Mumbai: Glamorous high rises with glass facades can turn into death traps during fire incidents

Mumbai: A symbol of Mumbai's vertical growth -- glamorous high rises with glass facades -- have the dubious distinction of turning into death traps during fire incidents.

The fire that engulfed the second floor of a complex housing offices of Rolta on Thursday has put a question mark over the fire safety of these glass facade buildings.    

According to Fire Brigade officials, all mandatory fire-fighting equipment installed inside the glass façade, where the fire occurred, was found to be non-functional, making it difficult for the firemen to access the ill-fated floor.

 
 

"As per initial reports, the glass facade was blocking the fire escape. Many other violations have been pointed out. There could have been heavy casualties, but luckily no such thing happened. However, we will initiate an investigation. I have already called for details of the past inspection and notices issued to the building owner," said Prabhat Rahangdale, Chief Fire Officer.

"As soon as we clear the area we will investigate fire safety compliance in the said building. The investigation and the report will take at least a week’s time,” Rahangdale said.

THE GUIDELINES

In a bid to make these buildings safe, the Mumbai Fire Brigade, in January 2015, had drawn up a slew of guidelines for glass facade structures that came up before 2012.

The guidelines included criteria such as -- owners must provide smoke seal/ barriers between the building wall and the facade on every floor in the form of non-combustible material/vermiculite cement.

People should be able to open glass panes blocking staircases, lift lobby and corridors. The pressurised system of the staircase/ lobby should be synchronised with the glass facade window opening mechanism.

The rules also recommended that a minimum of 2.5 percent of the floor area of each compartment on every floor should be utilised in such a manner that they can be cleared immediately in case of emergencies.

The rules further stipulated that the refuge area should be built above the height of 1.2 metres from the flooring level. If covered with a glass facade, one should be able to access it from all directions.

The MFB is yet to document the number of glass facade buildings in the city.

Ranhangdale added that glass facade buildings are a problem, especially those without proper fire safety measures. “Glass façade and other high rises need to have proper fire safety measures in place. They need to follow guidelines stipulated by the fire department.

In the case of the MIDC building, I am awaiting the report and past inspection details from MIDC fire officer,” said Rahangdale. Pankaj Joshi, urban planner, and executive of Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), said that the problem is not with glass facade buildings but with all those commercial high rises with air conditioning, heavy ducting, cable work etc.

“These buildings are packed air tight to ensure the best performance and cooling. However, during a fire, it take no time for thick smoke to spread inside the building and inflict maximum human damage.

These buildings need proper fire safety equipment. Not just that, they need time to time maintenance of equipment and inspection by monitoring agency to ensure compliance, which doesn’t happen regularly, leading to such disaster."

 
 
 



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