Is your apartment complex fire-safe? In any eventuality, can a fire engine even pass through? And have you ever figured out how to use the red apparatus sitting on the wall?
In India, the fire safety norms have to abide by the rules laid down in the National Building Code of India (NBCI). In many other places, a couple of provisions in the State Building Rules also have to be followed.
However, not even those who purchase apartments and occupy them are quite aware of the provisions regarding fire safety to be maintained by the apartment builders. According to the Indian Institute of Architects, all the major builders and architects work with fire consultants from the initial stages of a project.
“There are usually active and passive fire-fighting methods,” points out a senior official of the Fire and Rescue Services. “The active measures are those to be implemented after the completion of the building. They include mainly having devices like fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. Passive measures are to be included in the structural design of the building, like fire escape staircases.”
That is why the Fire and Rescue Services Department is closely involved with the construction of high-rises. The Department has the responsibility of ensuring that fire safety norms laid down in the National Building Code-2005 as well as the State Building Rules are adhered to.
Usually, discussions are held with fire consultants in the very initial stages of designing, says a spokesperson of The Indian Institute of Architects. “We all make use of the services of fire consultants. All residential buildings with more than three floors and commercial buildings with more than two floors have to obtain the NoC from the Fire and Rescue Department” he says.
The requirements for the various areas of the building are different. For example, the car parking areas need automatic sprinklers that get activated whenever fire or smoke is detected.
Alarm systems are usually preferred more for commercial buildings. Rooftop water storage tanks for fire extinguishing purposes are also a must.
Fire ducts are also a must in buildings as part of the structure.
Fire consultants point out that they interact with the architects from the very initial stages of designing.
“A mandatory approval from the Fire Department is necessary even before starting the construction. We help in preparing the drawings.
During the construction stage, we look into the installation of the fire fighting devices.
Finally, after the construction, we conduct the statutory testing in the presence of the Fire and Rescue Department personnel,” says a fire consultant.
The building rules also incorporate some provisions regarding fire safety. These include certain stipulations regarding the handrails of staircases and the number of steps on the staircase. The Fire Department usually maintains that it is fully equipped to fight hazardous situations in multi-storeyed buildings. However, the department points out that if all the buildings maintain the mandatory stipulations on fire safety, its job will be easier. Though the buildings need an NOC from the Fire Department, no system exists as of now for the continued verification of adherence to the requirements. The Fire Department officers themselves point out that there is no statutory provision for continued inspections of buildings to verify whether the fire fighting provisions are in place and functional even years later. Sometimes, the fire escape staircase set up during the construction might have been removed to make way for new structures. Likewise, changes or additions in the existing structure also might change the fire safety profile of the building. But, as of now, no rules exist for continual checking.