Are we doing enough to ensure the fire safety of our multi-level Car Parks?
Multi-level car park fire resistance has gained attention recently. Over recent years there have been a number of fatal car park fires that have been very serious. Firefighters have always faced risks when putting out fires in parked cars. The fact that underground parking lots are particularly dangerous, especially for firefighters, is a common factor.
Fires that are outdoors
Because of the risks posed by vehicle exhaust fumes and the dangers from any gasoline spills, ventilation has always been regarded as a crucial safety factor ever since motor vehicles first began to appear in our towns and cities in large numbers and covered parking areas were introduced. However, it was becoming more and more widely believed that providing adequate mechanical or natural ventilation would lessen the risks of a fire spreading from one vehicle to another.
However, considering the serious fires that have occurred in the open air, we might want to reconsider if we believe that a lack of adequate ventilation (and the presence of a ceiling providing a barrier to stop heat from escaping) could be a key to the current issue.
A single car fire can alarmingly spread to nearby parked cars in each instance, igniting massive conflagrations. How much ventilation would be required to stop a fire from spreading in an enclosed parking space if a fire could spread in an open-air parking lot?
The average family cars of today, including an increasing number of sports utility vehicles, electric vehicles, and people carriers, contain significant percentages of plastics and other combustible materials in their construction, which is of particular concern.
Concerns about the rising demand for “alternative fuels” like hydrogen and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) are added to this. In addition to being explosive (like gasoline), these fuels are less well understood than traditional fuels when it comes to how they might behave in a real vehicle fire, particularly in a small area like an underground parking garage.
In short, modern cars have the ability to burn very quickly, igniting fires that are much bigger and hotter than previously thought. In fact, it was long believed that a fire couldn’t likely spread from one parked car to another. However, there is no longer any reason to believe that this is the case because data from actual fires, particularly those that occur outdoors, clearly refutes this.
A growing number of injuries also appear to be caused by fires in car parks connected to residential and commercial properties, even though fire statistics over the years have shown few reported injuries and deaths as a result of fires in car parks (shopping malls, condominium etc).
For building control and design engineers:
- Recognise that a multi-story parking structure built to withstand a fire for 15 minutes might not meet the functional requirements of the building codes.
- To enable firefighters to enter a building safely in the event of a fire, structures should be made to remain safe and stable.
- Think about the possibility of a building nearby catching fire and the possibility of a structure outside the building’s footprint collapsing.
- Recognise prior failures and take them into consideration when designing or changing comparable structures.
- Make sure to rely on “passive protection” measures like fire walls, doors, and mechanical or natural smoke ventilation.
Perhaps yet another example of this culture of acting before being instructed to do so by regulators is the evidence relating to actual fires and the apparent lack of investment by developers in improved standards of fire protection in new parking lots, especially in the provision of automatic fire sprinkler systems.
When it comes to building and fire regulations, there is a pervasive culture that encourages people to wait for directives from authorities rather than taking charge of upholding proper standards. The strategy is heavily focused on achieving minimal compliance in order to save money, rather than ensuring safety for the duration of the building’s use and its occupants.
For more information on car park fire protection installation methods reach out to us at http://www.totalfireprotectionasia.com
Check out some our recent Passive fire blog posts ..