Fire safety is one of the most important issues facing architects when it comes to designing high rise buildings.
The most high profile incident was the destruction of Tamweel Tower in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers in November 2012, while a blaze in a firework factory in the Al Quoz industrial area cost two lives and buildings under construction have also caught on fire.
In recent years regulations in Dubai have been constantly updated. The UAE’s Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice has now banned the use of highly flammable exterior cladding panels on medium and tall towers as in many cases these accelerated the spread of the flames.
New regulations also require the introduction of a Fire Fighting Lobby in buildings 23m and above, while Dubai Civil Defence Approval (DCD) now audits manufacturer’s materials and data, to ensure a company is offering a genuine tested solution to the market.
But Martyn Gillespie of Rockwool, a company pushing for more comprehensive safety legislation across the GCC, said architects and contractors still have to be on their guard.
“Many insulation and firestopping materials are on the market today which can be branded or marketed using terms such as ‘fire safe’, ‘self extinguishing’ or ‘flame retardant’,” he explained.
“But it is important to recognise that these are often marketing terms and not a standard outlined by any building code.
“The most important factors when choosing an insulation product for a fire related application is whether it is in fact ‘non-combustible’ and to which official standard the materials have been tested to.”
Products manufactured by Rockwool International Group undergo testing to a US standard called UL, after the place where the tests take place, Underwriters Laboratories in Northwood, Illinois.
Gillespie said: “These are standards which have been adopted across the world after first becoming the norm in the USA.
“Our Thermalrock Slab range now also has Dubai Civil Defence Approval rating.”
Gillespie said it is also important to consider the combustibility of any available product.
He said: “In the event of a fire, will this product contribute in any way to the fire load or release any toxic smoke or burning droplets.
“In facades and cladding, insulation will cover a large surface area.
“But the use of combustible insulation materials can lead to spreading of the fire behind facade or cladding extremely quickly with the potential release of toxic gasses and smoke.
“By specifying a non-combustible insulation the design team is able to increase the escape time-window for occupants of the building, protect the structure of the building for longer and potentially significantly reduce overall damages.
“It is also important to incorporate firestop insulation at the floor junctions to help contain the fire in its position.
“Rockwool as a company provides approved and tested solutions for these particular applications.”
Brian Walters, a fire engineer with WSP, says civil defence organisations in the UAE have been quick to act upon incidents and consult the industry to adjust their safety codes.
He said: “You have to remember that the UAE code only came into existence three years ago and was formed from the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association). It’s forever evolving and improving. Architects and consultants will go back to the civil defences and say they don’t understand this or this doesn’t work.
“As time passes these rules will become iron-clad.”
Walters, a former firefighter added : “It’s more looking at not only the risks but the people who are affected by them.
“The FRA looks at the whole building holistically whereas a fire inspection will say you have these particular problems.
“The FRA will tell you where the problems are, how bad they are and how you go about fixing them.
“If that took off over here, thinking purely from a humanitarian and community safety point of view and leaving commercial interests to one side, it would be a really encouraging step forward.”