Dubai fire safety still impacted by fallout from construction boom – expert

Work needs to be done on enforcement and systems maintenance

PHOTO: A major fire hit the 63-storey The Address Downtown hotel on New Year’s Eve. Credit: Shutterstock

A leading fire safety expert has said that the major fires that have hit high-rise buildings in Dubai are a consequence of the early ‘mega-construction’ years that the city went through.

There have been several blazes in recent years including the New Year’s Eve fire at The Address Downtown Dubai, and at the Torch Tower earlier in 2015.

In an interview with Big Project ME, consultant Tom Bell-Wright explained that while the Civil Defence in Dubai does an excellent job of introducing and regulating fire safety standards, work needs to be done on enforcement and maintenance of systems.

“I believe that we’re still feeling some of the effects from the speed of development leading up to 2008 – and that’s very typical,” said the expert, who is CEO and CTO of Thomas Bell-Wright International Consultants.

“Developers are always ahead of the regulators. I think that the present state of play is that we now have these codes which are really state-of-the-art; however, checking that the work is done properly on-site and is maintained properly is probably lagging a bit,” he added.

“The Civil Defence does have an excellent programme whereby any time a fire alarm goes off on our premises, for example, it rings in a call centre at Pacific Controls who can determine whether it is an actual fire or a false alarm.

“We also have to have a contract with a fire maintenance contractor to make sure that our systems are working all the time. But yet we still hear stories about big buildings with sprinklers that are not maintained, which I can’t really explain.”

Bell-Wright was however quick to point out that the overall attitude to fire safety in Dubai has changed considerably since his firm began operations, with a number of requirements for fire protection inspections in the Abu Dhabi International Building Code and the UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice.

He highlights one area that needs improvement: ongoing inspections while construction is progressing. These should cover aspects like fire stops, penetration seals, perimeter fire barriers and fire doors, Bell-Wright said.

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