January 13, 2016

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The Dubai Hotel Fire: Product Failure, Fire Strategy Success

dubai fire hotel preview

Image: courtesy of time-lapse video from photographer Kirill Neiezhmakov

At approximately 21.30 hours (local time) on New Year’s Eve 2015 a fire broke out somewhere around the 20th floor of the 63-storey The Address Downtown Dubai hotel.

Within minutes the fire had spread extensively up the outside of the building and has evidently affected most floors.  Without the results of an official investigation this is all that can currently be said for certain, and we should not speculate on the cause.

Reviewing footage posted by various sources online does, however, support the popular view that the main conduit for the rapid spread of flame up the outside of the building appears to be the Aluminium Composite Panel (ACP) with a polyurethane core used for the external cladding system.

As the third such fire in recent years it is understandable that debate has begun over the use of these cladding systems in high rise buildings, installed extensively throughout the region before publication of the 2011 UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice. Suggestions for a solution include spraying the external surface with fire resisting coatings, retro-fitting façade sprinklers or “simply” recladding all the affected buildings.

Either of which would attract massive costs.  But one aspect seems to have been completely overlooked in all this rhetoric.

Although public perception of what is safe will be influenced by high profile incidents and eyewitness accounts describing graphically the terrifying sequence with their own personal perceptions of how “people left in a stampede” (Anita Williams – Irish singer performing in the hotel speaking to reporters), compliance with regulations typically sets the minimum requirements as those necessary for life safety and does not include property protection or the safeguarding of contents.  Whilst the construction sector has become accustomed to this level of protection, it may come as a surprise to owners and occupiers of buildings.

Meeting this minimum standard involves a holistic system of interrelated measures and precautions.  It is currently believed that there were thankfully no fatalities with only 14 minor injuries, one moderate injury and a heart attack.

One account even tells of how the fire crews had to wake an occupant who was still sleeping in her apartment/room.

For a large building housing one of the highest risk rated occupancies (residential), where one element appears to have performed poorly leading to an apparently catastrophic fire, in terms of the minimum requirements of Building Regulations this can surely be considered as a success story and a testament to the overall fire strategy including design for the means of escape, internal fire compartmentation, structural fire resistance, fire fighter access and the incident response of the Civil Defence crews.

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EcoAhead
EcoAhead
January 13, 2016 3:47 pm

ifsecglobal Avoid breakdowns and fires in technical installations and systems. http://twitter.com/EcoAhead/status/687300065946419200/photo/1

rjd459
rjd459
January 14, 2016 7:26 pm

Great technical breakdown James, the area which could not be addressed as a success would surely be the manner of the evacuation “people left in a stampede” Which certainly post 911 and other fires where people have become trapped would be a serious concern to persons within. (Regardless of the difference in fire development) To the crowd on the upper floors, they are all leaving and leaving immediately. This has been an area that requires more development, such as the team Greenwich University are undertaking with the group at lifebid to fully ensure that building fire strategies actually stand thorough… Read more »

jrevington
jrevington
January 14, 2016 8:27 pm

A good rational assessment. not enough attention is paid to passive fire protection in buildings regardless of the height of the building. The CITB and The ASFP are promoting an awareness of the problem. I lecture on a sponsored training programme to improve awareness in passive fire protection and I am surprised at the lack of understanding of the problem.