High-rise escape chute could evacuate Dubai's tall buildings in minutes
'The snorkel' allows residents to drop down the side of a building in a cushioned tube to escape flames and smoke
An escape chute that allows the residents of tall buildings to escape fires within moments is among the latest developments that could change the way skyscraper fires are tackled.
Vertical escape chutes have been bought by Dubai Civil Defence to help crew evacuate buildings of stranded residents via mobile fire trucks.
The designs are yet to be installed in any buildings but give a glimpse of how major high-rise cities like Dubai may evacuate buildings of their residents in case of emergency.
The device can reach the first 17 storeys on a tall building, meaning its potential is significant but falls short of many super-tall skyscrapers seen in Dubai.
Per Pedersen, managing director of Nordic Fire Safety, hopes that will change as the company has been approved to deliver fire safety equipment to developers in the UAE.
“The future is having these chutes as part of the building construction and incorporated like an elevator,” said Mr Pedersen, a former flight engineer and pilot with 35 years of experience in the aviation, oil and gas industries.
“If you live in a high-rise building and there is a fire on a floor below, there is always smoke and gas — if the stairwell is full of smoke, you are trapped.
“As buildings have become taller with more floors, there is no other option for escape as fire escapes on the outside are not practical on big high rise buildings.
“These systems could be used more widely. A building with this installed would make a high-rise more appealing for people to live in.”
Dubai Civil Defence crews tackled 465 fires in 2017, with more than a dozen caused by discarded cigarettes.
Faulty wiring and electrics were the most common cause of accidents, accounting for 69 fires, with emergency crews arriving on the scene in just over seven minutes, on average.
In all fires in 2017, seven people died and 80 were injured, including 12 firefighters.
In May, an electrical fault at the Zen Tower building in Dubai Marina forced more than 100 people to flee the building after fire and smoke engulfed the first five floors.
Mr Pedersen said the company has so far sold seven units to Dubai Civil Defence for use on their fire trucks and is in talks to supply more to crews in Abu Dhabi.
A truck’s extendable snorkel with an aerial platform can reach up to about 17 floors, 54 metres, to rescue any trapped residents from high-rise buildings.
It is quicker than taking people down two at a time via the platform, and can transport up to 25 people a minute to the safety of ground level.
The chute is manufactured in three layers. An internal layer controls speed reduction, the second layer is load bearing and an outer protective chute is heat and flame resistant to 800°C.
The company has developed two systems, a single-entry chute allowing evacuees to enter at the beginning and exit at the end of the chute only and the multi-entry system.
This allows evacuees to join the chute at various levels within a building, but still has just one exit point.
Height limits of a standard vertical escape chute is restricted to 55 floors.
“When the elevator does not work and the stairwell is blocked, there is no other escape option,” Mr Pedersen said.
“You don’t need to be trained to use this chute. People always have questions before jumping in, but once they see how it works they realise how easy it is.
“You can control your descent and you will not come down fast to injure yourself.
“It is more frightening to evacuate a building via a busy stairway when there is a fire, rather than using a chute.
“We’ve had some good feedback from the civil defence guys who have been training with the chutes.”
The system is currently being used in Beirut, Kuwait, Japan, China and elsewhere in Asia.
The latest building project to adopt the design is an eight storey hotel in Nepal, with a chute installation costing about US$12,000 (Dh44,000).
Chutes are also being used in mining vehicles around the world, with elevated cabins to offer drivers an escape points should the vehicle catch fire.
Emma Button, a former fire safety consultant at JLL Property, supported the idea of seeking new methods of evacuation for high rise buildings.
“Anything that is being used in other countries to improve fire safety that have been proven to be successful should be considered as an option here in the UAE,” she said.
“The only concern would be the maintenance and upkeep of these kind of systems.
“Common issues I have come across is a lack of upkeep of fire safety systems in residential areas, particularly when they are shared with commercial space. That is when things can go wrong.
“The extreme climate could also be an issue in the UAE and the damage that may be done by the heat and humidity to these escape chutes.
“There would need to be severe testing done to prove they can withstand the conditions here."
Updated: August 22, 2018 01:33 PM