Address blaze informs fire code

Lessons learnt from New Year’s Eve inferno will be added to new safety code.

DUBAI // The release of the updated UAE fire code will be delayed for a month to allow revisions, amendment of additional chapters and translation work.

Civil defence officials said the speed of the blaze that took hold at the Address Downtown Dubai on New Year’s Eve had resulted in several additions to the code, which will now be released next month.

“In the Address hotel nobody was badly hurt but we don’t know what will happen the next time – to prevent that we need to work together,” said Lt Col Jamal Ahmed Ibrahim, director of the preventive safety department of the Dubai Civil Defence.

“Saving the lives of people is our biggest concern. We are making regulations, updating the code, and if there is a mistake we will correct this.”

A comprehensive list of tests that must be carried out has been added.

Fire fighters have had to rescue people from high-rise structures in Dubai on three occasions in the past four years in blazes fuelled by combustible aluminium panelling.

Major fires included that of The Torch last year, in which more than 100 flats were severely damaged, and the 2012 blaze that gutted Tamweel tower.

Following the implementation of the nationwide 2012 Fire and Life Safety code, authorities sought to phase out non-fire-rated cladding, consisting of a combustible thermoplastic core sandwiched between aluminium sheets. Concerns about buildings that predate the code remained.

At industry meetings during the run-up to issuing the code, experts suggested fire barriers as a solution for older buildings where owners could not replace all combustible cladding.

Owners will now be accountable for annual fire and life safety maintenance required in the updated code.

“That is the owner’s responsibility, to ensure the building is compliant and remains compliant year after year,” said Pramod Challa, chief of engineering with Dubai Civil Defence.

“Our inspections will be integrated with the municipalities’, especially during construction so we don’t miss out on systems like fire stopping, cladding and curtain walls.”

The updated code will contain a checklist of what must be reported to authorities by independent inspection companies during annual checks.

Owners must renew a no-objection certificate every year from civil defence following inspections to ensure modifications are fire-safe. This contrasts with the current one-time completion certificate issued after construction.

The manufacturers’ liability will also be outlined. Companies selling building materials not approved by civil defence and municipalities will now be subject to prosecution.

Until laws are formally passed, manufacturers will have to sign a legal undertaking they will not supply any unlisted construction products.

The updated code will also state the final facade product must be tested and consultants will be responsible for the structure for at least a year after project delivery.

The delay in the release of the updated code did not perturb safety experts.

“It’s not much of a delay,” said Drew Azzara, Middle East executive director for the National Fire Protection Association, a global non-profit that creates and maintains codes. “It’s important they get it right and they will.

“Revisions to the code will never go away because everything in the standards and code community is constantly evolving.”