Analysis

Lessons Learned

Afschin Soleimani, director of Fire and Life Safety at Ramboll Middle East, outlines how the new UAE Fire code will help establish a commonality between Civil Defence engineers in different parts of the UAE

The Fire and Life Safety code in effect for the UAE is the “UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice, 2011 Edition”. This code is also often referred to as the “Civil Defence Fire Code”.

This code was established in order to integrate internationally recognized fire and life safety codes and local requirements which have been enforced over the years but not always documented. This new UAE Fire Code will also establish a commonality between Civil Defence Engineers in different parts of UAE, when applying and enforcing fire regulations.

This new code draws references from already well-established internationally recognized codes. Some of these codes include the National Fire protection Association (NFPA) Standards, British Standards (BS), Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Code of Practice and the International Code Council publications such as the International Building Codes (IBC).

However, it is evident that a large part of the references are from the NFPA Standards. Specifically, references to NFPA 101 “Life Safety Code”, NFPA 5000, “Building Construction and Safety Code” and NFPA 13 “Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems” are quite frequent.

This UAE Civil Defence Code is not dramatically different from previous regulations or from previously referenced standards such as NFPA and IBC. As noted, the intent of this new code was not to introduce new or more restrictive requirements but to centralize and consolidate already existing legislation.

Nevertheless, as a designer, architect or even fire engineer, one should not assume that all requirements are unchanged. One should review the UAE Civil Defence Code to be absolutely sure that previous design requirements are still valid.

In some instances, the new Civil Defence Fire Code requires more stringent designs, such as the requirement for 1200 mm wide exit stairs and corridors (for stairs with a cumulative occupant load of less than 2000 persons) instead of 1120 mm exit stairs and corridors as required by NFPA as well as the requirement for 1-hour fire rated corridor and tenant separation walls and tenant doors, instead of 30-minutes required by NFPA.

As with previous regulations and NFPA and IBC standards, sprinkler and fire alarm systems are required to be provided for almost all buildings. It is noted that the, UAE Civil Defence Code does provide exemptions for fully sprinklered buildings as is the case in internationally established standards such as NFPA and the IBC.

It is however noted that, recent fires in the Middle East have demonstrated that spread of fires or delayed evacuation is often not related to the presence of fire protection or detection systems but related to the management of the building and/or installation and maintenance of any such systems.

With respect to the management of facilities, especially public facilities, there are always improvements that can be undertaken. Major public buildings should have dedicated fire safety wardens/staff that routinely inspect such facilities.

With respect to compliance with fire system provisions, some of the key responsibilities of a fire safety warden should consist of regular visual inspections ensuring that exit doors are not locked.

It is not uncommon for exit stair doors of public buildings to be locked in order to maintain security of such buildings and prevent theft or break-ins. The locking of exit doors is strictly forbidden and a major threat to the public’s safety. Furthermore, there are better measures to maintain the security in and around a building.

In addition, exit doors should be at all times operational and if they are interior exit doors, should not have any damage that compromises its fire-resistance rating. Door hardware such as closers and latching should be in working condition at all times.

It is also important to ensure that the sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers and fire hose reels are routinely inspected, tested and serviced. Exit signs should always be illuminated and accumulation of combustibles by tenants in unintended places should be prohibited.

Furthermore, the obstruction of egress routes should be prevented. It is not uncommon to see exit stairs being used as storage areas and egress corridors often blocked by stored goods (such as shopping carts or boxes).

Clients in the region are more and more prone to follow fire and life safety provisions. In the past, fire and life safety was not a priority and the provision of fire protection and detection systems and other fire and life safety provisions were evaluated against its cost and often dismissed as a burden.

But, after years of being involved in designing and constructing major projects and working closely with fire engineers and fire authorities, clients are more educated and more understanding of the necessity of fire and life safety provisions.

Furthermore, recent major fires in the Middle East have taught clients not to underestimate the disastrous effects of a fire on lives but also on property and loss of business and interruptions to operations.

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