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When fires do occur at building under construction, proper consideration to passive and active fire protection features can minimize the extent of damage and loss that will occur.

Due consideration needs to be given to ensure that emergency response personnel have adequate access to the construction site and within the building under construction.

Leading causes of fires in buildings under construction are flammable or suspicious (39.5%); open flame, embers or torches (20.8%); and heating equipment (9.7%).[i]

The leading causes of fires in buildings under demolition are open flame, embers or torches (51.7%), and flammable or suspicious (35.9%).

The property loss per fire incident resulting from fires in buildings under construction is higher than most structure fire losses.

Fire safety considerations addressing these common causes typically include good housekeeping and on-site security.

These items often fall within the responsibility of an on-site fire safety program manager.

As with occupied buildings, fire departments must be provided with adequate access to and within construction sites.

The fire department must be provided with access to the exterior of the building. The required access roadways must be maintained free of obstructions, and where site security includes secured openings and fences, the fire department should be provided with a means to gain access to the site.

This can be accomplished with key boxes installed at accessible locations. In multi-storey buildings, access must be provided to upper floors in buildings under construction, and stairs should be maintained in buildings undergoing demolition.

A properly trained guard service can be beneficial in discovering fires in their early stages, notifying the fire department of an emergency, knowing the presence and operational status of fire protection equipment, identifying fire hazards and in the use of construction elevators.

In addition to fire protection systems, compartmentation also provides a means by which fires can be managed.

Consideration should be given to ensuring that any fire barriers or smoke barriers that are to be provided in the occupied building are installed and functional as soon as possible.

A program of regular inspections should be in place to ensure that required self-closing and automatic-closing doors are not obstructed from closing by construction materials or equipment being placed in the door opening.

Temporary separation walls should also be constructed to separate areas with a higher level of hazard than other portions of the building.

While typically considered for occupied buildings undergoing some rehabilitation, the use of temporary separation walls should also be considered in a new building under construction.

Where construction materials and supplies are stored inside buildings under construction, such areas may represent a higher hazard and should be separated from other areas of the building by temporary separation walls.

This concept and approach is similar to typical code requirements to separate hazardous areas in occupied buildings.

[i] “Structure Fires in Vacant or Idle Properties, or Properties under Construction, Demolition or Renovation,” NFPA Fire Analysis and Research Division, Quincy, MA, August 2001.

(this article published in 1BINA.my)