BKC blaze: Glass and fire do not mix

Sep 08, 2012, 08:06 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

With an increasing number of commercial buildings in Mumbai having glass facades, firefighters are worried, saying that they throw up unique challenges for their skills and equipment

Dousing the flames that broke out in the twelfth floor of the First International Finance Centre (FIFC) yesterday, turned out to be a particularly gruelling task for firefighters, who later admitted that glass buildings present unique and difficult challenges for them.

under-construction FIFC building in BKC
To the rescue: Fire brigade officials spray water to bring blaze under control at the 12th floor of the under-construction FIFC building in BKC yesterday. Pic/Rane Ashish

With the number of all-glass commercial buildings on the rise in the city, basic fire safety norms need to be adhered to with more stringency in these buildings. 

The fire engulfed an area of around 25,000 sq ft, where interior works were being carried out. The fire is believed to have sparked off at a server room.

Chief Fire Officer S V Joshi said, “The building had double glass cladding, which was sealed, with no ventilation for the smoke to move out. This made it difficult for the firemen to even enter the premises. Also, there are risks while breaking the glass, as the shards can injure our firemen or it might even injure those at the ground. Luckily no causalties were reported.”

He added, “It is difficult to carry out fire operations in such glass buildings – toxic fumes spread all over the floors, with no outlet. There is no visibility and the heat level within the premises goes beyond controllable level, hampering the operation.

Asked if the building had a no-objection certificate from the fire brigade, Joshi said, “I will check.”

Firefighters had to carry over 30 breathing apparatus to enter the building, instead of the usual five or six. They also found it difficult to enter the building, and took two hours to douse the flames.

M V Deshmukh, director, Fire and Emergency Services and Fire Advisor for the government, said, “We expect 10 to 15 per cent glass facades on buildings as per the norms given in the national building code. Entire glass structures look good, but they should have have select glass panels marked as ‘emergency’ exits, which should be visible from outside and inside.”

The onus lies on the owners and occupants of all the residential and commercial buildings in the state to submit, every six months, the self-certification copy under section 3(3) of Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act 2006 to the fire department, after obtaining the same from a licensed agency. Any violation of this would attract imprisonment for concerned pers under section 36 of the said Act.

Architect Jagdeep Desai said, “Glass buildings are not suitable for Indian climate. Interestingly the buildings are designed to trap more sunlight but in the process so much heat is generated that they have to install centralised air-conditioning systems, which is wasteful, unsafe and bad for the environment.

Smoke management is a major challenge in these buildings. Moreover, the fire department is supposed to have all the building plans, as a copy of the same is submitted to them while availing their NOC, but usually the plans are hardly studied and remain buried under files.”  

Fireman injured
Chetan Gautam, a fireman attached to Wadala fire station, sustained injuries to his right leg from glass shards. Gautam said he was on the thirteenth floor of the building conducting cooling operations.

Chetan Gautam

The entire floor was covered with smoke and there was no outlet for it. He had to break through almost five to six layers of glass.

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