Massive breakdown in fire safety

Shopping mall blaze in Siberia kills 37
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With such a high death toll, it can only be concluded that the fire safety measures in place in the building at the time of the fire had failed massively. It is unfortunate that the fire started in the first place, but why weren’t the fire safety measures in place in the building at that time able to contain the effects of the fire?

That  is indeed the objective of any fire safety measure. Buildings are compartmentalized to reduce fire spread. Building materials are chosen on the basis that they have either zero or near-to-zero flame spread characteristics. Fire-fighting aids such as fire-extinguishers and hose-reels are provided so that building occupants can help extinguish the fire while it is in its incipient stage. Buildings are provided with an automatic fire sprinkler so that fires can be extinguished just before they get any larger. Buildings are equipped with an automatic fire alarm system to spot fires and raise an alarm early so that the occupants can self-evacuate quickly.

If, despite these measures, the fire still manages to grow and spread, there are still the fire-fighters. The fire fighters will take time to arrive certainly, but if they are able to arrive early, they would at least be able to control the fire. It is for this reason that buildings are also equipped with specially dedicated features such as engine access, staircases, lifts and wet risers which allow the fire-fighters to come close to the building, gain access to the fire floor and to fight the fire using water from the wet risers.

The high death toll indicates that most of the fire safety measures have probably failed. It is timely to learn from this tragic episode.

INSPIRO Fire & Crisis Pte Ltd is a fire, emergency and crisis consultancy firm incorporated in Singapore.

Peat fires – a tough proposition

UN praises Indonesia’s peatland management efforts
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Peat is carbon-rich and therefore highly flammable. In some countries, it is a common practice for farmers to set fires to vegetation to clear the land for farming purposes. This method is probably the cheapest way of clearing vegetation from land. If the land sits on peat, then the consequence is that the fires would spread to the peat and continue to burn for a long, long time producing voluminous smoke, giving rise to a haze situation.

Peatland can cover thousands of square miles, and if there are many fires burning at the same time, the dense haze created can spread far and wide, bringing life to a standstill even in faraway places. This was what happened in 2015 when such fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan created haze which blanketed neighbouring countries like Singapore and Malaysia for months in what is called trans-boundary haze.

Fighting peat fires is a great challenge, a great logistical undertaking. Peat is commonly found below the surface, and once fire has started, it will spread quickly and will be difficult to reach. Huge quantities of water will be required to douse the fire, and when peat fires occur in remote areas, it takes tremendous resources and effort to bring enough water and manpower to the site to extinguish the fires. In fact, other than rain, I can’t think of a quicker and more effective means to fight peat fires.

Water-carrying planes seem to be the next best option. When this option is not available, then it is literally down to water and men on the ground to fight the fires. Some have been experimenting with special solutions to knock out the fires faster. One such person is Mr Judah Jay, the Singapore inventor of the plant-based, biodegradable solution by the name of Fire Terminator JN1010, which has to date proven effective on small-scale peat fires using his proprietary nozzle.

INSPIRO Fire & Crisis Pte Ltd is a fire, emergency and crisis consultancy firm incorporated in Singapore.

Fires destroying community…

Residents get first look at town devastated by Australia bushfire
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With the global climate change, vegetation and forest fires are becoming more regular in Australasia, Europe and America. In extreme cases, entire communities can be wiped out by such fires as in this recent case in Australia.

What can we do to prevent such tragedies from happening again? From this incident and many others, it is clear that bush fires represent one of the major threats to communities. Ideally, if communities can be uprooted and moved to a safer place, then such tragedies can be avoided. Clearly, this is not politically, culturally or financially acceptable in many cases, so there must be in place a series of preventive and mitigation measures to protect the community.

One possible preventive measure is to create a wide enough ring around the perimeter of the community that is free from combustibles to cut off any fire that threatens to spread into the community. A possible mitigation measure to consider is the use of non-combustible material for the construction of homes and buildings in the community. The choice of these and other measures to be adopted must be carefully and systematically thought through as they come under a bigger risk management system that must also be regularly drilled and maintained.

INSPIRO Fire & Crisis Pte Ltd is a fire, emergency and crisis consultancy firm incorporated in Singapore.