Fire safety and prevention – Part 1


RK Babloo Singh

Introduction : A fire can happen at any time at any place irrespective of its occupancy status. You can expect a fire at any structure, may be at your home or at your workplace or in a hospital or in public places like theatres, malls, etc… Fire in any occupancy has the potential to cause harm to its occupants and severe damage to property.

On an average, in India, every year, about 25,000 persons die due to fires and related causes. Female accounts for about 66% of those killed in fire accidents. It is estimated that about 42 females and 21 males die every day in India due to fire. According to the statistics released by the National Crime Records Bureau, fire accounts for about 5.9% (23,281) of the total deaths reported due to natural and un-natural causes during the year 2012. Probably many of these deaths could have been prevented, had we taken enough fire protection measures.

No comprehensive data is available in India on the economic losses suffered on account of fires. However, according to one estimate the major losses reported by the Indian Insurance Companies in the year 2007-2008 indicate, that about 45% of the claims are due to fire losses. According to another estimate about Rs. 1000 crores are lost every year due to fire. Fire losses are reported both in industrial and non-industrial premises like hospitals, commercial complexes, educational institutions, assembly halls, hotels, residential buildings, etc… According to Fire Risk Survey (FRS) 2013, carried out by Pinkerton & Federation of Indian Chambers and Industry, in India, fire accounted for 8.45% of the overall ranking of risks. FRS also revealed that fire has been rated as the 5th highest risk in industry in 2013.
The problem : For mitigating a fire in any occupancy, whether it is a business house or in a factory or in a residential building, require a deep understanding about the problem.

A small fire in a residential building may be spread very fast and within a few minutes it can reach a stage beyond the control of its occupants and ultimately seek the help of fire brigade to carry out a major firefighting operation. During the last one decade there was a vibrant growth in the constructions activities in India, especially in High Rise buildings. Thousands of High Rise buildings have already constructed in metros and major cities in India, and thousands are under construction. Because of its peculiar nature, fire in residential buildings in particular, high rise buildings become more complex and the salvaging operations become more difficult and sometimes even resulting in many deaths and huge property losses.
In an era of highly competitive business environment any interruption due to fire can be catastrophic. A major fire can bring a business to halt. Restoring the damage done by fire is only part of the cost of fire. A fire may have serious consequences for the production capacity of a business and in the extreme, the time taken to restore production may be such that the business is forced to close down altogether.

A fire can, not only interrupt the whole process of manufacture and production, but also the building and plant will be in ruins. Before they can be replaced and production restored, much work in clearing up the site will be necessary. It will also be necessary to determine what has been lost and damaged. Even if only a small part of the plant has been involved in the fire, staff from other work will need to be diverted to clear up the mess and to plan the rebuilding and restoration of production.

One must admit that fire creates total waste. Such waste would not be tolerated by any efficient management, if it resulted from inefficient operation. The successful prevention of fire loss depends almost entirely on the management of the business. To control the loss through fire, the management must survey the total operation of the business to determine where the loss potential lies.

One must also admit that the fires are caused almost entirely by people, either through their actions, which may be accidental or deliberate and malicious or through their failure to make appropriate precautions such as, for example, the regular inspection, maintenance and repair of defective equipment.

Inadequately maintained machines can be fire prone. The overheating of bearing, due to insufficient lubrication or the presence of dust, and heat caused by friction are common causes of fire. Frequent inspection and regular maintenance will reduce risk and make the general tidiness of premises easier to achieve. Remember that fires start when source of ignition comes into contact with combustible material. If you can control all sources of ignition and combustible material, you can greatly reduce the potential for fire.

You should also remember that waste and rubbish are friends of fire. Shop floors and offices can have substantial quantity of inflammatory materials such as oil soaked rags, loose packing materials, piles of papers, cartons, etc. All these materials, if ignited, will encourage fire to spread rapidly. Volatile chemicals and explosives pose serious problems. Although the paint, lacquer, flammable solvents and thinners are a less recognised hazard, negligence in handling them may result in fires. Handling small quantities of flammable liquids is a frequent causes of fires and injuries.

Heating and lighting systems that are inadequately maintained or safeguarded present risks. Many fires occur from electrical faults or misuse. Smoking is a notorious fire risk. It should be prohibited in all areas where it is especially dangerous. Major fires start in storage area and warehouses than production areas. Poorly stored goods, even though they are not flammable, may help to spread fire and hinder fire fighters gaining access to the seat of the fire or reduce the effectiveness of sprinkler systems. Goods tidily stored with gangways may help to inhibit the spread of fire.

Prevention strategy : An effective fire prevention strategy is an essential feature of fire protection. However, it must be kept in mind that regardless of the efficiency of a fire prevention strategy, some fires inevitably occur.

There exists large number of different types of firefighting equipment and suppression systems like CO2, FM 200, and NOVEC, to suit specific requirements. Automatic fire sprinklers coupled with detection are the most effective fire protection system found in High Rise buildings which can, not only detect the fires, but also extinguish the fires in the initial stage itself. Application of Water Mist in various situation is gaining momentum every day. Passive fire protection system is also becoming more and more popular in India.

In spite of all technical advances, water is the cheapest, most efficient and environmentally friendly fire extinguishing medium. Water, which has high latent heat of vaporization, is the most effective coolant and protection agent. No amount of appliances or equipment would be of much use, if sufficient quantities of water under required pressure were not available for firefighting. To be effective, it must be applied in sufficient quantity and at such a rate that it well prevent the accelerating growth of the fire. It must be remembered that if remedial measures are not taken in the very early stages of following the outbreak of a fire, the amount of water required increases exponentially as the increase in the time taken for the fire fighting forces to reach the scene of the fire and start effective firefighting operations.
It is estimated that a fire discovered within two or three minutes of its outbreak may be extinguished with less than 1000 litres of water. However, if the water is not applied until 5 to 10 minutes later, which is probably the shortest time in which a fire brigade may reach the scene of the fire, the fire will have grown to such proportions that between 50 to 100 times as much water may be needed for extinguishing the fire.

The successful use of any type of fire equipment depends upon the elements such as equipment, maintenance and training.

It is vital that an occupier ensures, its employees are trained for and understand what is required during an outbreak of fire. It must be remembered here that inappropriate use of water to fight a fire has even caused much damage.

It was observed that lack of knowledge in the area of fire and inadequate training in emergency drills, delays the firefighting operations. Probably adequate fire safety training and periodic emergency drills can make the emergency response more effective.

Training the employees / occupants and fire drills are clearly related but are not synonymous and it is a common misconception that conducting periodic fire drills discharge an occupier’s training obligations. No doubt fire drills are very valuable exercise but taken in isolation, they are insufficient in educating employees / occupants in all the important matters.

Training of employees / occupants in fire safety matters continues to be a controversial issue with many occupiers adopting the attitude that it is not reasonably practicable to provide training for all employees / occupants. This stance has probably never been fully tested legally. However, many occupiers take fire training seriously and train a large number of their employees / occupants.

Legislations : The legislations, standards and codes have a vital role in forcing the occupiers to provide the required fire protection system, both active and passive. The National Building Code of India, 2005, is the basic model code in India on matters relating to building construction and fire safety. Many of the code provisions has been incorporated by various State Governments and Local Bodies in their own building regulations.

The Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Rules 2009, framed under the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act 2006, is an example to this, and is aimed to improve the status of fire safety measures in Maharashtra. Often a question has been raised by many that who will be responsible for providing the required fire protection and prevention system in a building or in an occupancy.

(To be contd)

Source: The Sangai Express


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