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Everything You Need To Know About Fires

  

We all know that fires are damaging and they can kill or injure thousands of people every year. A fire can get out of hand in less than 30 seconds – that’s less than 30 seconds time for the people inside to get out and find a safe place.

Fire can happen anywhere – at home, at work, on the train, in the mountains. There’s no telling when or where it will happen. The best way to prepare is to remove all fire risks.

 

Everything You Need To Know About Fires

  

We all know that fires are damaging and they can kill or injure thousands of people every year. A fire can get out of hand in less than 30 seconds – that’s less than 30 seconds time for the people inside to get out and find a safe place.

Fire can happen anywhere – at home, at work, on the train, in the mountains. There’s no telling when or where it will happen. The best way to prepare is to remove all fire risks.

WHAT ARE THE COMMON CAUSES OF COMMERCIAL FIRES?

Here are the top ten causes of fires in Australia.

 

Arson – Arson is one of the most common causes of damage, death, and injury in commercial buildings. Arson is committed for different purposes (like insurance purposes, unhappy workers). It can injure or kill workers, result in unemployment for the people working in affected buildings, and can cause further damage by spreading to other buildings and public utilities nearby.

 

Human Errors – Not every fire caused by a person is intentional. Sometimes a cigarette butt or neglected coffee pot could cause a fire. The more people are using the building and the equipment in it, the higher the risk of fire.

 

Smoking – Although buildings now have designated smoking areas, it is still a fire risk when employees sneak in cigarettes and smoke inside the building.

 

Heaters, Boilers, and Furnaces – Although there are strict regulations for the installation, use, and maintenance of machineries and equipment, there are times when these regulations are not followed and cause disasters like fire. Improper installation and lack of maintenance can easily trigger a fire in any building, especially if there are combustible materials around like chemicals, paper and trash.

 

Electrical Fires – Electrical fires are caused by either errors on the part of the electrician or violation of electrical codes on the part of the building contractor. Aside from human error, electrical fires may also be caused by overloaded systems or faulty electrical equipment.

 

Storage– Improper storage of materials is also a common cause of fires in buildings. Flammable materials like paper, cloth, gasoline, kerosene, oil, alcohol, etc should never be placed near a heat source because they will easily ignite or catch fire.

 

 

WHAT ARE THE COMMON CAUSES OF COMMERCIAL FIRES?

We all want to keep our buildings compliant with legislation but what about REAL FIRES?

  • How often do these really occur?
  • What happens in a real fire?
  • How do the Fire Systems in my building help in a real fire
  • How do these start?
  • Examples

Fire in commercial and multistorey apartments are more common in Australia than most realise. Check your own memory, remember the ‘Docklands apartment fires in Melbourne, Large warehouses burnt to the ground following storms near the M4 in Huntingwood Sydney, large caravan manufacturing fire in Sydney’s west, CBD traffic congestion due to 2 building fires in the last 2 months? A 2 storey Cycle and Hobby shop bunt to the ground, Large Castle hill warehouse written off? These are only the few that may have been disruptive enough to reach prime time news. In reality hundreds of other local building fires have occurred, I was informed of 2 significant fires in Bella Vista (Norwest) just the other week.

 

Even when all people escape fairly unharmed, the disruption to business is often unrecoverable. The Smoke damage and water damage (Sprinklers and Fire Fighters hoses) after a fire is significant and business disruption can be total. How would your businesses cope with 18 months out of a suitable premises when most of the files, and systems are damaged also?

 

What happens in a real fire?

Most significant building fires start undetected and slowly build size before people are aware of the actual problem. The vast majority of deaths occur due to smoke inhalation rather than the actual flames. When rooms fill with smoke, people find it difficult to breath, difficult to see the exit or egress ways and difficult to physically exert themselves. Eventually the smoke can overcome the occupants and they lose consciousness and are unable to save themselves.

 

How do the Fire Systems in my building help in a real fire?

All commercial buildings in Australia have ‘Fire Safety Measures’ installed as required in the BCA/NCC (and older legislative documents). Your building will not have all the measures but the example below will help you understand how the measures you do have will work in an actual fire.

 

Our Example:

A computer ‘printer’ malfunctions and catches fire in a closed printer room on the 7th floor. The tiny overheating and then small flame spreads to the other paper and before long the room is engulfed. There is no smoke detector in this room as it was not required under the minimum BCA requirements, so the fire gets established without anyone knowing. The printer room was added 4 years ago but the sprinkler layout was not altered to suit, meaning there are no sprinklers in this particular room. The fire takes over the entire room but the door is closed the fire is partially smothered in the Hot smoke filled room. The ceiling tiles now burn through and the hot fire below now gets a fresh dose of Oxygen from the entire roof space above. This is enough to almost explode the room as the freshly oxygenated fire now spreads through the roof space.

The smoke now starts spilling into the occupied parts of L7 and a smoke detector near the Lift lobby detects the smoke and sets of a series of alarms. Firstly the occupants on Level 7 hear an ‘Alert’ tone though the speakers and the occupants quickly realise that there is smoke throughout some parts of the floor. The occupants have been through fire drills and know to evacuate if immediate danger. Occupants make their way to the Fire Stairs, however the fire effected ceiling adjacent the printer room now collapses and releases huge volumes of smoke and the debris blocks one of the egress routes. The occupants are coughing heavily but get down low where there is less smoke. They look up and see the ‘EXIT’ signs pointing to the alternative exit and decide to now move to the secondary exit. The smoke is so thick they are now coughing. Fortunately the Smoke detector system has now set off a sequence of events to keep them all alive. The Alert tones change now to ‘Evacuate’ increasing the urgency and the Fire Brigade (Fire and Rescue) are have been automatically called by the Fire System. The occupants reach the alternate fire stairs and still coughing open the door. The Fire stair door was heavy and once open they found themselves immediately in a blast of fresh smoke free air. (The Fire System had automatically taken control of the Buildings’ air handling and is pumping fresh air into the Fire stairs to ensure the occupants have clear air to make their 8 level descent.) By pressurising the stairs when the fire door is opened on L7 the air is blown out but no smoke gets into the Fire stair. The fire has now spread beyond the printer room but there is a Fire Sprinkler there which activates and slows the spread of the fire.

Meanwhile on level 10, Janice is turning 40 and a birthday cake is on the table the staff all gather round and in a terrible tune sing their song. No one is aware of the serious fire a few floors below. A few moments later the Evacuation speakers start sounding the ‘Alert tone’ on level 10 bringing to everyones attention they may be a serious problem. The Evacuations system times out and automatically changes to the ‘Evacuate tone’ and the floor evacuates also along with level 11 above. Level 11 is where Ben works, he is the Chief fire Warden and on hearing the ‘Alert’ tones heads for the Fire Control Room to investigate. Meanwhile the evacuation system keeps progressively evacuating the building – 2 floors above the fire and one floor below, gradually emptying the building.

The Fire Brigade have now arrived and are taking control of the situation. The Chief Fire Warden gives the handover information as to where the evacuation is up to and which floors are reported as evacuated. Fire and Safety mobilise 2 teams, one to complete the evacuation of the other floors and the other to report back on the fire which is now indicating 7 alarms on the Fire Panel -all on level 7. The Fire team take the lift to level 6 (with full fireproof clothing and breathing apparatus on in case the lift opens to a fire). They then take the fire stairs up to Level 7 where they know the Fire Rating of the walls and Fire Doors will keep them safe, checking the temperature of the door they decide to connect their hoses to the Level 7 hydrant first. 2 men man the fire hose and they set a spray pattern in front of them as they open the door, the spray keeping the fire at bay. They are aware at this height (Level 7) they cannot fight the fire from the ground and can only rely on the the Fire Services installed in the building. On Level 7 the water would have no pressure at all except that the Hydrant electric pump; has activated and the Fire Fighters continue to spray in front of them for both their own safety and to start quenching the fire. The floor is seriously smoke effected but several sprinklers have activated keeping the fire from spreading further.

The building is now evacuated with The Fire Brigade sweeping the floors for anyone left behind. Water from the activated sprinklers and the fire Hoses is now dripping through the lift wells and into Switchboards. The Fire Brigade elect to switch of the remaining untripped power. The Fire fighters that are scanning level 20 for any occupants left behind see the main lights go off but the emergency lights activate and clear light to the egress points is still available. The Sprinkler system electric pump and the Hydrant system electric pump have stopped but the backup diesel pumps have automatically started and the sprinklers remain operative and the Hydrant Hose is still supplying full pressure for the Fire Fighters on level 7.

The evacuation team of Fire Fighters have now confirmed the building is empty of occupants and report back that the other floors were thankfully fairly smoke free due to the Fire Fans pressurising all floors above and below the fire so smoke doesn’t leak into the non-fire effected floors. This has held the fire and smoke to one fire compartment (L7) due to the fire rated walls and penetrations that have been properly sealed and kept intact.

 

How did this all wash up? The occupants at the Assembly area were all accounted for, No deaths, no major injuries, 10 people suffered smoke inhalation from L7 but quickly getting to the Fire Stair with clean air allowed them to escape unassisted. The fire in retrospect was too big to be attacked by occupants with the supplied Fire Extinguishers or Hose Reels. The building suffered no serious structural damage as the fire was contained by the sprinkler and quickly extinguished by the Fire Fighters. The 14 storey building was shut down for several days until all Switch boards were dried out and checked, then the building was reopened. Water damage affected the main Ground floor foyer and carpets were wet and dirty from level 7 all the way down to the basement. Remediation works were carried out but most businesses were only down for a few days. Level 7, part of level 8 and water damaged level 6 were closed completely. By the time insurance items were worked out and remediation completed 18 months had passed. 2 of the affected businesses were able to relocate, but lost the equivalent of 3 months income and lost productivity. The other 2 business both went into liquidation as they could not sustain the cash flow loss over this disrupted period. A tenant with 4 levels on a non-affected floors chose to relocate to another building.

The Fire systems worked correctly in that they warned the occupants and gave a safe passage to escape and the Fire Fighters were able to affectively attack the fire with the buildings’ installed fire Systems. The fire grew quicker than expected and endangered people because it was not detected in the early stages. This was due to building alterations (Printer room walls added) and Fire systems not rectified to match and this particular building had no smoke in that room but only in Lift lobby’s and fire Exits.

 

Note: Australia’s Building Code (BCA and now the NCC) takes learnings from previous fires and mandates certain MINIMUM fire Protection standards to ensure the safety of Building Occupants. A building owner or manager or lease may always install additional protection measures and this is often the case where not only the people but the business increases protection to minimise the chances and severity of damage in case of fire.

 

 

What’s a Fire Triangle?

The fire triangle is a simple model to illustrate the components of fire. The three sides of the triangle represent the three ingredients needed for fire to happen: heat, fuel and oxygen.

HOW DO YOU PUT OUT A FIRE?

Every Fire has these 3 elements present at once. If we can remove any one of them the fire will go out. For example, a gas main has burst and ignited. The fuel is the gas, oxygen is present in the air near the leak and heat from the flames keeps the fire ignited. If we turn off the gas then one of the 3 essential elements is gone and the fire goes out.

 In an office fire with burning paper and furniture, we can use a ‘Water’ type fire extinguisher to remove ‘heat’. This then means the fuel does not have enough heat to re-ignite. We could also use a C02 extinguisher which displaces the Oxygen around the fire. This removes Oxygen from the fire and the fire goes out.

Extinguisher types and uses:

Equipment Malfunction

All equipment are potential fire hazards, whether they’re big or small, old or new. Most equipment malfunction are caused by user error, lack of maintenance, mechanical or electrical problems. To extinguish a fire caused by a malfunctioning machinery, turn it off first, unplug, and douse the flames with a fire extinguisher, water or baking soda.

Electrical Fire

Fires can be caused by problems with your home’s wiring but most of them happen due to people’s mistakes. Overloading electrical outlets, running extension cords under carpet or using incompatible light fixtures are common electrical mistakes homeowners make.

Our first instinct when we see a fire is to douse it with water. That would be a big mistake because water will actually cause the flames to spread since water is a conductor of electricity. To put out an electrical fire, turn off the device or unplug the device first if you can. Then smother te flames with a blanket or use a fire extinguisher.

Arson

Putting a building on fire requires fuel or other flammable substances. In case a fire breaks out and you suspect it’s arson, get out of the building immediately.

When do you get out?

 

Whether it’s a small fire or a big fire, they can all quickly rage out of control in a matter of seconds. It takes only two minutes for a fire to turn from manageable to dangerous and life-threatening . After 5 minutes, a house will be engulfed in flames.

And smoke is the number one killer during fires, not the flames. Call Triple Zero (000) immediately if a fire, regardless of the size, breaks out. If you attempt to put out the fire and it doesn’t die down, drop everything and evacuate all people inside the house or building. Nothing is more important than people’s lives.