The cost of safety
Fire incidents have been a problem for a long time. In fact, since the Great Fire of London of 1666 and up to the most recent and deadly Grenfell incident in 2017, it seems that we have not yet learnt how to design for fire prevention. Unfortunately, fire incidents have no boundaries. We hear about them all the time in different parts of the world, such as the infamous fire at the Address Hotel in Dubai or the Lacrosse building in Melbourne. There is no question of negligence across the construction fraternity.
The real question is, after 351 years of fire and life safety advancements, how could thousands of buildings around the world still not be fire safe? And what can be done to prevent potentially catastrophic fires from occurring again? Perhaps the answer lies in the modern construction methods and regulations that govern our construction industry.
In the weeks following the Address Hotel fire in Dubai, a committee was formed to investigate the cause of the fire, as well as to write new building code for exterior wall assembly, which is today considered as one of the world’s safest guidelines for fire-resistant facades.
Why did the Address Hotel fire spread so quickly?
The four primary reasons for the spread of the Address Hotel fire, which started at the lower floors and spread to the 43rd floor in minutes, were as follows:
- The wall assembly used bitumen paint as a water barrier on the walls and a foam backer rod, which was the first to ignite and burn the polyethylene silicon. The fire continued to move swiftly through the sealant and backer rod aided by the bitumen paint.
- The cavity created by the sealed facade and lack of cavity barrier caused a tunnel effect for the fire to spread up the floors very quickly.
- The non-fire rated low-density polyethylene (LDPE) core of the aluminium composite panels, as well as the aluminium skin, both melted causing droplets which contributed to the further spread of fire.
- The fire spread both from the back and front of the façade aided by winds and cavities, which was further fuelled by droplets of LDPE and falling debris of burning panels.
NFPA 285 compliant wall assembly is a solution to preventing fire spread
With the intention of renovating the Address hotel, as well as setting an example for building façade construction globally, Alubond A2 fire rated panels replaced the exterior envelope of the building with NFPA 285 compliant wall assembly.
While an NFPA 285 compliant exterior wall assembly can have many different configurations, the principles address concerns by enforcing the following:
- The use of non-combustible materials that comply with the EN 13501 test.
- The use of fire barriers at all levels of the building, eliminating a tunnel effect.
- Encouraging the use of silicon-free systems in order to prevent the façade from sealing, which again leads to a tunnel effect.
So, what’s worth more: convenience, cost or safety? If builders and facilities managers keep choosing cost, more lives could be lost in fires involving combustible exterior facades and we may face more of these types of fires.
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