In honor of National Safety Month, we want to focus on a topic we hold dear to our hearts at the Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services– high-rise fire safety. According to the most recent study published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 14,500 structure fires per year in high-rise buildings.These fires cause (on average) 40 civilian deaths, 520 civilian injuries, and lead to $154 million of property damage each year. Fire response is critical because fire is one of the most common emergencies following earthquakes, explosions, terrorism, power surges and other natural and manmade disasters. Continue reading “High-Rise Fire Safety “
People who live or work in high-rise residential or commercial buildings face very specific disaster-preparedness challenges. Heights don’t bother me. Sometimes, I sit on top of my doghouse. Emergencies such as fires, bomb scares, weather-related incidents and earthquakes present special dangers for high-occupancy buildings, such as dormitories, apartment homes, condominiums and office complexes. The best defense is a coordinated emergency-response plan that identifies potential risks and outlines the best response.With limited access to egress, if you’re in a high-rise when disaster strikes, you might need to stay in the building until the emergency passes. Or, if evacuation is necessary, you would need to quickly find the exit. Continue reading “High-Rise Safety in Disasters”
Proper fire emergency planning and prevention for residential high-rise buildings require special tactics. To that end, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has assembled a “High-Rise Building Safety Advisory Committee” to spot the unique needs and issues relative to safety in high-rise buildings. Since the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services has recently launched several residential training modules, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight some of the NFPA strategies, with the goal of helping our subscribers and friends to #BeSafe.
Prepare Your Building and Residents
Many fires are preventable if proper protocols are put into place and building occupants acquaint themselves with recommended safety procedures. Here are several tips for high-rise building property owners and managers help prevent the occurrence and reduce the impact of fires (which, in my opinion, is always a good idea!):
- Create a formal plan. A written fire emergency plan is essential for optimal safety of residents as well as property. Map evacuation routes, meeting zone locations, sprinkler plans, and fire extinguisher locations. My pack is keen on locating fire extinguisher locations.
- Keep halls and stairways free of impediments. A minute delay can be the difference between occupants’ safe escape and catastrophe. Keeping walkways clear will provide first responders with easy access.
- Test backup and safety systems including emergency lighting and building communication systems. A safety system my canine friends and I love to use is the Twilight Bark.
- Produce a floorplan of the entire building with floor-by-floor layouts, including the location of floor drains, water valves, utility shut-offs, and standpipe locations. Make the evacuation information easily accessible to building occupants.
- Conduct drills. Residential occupants of a high-rise might be tempted to brush off fire drills as “false alarms.” Inform occupants that they should never assume alarms are part of a drill. Instruct them about the need to evacuate or quickly take directives in the event of any and all alarms.
Install and Maintain Sprinkler Systems
Sprinkler systems installed in high-rise buildings reduce both the loss of life and property damage. In addition, they are essential for high rise buildings, since fire truck ladders only reach six or seven floors. And since sprinkler systems are designed to go off only in the immediate area of the fire, you need not worry about unnecessary water damage. That sounds like a good idea. No need to flood floors that aren’t involved in the blaze!
According to NFPA data between 1996 and 2001, the costs incurred in buildings with functioning sprinkler systems was less than $400,000, while buildings without such systems saw losses averaging $2.2 million. Sounds like a significant difference!
Maintenance tips and best practices for sprinkler systems:
- Check water supply and pressure levels. High-rises require greater water pressure to push water against gravity.
- Ensure water valves are open and fire pumps are in good working order.
- Properly brace water sprinkler pipes for buildings that are in high-risk earthquake zones.
- Inspect pipes for corrosion or leaks and check sprinkler heads blocked by dust.
- Test the main drain lines to see how far the water pressure drops with open valves when water is flowing. If the test shows, for example, a bigger drop in pressure difference every six months, then there is likely a valve problem somewhere in the system that should be addressed.
Evacuation Guidelines for High-Rise Occupants
In a typical single-story residence, with sufficient warning from smoke detectors, occupants will likely escape unhurt. In a high-rise, however, people have to navigate stairwells and hallways to exit the building. What’s more, evacuation routes could be blocked due to fire and smoke. Evacuating people from a high rise is difficult, and requires the formation of a sound evacuation plan and following best practices for residents including:
- Memorize the plan. Residents must know what they will do in a fire emergency. Memorization is important for humans because they don’t share my acute sense of smell. So rely on your memory instead of your nose!
- Practice the plan. Encourage residents to conduct their own mock drills (in addition to your formal drills) in order to make the evacuation route familiar.
- Do not use elevators. Create contingency plans for residents who might have trouble walking or difficulty navigating stairs.
- Stay low to stay safe. Smoke rises, so residents should proceed under the smoke whenever possible.
- Remain in the residence. If occupants cannot enter hallways because of impassable smoke or fire, they should stay in their residences and mark their location on exterior windows. Also, place towels at the bottom of the door to block smoke.
Remember that safety is a daily priority. So be sure to think about ways to #BeSafe all of the time, whether or not you live or work in a high-rise facility. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.
Let’s face it. Code talk is dry. Even though I’m in the business of fire safety and disaster prevention, reading through codes and the like puts me to sleep. But sometimes we need to talk code because knowing safety-related stuff like this will help protect you whether you own, live or work in a building. And, besides those of us who live in doghouses, this covers us all.
So here are the new codes, in brief:
- All of the guidelines are meant for high-rise buildings, which have floors located more than 75 feet above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access.
- Impact-resistant walls in elevators should protect from potential fire-related blasts or projectiles.
- New requirements focus on extra redundancies to sprinkler risers. (If there’s anything I hate, it is redundant redundancies.)
- A minimum of two water mains must be connected to the fire pump water supply.
- New Smoke removal requirements are set for buildings in the cleanup phase after a fire.
- Electrically-powered fire pumps must be under an emergency power load.
- To decrease the risk of injuries, new requirements aid the movement of occupants out of buildings. Knowing how to safety exit a building in case of emergency makes sense to me.
- New rules regarding the required distance between exit stairway enclosures have been established.
- During emergencies, official personnel need to use stairways. So new guidelines allow for additional exits.
- Luminous egress path markings will ensure that building occupants know exactly where to go. Lighting the way should cut down on confusion in cases of emergency.
- New requirements for a fire service access elevator will give firefighters a safe and fast way to reach staging areas. This should help cut down on the time it takes to fight fires.
- Occupant elevators can be used for evacuation, if the new, specific requirements are met.
- Also good news, completion of the requirements may allow exemption from the additional stairway requirement mentioned earlier.
Be sure to review the detailed requirements before implementing changes. Visit the International Code Council website for more information or check out the complete list of new requirements at RJ Westmore Inc. RJ Westmore is a credible source for property managers and owners to learn about building-related issues. Refer your colleagues to our blog so they can also stay informed about the latest industry trends. And, no matter how dry the code may be, make sure you do what it takes to BE SAFE.