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Andheri tower blaze: Did building's glass facade fan the flames?

This is not the first fire incident in which a building with a glass façade caused problems to firefighters during dousing operations

While glass façades on a building are known to be pleasing to the eye amidst the city’s concrete jungle, they have been known to cause hindrance to firefighters. While in 2013, the BMC had come up with specific façade guidelines for every new building, it seems that the regulations were put in place a little too late in case of the fire incident at Lotus Business Park.

Also read: One fireman killed, 20 injured in Andheri corporate tower blaze

Adding fuel to fire: Many experts believe that buildings with glass façade, like Lotus Business Park, generate more heat in case of fire, as there are fewer sources for ventilation. Pic/Suresh KK
Adding fuel to fire: Many experts believe that buildings with glass façade, like Lotus Business Park, generate more heat in case of fire, as there are fewer sources for ventilation. Pic/Suresh KK

On Friday, the glass façade became a major issue for fire officials, who struggled to come close to the building to continue the rescue, while pieces of glass were falling from it. According to officials, ventilation was another issue for firefighters engaged in dousing the flames. Even the people standing below the structure had to be moved from the area.

BMC guidelines
After several similar mishaps in the past, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) drafted specific façade guidelines for buildings in 2013. These guidelines were released after the fire in 2012 at First International Financial Centre, Bandra-Kurla Complex, where the glass structure made operations a mammoth task, and another fire in 2013 at IBL House in Andheri, which trapped over 30 people, and killed four in the incident.

According to the new regulations, every floor of high-rise buildings with glass façades should have an opening. The fire brigade made it mandatory for every building with a glass façade to have openings of at least five feet in height and width, facing the road at every floor. These openings should work from both inside and outside, so that people trapped inside can escape from it, and rescue workers can open it from outside.

It also mandated printing of ‘Emergency Exit’ labels on these openings, so that fire fighters don’t waste time hunting for access points.

The guidelines also state that the glass façades covering exit areas like staircases, lifts and corridors should also have openings and that the glass should be laminated and of high quality. It is also mandatory for every floor to have a water curtain system — a system with various nozzles which spray water over the entire area — which activates automatically and helps douse the fire.

Officialspeak
Sanjay Deshmukh, additional municipal commissioner, said, “The buildings with a glass façade have been a problem, and we have been taking steps to reduce the risk in case of fire. However, these unfortunate incidents continue to occur and we will take serious action against any sort of irregularity.”

Ward Committee Chairman of K-West ward, Raju Pednekar, said, “The permission for such buildings should be stopped entirely, as there have been series of similar incidents. However, the BMC continues to give permission to such buildings.”

— Inputs by Neha LM Tripathi and Varun Singh

Expertspeak

Chetain Raikar, architect
Every building undergoes a fire audit, but fire incidents like these bring out its loopholes and makes officials realise that audits are nothing but a mockery. Glass façades lead to issues of ventilation and suffocation. If there is an air conditioner within the façade, it should also have fire stoppers.

Satish Dhupelia, architect and structural engineer
RCC buildings have better fire resistance than steel frame buildings. Most buildings in the city are RCC, which are less prone to damage. Glass façade buildings generate more heat in case of a fire, as there are fewer sources for ventilation. Also, since these buildings have no sealants, fire can easily travel between floors.

Jagdeep Desai, architect and director of Lokmanya Tilak Institute of Architecture and Design Studies
Victims of such fire incidents suffer more, as without ventilation, chances of choking increases. Out of the major fires that have occurred in the past, we can see that in cases where there was a glass façade, there have always been more casualties. A classic example is of the Uphar cinema fire in Delhi and the Churchgate building fire.

The buildings with a glass façade have been a problem, and we have been taking steps to reduce the risk in case of fire. However, these unfortunate incidents continue to take place and we will take serious action against any sort irregularity
— Sanjay Deshmukh, additional municipal commissioner

The other side
The chairman of the building, Deven Choksey, however, claimed that officials are simply jumping the gun by blaming the glass façade. “Let there be a report by a competent authority about the fire, and only then should they comment on anything. The builders have been extremely helpful to us.”

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