us deal with these controversies, one by one.

High rise buildings

To have a universal definition of what constitutes a high rise may not be practical. In a rural area, a high rise may constitute even a two-storey building, whereas in a metro the stipulation of 25 metres height cannot be considered technically correct unless the ‘in house’ preventive measures and the ability of the Fire Services department are in tandem.

As such, the basic requirement is to declare a practical guideline for identification of high-rise constructions.

This will have to be followed up by declaring the stipulations applicable to such buildings, specifying requirements such as fire exits, location of water tanks, details of fire equipments etc.

It is advisable to consult the Fire Services Department also, as it has the facilities such as vehicles, ladders, etc.

Primary responsibility

The primary responsibility of ensuring that the fire safety measures are provided in all buildings, especially high rises, vested with the owner/ builder. However, as the authority to grant certificate in respect of fire safety is the Fire Services Department, it has to ensure that all the requirements of the National Building Code relating to fire safety are available in the building for which the certificate is issued.

The Department should also take into account the accessibility of the fire force personnel to reach the higher floors of the building through the lifts or by means of ladders available with them. In case this cannot be done, it will have to be construed as a failure on their part.

The main agencies having jurisdiction over a building construction need to be involved from the planning/ designing stage itself while taking up an apartment house/high rise building. As per the National Building Code and National Electricity Code, fire safety standards are mandatory for all buildings above two floors and high-rise buildings are those having a height of 15 metres or have flour floors, whichever is more. Fire escape, pumps, storage tanks, lift, fire fighting protection devices, fire alarms, fire extinguishers etc are to be provided in all high rise buildings without fail. For apartments above 35 meters height, certain relaxations in respect of ground level water tanks and pumps are in place. The Indian Electricity Act and related Rules give the Chief Electrical Inspector at the State level the powers to ensure implementation of measures to prevent electricity-related fire incidents. The State Fire Services Department can inspect periodically all buildings which are 3/5 years old for monitoring fire safety standards. In Karnataka, therefore, the BESCOM and Fire Services Department have definite roles in the matter, though the BBMP approves the construction plans falling within their jurisdiction.

Co-ordination

Instead of waiting for a calamity to strike, preventive measurers are to be enforced with the cooperation and coordination of all concerned with out unleashing the blame game.

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