It has been less than two months since the Carlton Towers fire accident took place. A week after the incident, Commissioner of Police Shankar Bidari issued a notification saying that owners/lease-holders/occupants of such buildings must adhere to a set of rules and regulations, and report the same to the nearest police station by April 15th, 2010. In case the building is not according to the plan sanctioned by the local authority, the Commissioner has set June 30th, 2010, as the deadline to conform to the approved plan.

The order says that these buildings must comply with the guidelines as prescribed in the Karnataka Fire Force Act, 1964; The Karnataka Fire Force Rules, 1971; and the Karnataka Fire Force Regulations, 1971.

Interestingly, these laws mentioned in Bidari's order do not say anything about how the public should follow the fire safety rules. Neither do they have anything on maintaining the fire safety equipment. In fact, fire safety guidelines have also been mentioned in the National Building Code of India. It has specific guidelines on how to regulate construction activities across the country. Ironically, Bidari's order does not say anything about this building code either.

Here's what you need to know about the fire safety norms for high-rise buildings (15 metres and above). This information has been obtained from the office of the Karnataka State Fire and Emergency Services, Bangalore, and has been compiled from the National Building Code (NBC), 2005.

Road width & building entrance

The road where a high-rise is constructed should not be less than 12 metres wide. This is to ensure easy movement of fire services vehicles in case of an emergency. This road should be hard-surfaced so as to withstand a minimum of 45,000 kgs, which is also the maximum weight of a fire engine. The entrance of these buildings needs to be a minimum of six metres wide. Here, the height should be five metres or above.

Setbacks

High-rises also need to have setbacks in the front, sides, and rear portions of the building. The width for this differs with different types of buildings.

For residential buildings, the specifications are:

 

Height of the building in
metres

Side and rear open spaces (setbacks) to be left around the building, minimum in metres
15 5
18 6
21 7
24 8
27 9
30 10
35 11
40 12
45 13
50 14
55 and above 16

If your building height is not mentioned in the above table, the maximum height of the building should not exceed 1.5 times the width of the road abutting, plus the front open space. In case the building abuts on two or more streets of different widths, the building shall be considered as facing the street that has the greater width.

Here are the setback details for other types of occupancies:

Type of building Side and rear open spaces (setbacks) to be left around the building; minimum in metres (m)
Educational buildings (except nursery schools) 6
Institutional buildings 6
Assembly buildings 12 m setback in front
6 m setback in the side and rear portions
(If assembly buildings are permitted in purely residential zones, the open spaces around the building shall not be less than 12 m)
Business, mercantile, and storage buildings 4.5
(If in a purely residential zone or in a residential with shops line zone, the open space maybe relaxed)
Industrial buildings and hazardous occupants 4.5 (for height of 16 m)
(for every increase of 1 m height, increase setback by 0.25 m)

The compulsory open space around the building should not be used for parking. If parking space is provided on the setbacks, then it should be done only after leaving a distance of a six-metre-wide open space from the building line in the form of a hard-surfaced driveway which should again be able to withstand a load of 45,000 kgs.

Stairways are exits, not lifts or escalators

A staircase is the only safe means of escape during fire emergencies. Lifts and escalators are not considered as exits. According to the norms, all high-rises must have a minimum of two staircases, each at a remote distance from the other. The minimum width of these staircases will be based on the type of the building.

Residential buildings (dwellings) - 1.6 metres
(For row housing with two storeys, the minimum width shall be 0.75 metres)
Residential hotel buildings - 1.5 metres
Assembly buildings like auditoria, theatres, and cinemas - 2 metres
Educational buildings - 1.5 metres
Institutional buildings - 2 metres
All other buildings - 1.5 metres

These staircases should be enclosed, and at least one of them should be on the exterior walls of the building and should open directly to the exterior or interior open space or to an open space of safety. The staircases need to be constructed of brick or reinforced concrete with a minimum of two-hour fire rating. Fire rating is the time that a material or construction will withstand the standard fire exposure as determined by the fire tests done in accordance with the standard tests of materials/structures.

The staircases also need to be ventilated. If this is not possible for some reason, then it has to be pressurised. They also need to be enclosed with smoke-stop swing doors on the exit to the lobby. These doors need to have at least a two-hour fire resistance to prevent smoke and fire from entering the staircases, and vice versa. To prevent the entry of fire and smoke, extension of the staircase to the basement is prohibited. A separate staircase, not connected to the main staircase, should connect the basement to the upper floors.

Elevators

Every high-rise should have a minimum of one lift (or elevator) which can carry eight persons or a maximum weight of 545 kgs. The landing doors of the lift enclosures should open into a ventilated lobby and have a 30-minute fire resistance. The exit from the lift lobby should be through a self-closing smoke-stop door of a 30-minute resistance. The lift should also have a switch at the ground floor level to ground the lift car in case of an emergency. One fire lift of eight-person capacity (545 kgs) for 1,200 square metres of floor area should be provided and be available exclusively for the fire personnel to contain the fire. Lifts should have solid doors with at least one-hour fire resistance. No lift should have collapsible gates.

Fire safety equipment

Each high-rise should have fire extinguishers, hose reel, dry/wet riser, automatic sprinkler system, manually operated electric fire alarm systems, automatic detection and alarm system, underground static water storage tank, terrace tank, and so on. This requirement differs from one occupancy to another and also on the basis of the height of the building. Click here for more details.

Materials that are combustible in nature and those that can spread toxic fumes or gases should not be used for interior decoration and furnishing.

Service ducts and electricity supply

If service ducts are provided in the building, they need to be enclosed by walls of at least two-hour fire rating and doors of one-hour fire rating. All such ducts/shafts shall be properly sealed and fire stopped at all floor levels to prevent possible travel of smoke and fire from lower floors to upper floors.

In case of power failure, alternate power supply also needs to be provided through a generator to supply power for staircase lighting, corridor lighting, fire pump, pressurisation fan and blowers.

Exit routes

All escape routes should be marked with a signboard on the corridor and passage to guide during evacuation. The escape route lighting should be on separate circuits and independently connected so that it can be operated by one-switch installation on the ground floor, making it easily accessible to the fire personnel. The staircase and the corridor lighting shall be connected to an alternative supply.

Fire safety plan

In addition, every high-rise should compulsorily have a fire safety plan. This plan should include the action that can be taken by the occupants in case of a fire. The plan should also have telephone numbers of all emergency services. This plan must be distributed to every occupant in the building and displayed on each floor. Also, one of the occupants should be made fire safety director or fire safety warden. His/her duty is to conduct evacuation drills regularly.

The NBC also gives a sample fire safety plan format. This includes details of the fire safety director, deputy fire safety director, fire wards, deputy fire wardens, and building evacuation supervisor. The plan should also mention the frequency of fire drills, how they were conducted and who participated in the same. (Should we scan this bit and link it here for more details?) Also, at least 40 per cent of the occupants of the high-rise should be extensively trained in conducting proper evacuation, operation of fire safety systems and equipment, and other fire safety provisions in the building.

Fire control room in 30-m-high buildings

All high-rises and apartment buildings that are 30 metres or above in height, should have a fire control room on the entrance floor of the building. This must include a proper communication system (a suitable public address system) to convey messages to all the floors. The details of all floor plans and fire-fighting equipment and installation have to be maintained in the control room.

Other rules

In the case of hotels, business and mercantile buildings which are 30 metres or above in height, a qualified fire officer (with a minimum of three years of experience) should be appointed. The officer's job is to maintain the fire-fighting equipment in good working condition, lay down the fire orders and operational plans, impart training to the occupants on fire prevention and evacuation, keep proper liaison with the local fire services and ensure that all fire precautionary measures are observed at all times. For high-rises above 60 metres in height, provision for a helipad should be made.   ⊕