New fire code should shore up fire safety failings, expert says

Alexander Castellanos, an associate director of fire and life safety at engineer WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, said any gaps in safety checks should be addressed under the code, which took effect in January.

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DUBAI // A fire safety expert says the UAE’s latest fire code should address failings in procedures that have been shown up in recent emergencies.

Alexander Castellanos, an associate director of fire and life safety at engineer WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, said any gaps in safety checks should be addressed under the code, which took effect in January.

“For those who may not have a strict maintenance scheme in place, this is something that the new UAE fire code will address,” he said.

“It will enforce requirements for periodic testing and maintenance of safety systems such as the fire alarm and sprinkler systems, fire pumps, smoke control systems and fire doors.

“General building inspections go beyond testing of systems and include assessment of exit routes to ensure they are clear, assessment of potential hazardous materials and general fire safety management practices.”

The need to replace equipment largely depends on how well it is maintained, Mr Castellanos said.

The average life expectancy of a sprinkler system is 20 years. Similarly, a fire alarm panel can last an average of 20 years but components such as smoke detectors last about 10. Fire doors can last the lifetime of the building.

“Fire codes are very reactive to experiences,” he said.

“Earlier codes did not implement restrictions on the termination point of exits.

“We learnt a lot from emergencies, and current codes require exits to terminate or discharge at different points with a minimum separation between them but not necessarily the front and back of the building.

“Exit discharge on a single side of the building can meet code requirements for various building designs.”

In line with international practice, the UAE Fire and Life Safety Code requires a fire drill every six months.

It also insists on the use of third-party independent inspections, strict accountability and fines.

According to Dubai Civil Defence, fines of up to Dh50,000 can be levied for each fault uncovered by inspectors.

A federal law that makes smoke alarms in homes mandatory comes into force next year.

nwebster@thenational.ae

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