How high Residential Buildings can keep a Distance from Fire Hazards in India

With the increasing number of fire accidents in the country, developers must give ample heed to the construction designs and abide by the various fire safety norms documented in the National Building Code (NBC). Here are some rules and regulations laid down in the NBC to prevent fire casualties in high-rise buildings in India.

With a steep rise in the construction activity in India, especially the high-rise structures, the incidences of fire outbreaks have also increased considerably. The major fire mishap in a multi-storey hotel in Karol Bagh, early this year, followed by the massive fire accidents in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Surat are some cases in point which throw light on the fire safety concerns in high-rise buildings across the country.

According to a report on Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India, 2015, fire incidents in commercial buildings surged by 300 percent between 2014 (179 cases) and 2015 (716 cases). Government buildings also witnessed a rise of 218 percent during the same period; however, residential buildings were found to be more prone to fire outbreaks. Around 7,500 cases of fire outbreaks in the residential buildings were reported in 2015, indicating a 100 percent increase from 2014 (3,736 cases). Factually, 42 percent of the total deaths recorded in the year were due to an accidental fire that occurred in the residential buildings due to violation of building norms laid down by the National Building Code 2016 (NBC).

Pritam Chivukula, Co-founder and Director, Tridhatu Realty, avers, “Today, most of the metro cities are growing vertical due to expanding urbanisation and growing demand for housing. It is said that vertical development is the need of the hour and the only way forward, especially in metro cities such as Mumbai and Delhi. However, with increased vertical development, it is also essential to see whether the buildings are fire compliant or not.”

The National Building Code 2016 (NBC)

NBC is a national instrument that delineates the construction norms in the country vital for the safe and orderly development of buildings. Any developer who fails to abide by the standards is bound to suffer penalties, cancellation of building permit or property demolishment. The NBC also comprises various guidelines and provisions for regulating and preventing fire in Indian buildings.

As per the code, buildings in India are classified into nine categories and depending upon the nature and occupancy of the structure; the fire safety measures are laid down. Residential buildings are classified under category A, whereas industrial, business and storage buildings are kept under categories G, E and H, respectively.

Let’s take a look at various fire safety regulations laid down for residential buildings in Part IV of NBC:

Approval process

  • A building 15 meter above the ground level or exceeding three storeys is considered a high-rise structure and must obtain a certificate of approval from the Director of Fire Force or an officer authorised by him before commencing the construction of any such structure.
  • The building plan submitted to the authority should indicate all the fire protection arrangements and the means of access/escape for the proposed building with suitable signs and symbols on the drawings. The same should be duly signed/certified by a licensed Fire Consultant/Architect.
  • The detailed plan showing the arrangement of booster pumps, pipelines and water-tanks at various levels should also be submitted to the concerned authority for approval along with other plans and sections of the buildings.
  • The Chief Fire Officer should examine the safety plan and escape means and forward the reviewed plan to the sanctioning authority.
  • Once the plan is reviewed and approved by the sanctioning body for construction, the Fire officer can issue a No Objection Certificate (NOC). However, the fire officer must visit the site and examine the project after all the measures have been installed. Any deficiencies found during the inspection should be communicated to the sanctioning authority, and the rectification process should begin immediately.

Staircase rules

Each floor of the building should have two staircase exits for faster evacuation during a fire. This is crucial for buildings where residential accommodation exceeds 150 sq meters of the floor area and holds a capacity of 20 occupants. Also, the width of the staircases should be at least two meters wide since narrow staircase heightens the risk of a stampede during evacuation.

Fire-fighting measures

  • Massive static water storage in the form of underground water should be made available in the buildings at the rate of 1,000 litres per minute. Automatic sprinklers should also be installed in the basements used for car parking or storage occupancy exceeding 200 meters.
  • Every building with a height of more than 25 metres should have diesel generators which can be used for controlling fire in the case of power failure.

Lift norms

Apart from the regular lifts used by the residents,  high-rise buildings should comprise separate lifts exclusively for firemen in case of an emergency. The speed of the fire lifts should be higher than the regular elevators. The speed should be such that the firemen could travel from the ground floor to the top level within a minute.

Others

  • Apart from the norms mentioned above, NBC also mandates frequent fire drills to acquaint the residents about the emergency evacuation procedure.
  • Building awareness among the residents about fire prevention and protectionmeasures is of paramount importance. There are many residential buildings where either the residents remain unaware of the fire-fighting steps or the equipment remains dysfunctional owing to poor maintenance.

The NBC documents various fire safety norms; however, developers flouting on the rules to save time and cost have been the primary reason for fire outbreaks. The State governments’ recklessness in conducting fire audits is another crucial factor. For instance, in Mumbai, around 90 percent of the residential buildings do not comply with fire norms, and almost 50 percent of the schools do not have any fire safety mechanisms in place.

While the Maharashtra State Cooperative Housing Federation has planned to reach out to the housing societies for fire safety audits, the action has ensued after the massive fire engulfed a nine-storey building of a telephone exchange company in Bandra. Overall, it is high time that the State governments intervene and tighten the noose on the developers. Proactive measures should be taken in this regard; otherwise, such incidents will continue to recur and take a toll on human lives.

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