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Fire management

fire, hope, management, design, building, hazard,


Fire is a major hazard in a rapidly industrializing and urbanizing world class city as Preston. This poses a major challenge in both preparedness and the response to this hazard when it inevitably occurs. The response to fire out-breaks in Preston has left a lot to be desired. It is on this ground that this report was requested to provide rational guidance to the construction of a twenty storey building; the “Hope House”, in the centre of Preston. The ultimate goal is to construct a building that embraces logical fire management and catastrophe preparedness strategies.

Upon completion, “Hope House” will have 50% of it housing a hotel while the remaining 50% will be used as offices. It is targeted that an average of 500 persons will be in the building at any given time. Preston has over a hundred fire fighters with a major fire brigade that has over 10 fire engines capable of fighting fires at great heights.

When fires break, the estimated loses indicated are only those that are quantifiable. Intangible loses like psychological trauma, physical injury and property damage may not be comprehensively quantified. Costs of rebuilding, lost of production due to closure and lost labor-force due death may also not be considered. The treatment costs of burn also add to the health burden therefore making fires a top-notch concern in not only Preston but the entire world.


Globally, fire related burns were responsible for over 238,000 deaths in the year 2000, while fire itself was responsible of all injury-related deaths world wide. A report detailing the causes and effects of fires in the United Kingdom between the years 1997 to 2001 indicates that there were 114 fires all involving more than $50000. Of these, 78 (68%) occurred in industrial and non-industrial premises including; multiple occupancy, hotels, hostels and boarding houses, industrial premises, schools, office blocks, supermarkets and ware houses.


The ground to be covered by ‘Hope House’ shall be reasonably free from vegetation matter. This will ensure that the ground beneath is sterilized since the top 300mm mostly contains plant life and decaying matter. This further means that it is unsuitable to lay the foundation of ‘Hope House’ on vegetable rich soil since the topsoil will be easy to compress leading to a weak foundation that may collapse the building in case of a short period of a fire out-break. The method to be used for conducting site preparation will be determined by the scale of development.

As (Chudley 1999, p.53) states that ‘the average loading for a two-storey building is 30-50KN/m’, it is therefore estimated that the ‘Hope House’ will have 600-1000KN/M, therefore, either the strip or the piled foundation is highly recommended to provide a building that has a high stability and is able to withhold for a reasonable length of time before collapsing in case there is a fire out-break. (Naito 1983) adds that, ‘the design of a [storey] building should be one that is able to resist fire exposure for a reasonable period of time before collapsing; conventionally, two hours is accepted as the minimum’.
Although (Frisch 2001, p.14) claims that, ‘nothing can resist fire,’ and further adds that, ‘even concrete and steel can be cracked or melted by the heat of a very intense fire’, evacuation of persons in any building is depended on the duration that the building material can hold before collapsing due to fire heat.

There is a wide range of cement types that can be used in the construction of ‘Hope House’. But since a firmly grounded building is desired, the rapid-hardening Portland cement is better since it gets firmly grounded than many other types. Furthermore, the rapid-hardening Portland cement gains its strength early enough. High Alumina cement besides being more expensive than Portland cement (rapid-hardening), when hydrated the cement converts or undergoes a chemical change that can reduce the concrete’s strength thus making the building non-resistant to fires and aggressive chemicals.

The retaining walls of this building should ensure that lateral pressures of the retained soil do not cause overturning or sliding when the building is under attack by fire. When constructing walls, usage of bonds that only give good appearance like the Flemish garden wall bond should be avoided and instead the English bond be used since it is most appropriate to manage fires. Composite floors will be needed since they are good for complex loading that will involve this building than the precast hollow floors, though they are expensive. Care should be employed when producing arches which will lead to strong ones that can help ‘Hope House’ hold in times of aggressive inferno.

Since 50% of this building shall be for a hotel, a good construction will be one that will allow for adequate air supply for heat-appliances that will be installed. This will ensure that combustion products are efficiently discharged to the outside air hence reducing risks of catching fire. Chimneys should be built as vertical as possible to give maximum flue. If any appliances shall be installed in future, their connection to the chimney should be as short as possible. Chimneys must terminate above the roof so as to comply with building regulations and be unaffected by adverse pressures which occur generally in the wind windward side of the roof.

Like the Lloyd’s building in London, high-yield steel reinforced concrete is recommended for this building. (Macdonald 1994, p.34) accurately captures this preference when he states that:
‘Reinforced concrete is used in structural configurations as the skeleton from which a strong material is required… and also to make long span structures and high multi-storey structures. Concrete structures are simple to make and assemble and therefore inexpensive. It is able to produce a multi-storey structure of irregular curved plans with floors that cantilever beyond the perimeter columns. These are qualities which are unachievable in any other structural material’.

For ‘Hope House’, steel will be used to reinforce concrete since as (Macdonald 1994, p.29) puts, ‘steel will resist axial tension, axial compression and bending type load, and its low chemical instability which makes it susceptible to corrosion and fires is replaced by a great strength when used together with concrete’. Though many buildings’ fire protection is done by external application of concrete as the insulating layer, this still needs shuttering and wire strengthening. Use of steel allows, heat in times of fire, to flow through the steel wall into the concrete wall, which, being a poor conductor of heat, heats up slowly. As the temperature increases, the steel yield reduces and the load is progressively transferred into the concrete. The steel will act as the restraint to the concrete hence reducing the rate of degradation of the concrete. The grade of concrete should be high since resultant fire resistance is directly proportional to the grade of concrete.

The roof frames for the ‘Hope House’ should made of high yield steel members since it (steel) has proved to be of great importance in giving a building a longer life in cases of fires, (Chudley 1999, p.225) asserts that, ‘the roof should be done in accordance with building regulation B4 section 14 which requires the roof to offer adequate resistance to the spread of fire over the roof’.

This storey building should have three stairway exit channels at every corner in each storey, so that no one would ‘escape’ towards the fire. Two of these stairways should also be the fire fighters shafts that have lifts and dry-rising mains. The emergency doors leading to these stairways must be those that open outwards or be sliding. These doors should be reachable from at most 50 meters from the furthest point, which is the convectional maximum ‘travel distance’. The exit doors should be of the flush fire type which provide effective barrier to the passage of fire for a reasonable duration. They should be marked ‘Fire Exit’ or ‘Fire Door’ (FD) and the corresponding time in minutes they can resist fire. For instance, a door marked as ‘FD50S’ will be interpreted as a ‘Fire Door with a 50 minutes fire and smoke resistance’. In the uppermost storey, the fire exist stairway should be at least one meter wide since this is capable of facilitating the escape of 80 people per minute.

The design must be made in a way that smoke is adequately managed. The stairways should be pressured to ensure that they are smoke-proof. The exit doors to each stairway should be able to fasten completely after the people’s escape from each storey to keep the stairway free from smoke. It has been noted that 80% of all fatalities in fire situations are as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Stairs in the entire building should be 450mm away from the doors. The use of plain clay for the floor and finishing tiles for the ceiling is advised while the use of wooden ceilings and other non-fire retardant materials is discouraged.

Each storey must be well ventilated. This will be achieved by the provision of natural ventilation (like roof vents or wall openings) or the use mechanical ventilation like the extractor fans or a combination of both. Ventilation will facilitate the escape of smoke and prevent the occupants from suffocation in times of a fire out-break. Lighting is also important; therefore, all stairways must have an emergency lighting arrangement and be constructed of fire retardant materials. These considerations of fire safety should be made at the initial stages of this design and construction, rather than make expensive changes later.


The early detection and extinction of fire are a must if ‘Hope House’ is to save people in times of fire out-breaks. Two types of fire alarms exist; the manual and automatic. Automatic alarms work on the principle of an increased temperature beyond a certain point. Smoke detectors are automatic detectors that detect an increase in the smoke level of a building. These will be designed to activate a sprinkler system that is able to manage the fire before it gets out of hand. The sobering point is that, all fires start small and the importance of this technology cannot be overstated.

Portable fire extinguishers (PFEs) are handy in managing small fires. A 2002 survey in six European countries revealed that PFEs extinguished more than 80% of the fire reported to the survey team and that in 75% of those incidents, the fire was tackled without the need to call the fire brigade. The survey also found out that in the United Kingdom, the intervention of PFEs potentially helped prevent 24 fire-related deaths and 1,692 serious fire-related injuries saving business, in excess of 500 million pounds.

The stored pressure, multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguishers size 10lb or 20lb should be installed in ‘Hope House’ upon completion. These types of fire extinguishers are extremely versatile and will tackle a majority of fire risks found in most commercial, industrial and domestic environments. They are suitable for classes A, B and C fires and can mount on any surface with the wall hook supplied. They have chrome plated brass valves, stainless steel handle lever and hose band. Furthermore, they have color coded labels for instant type recognition and redesigned labels incorporating easy-to-follow instructions and larger fire pictograms. They have the ability to operate at both low and high temperatures and have epoxy coated steel cylinders that can resist corrosion, dents and punctures with a 12 year interval between hydro tests.

Education and Legislation

Evacuation cannot be the first response to fire emergency, Institution wide training is the answer. Quite often, fire casualties and fatalities result from panic and confusion of the victims ignorant or fire safety precautions. (Phillips 1951, p. 64) said that ‘panic and the ensuing rush for exits have caused more loss of lives than the fire itself’. In Dreser, Germany, fire safety education is taught in primary schools. The curriculum includes basic firefighting, fire brigade activities, procedures for evacuation and calling the brigade.
The need for fire fighting education to the occupants of ‘Hope House’ cannot be overemphasized as people’s lives might well depend on whether or not they got these practical lessons. This ‘how to’ lessons will include the use of the portable fire extinguishers including the ability to distinguish the most appropriate for the particular class of fire. It is imperative for the correct fire extinguisher type to be chosen to fight fire as, for example, using water or foam type fire extinguisher for an electrical fire can result in electrocution of the fire fighters. Other vital lessons include evacuation procedures, how to communicate to the local fire brigade via a free easy to remember hotline and assembling at the designated part in front of the building. McCarthy and Gauche (2004) say that, ‘multidisciplinary planning and implementation of regular scheduled and sculpted fire drills are essential to prevent adverse outcomes’.

By and large, the effectiveness of a fire hazard depends upon the institutional capacity of the fire agencies. The quick response of the local fire brigade, availability of the necessary equipment and enough trained personnel to do the job are pivotal to a fire disaster response. A quick and convenient way of reporting fire incidents is important. This should take the form of a free and popular hotline to the local fire brigade.


To ensure that fire is adequately managed and does not cause deaths that could have otherwise been avoided, there is an obligation that the expected twenty-storey building in the city centre of Preston by the name ‘Hope House’ complies with the Building regulations. This need is stimulated by the worldwide fire catastrophes that have caused deaths, loss of property and suffering of all kinds. The design should be such that the building will be able to resist fire exposure for reasonable period of time hence allowing for escape and evacuation. The type of materials to be used in the construction of this building should be as fire retardant as possible. High yield steel has to be used where possible in the structures besides its usage with concrete to provide an insulating property.

This storey building should have three stairway exit channels at every corner in each storey, so that no one would ‘escape’ towards the fire. The number of exits should be such that all people can evacuate from the building in less than two hours. Two of these stairways should also be the fire fighters shafts that have lifts and dry-rising mains. The exit doors should be the flush fire doors which provide effective barrier to the passage of fire for some reasonable duration.

Ventilation will facilitate the escape of smoke and while smoke proof doors windows and curtains will cut down smoke thus preventing the occupants from suffocation in times of a fire break-out. Automatic smoke alarms and fire detecting alarms should be installed in each storey. Each floor of the ‘Hope House’ must be installed with six portable fire extinguishers. This will comprise two of each of the three types of portable extinguishers: water, foam and power.

It is possible that the structure which is ‘cheapest’ constitutes the best solution to the problem of shelter, but from an engineering perspective, a ‘high tech’ building is that which is free from collapse due to external factors like live loads, wind loads and fire. Economy in structure and construction is achieved in cost; therefore, the cost of ‘Hope House’, in monetary terms, is a yardstick dependent on price of labor, energy and materials. Fortunately this is aspect prone to change and the primary objective is to have a fire-hazard free building at whatever reasonable costs. Engineering is not about saving costs as such; it is about the provision of artifacts which are useful, applicable and above all, safe.


In anticipation of a fire-free building, the following recommendations are put forward with a conviction that consideration will be adequately given to them;

I. Construction of the ‘Hope House’ should embrace the use of fire retardant material like steel, high quality concrete, use of clay tiles for the floor and ceiling finishing. Stairways should be availed, appropriate ventilation be enhanced and flush fire doors be put as the fire exit doors. Insulation by steel and high grade concrete should be fully employed.

II. Portable extinguishers of multi-purpose dry chemical type size 10lb or 20lb should be installed on each floor and at a height reachable even by the disabled. Smoke detectors and smoke alarms should be installed together with automatic alarms that automatically activate fire sprinklers. Education on fire fighting skills should be emphasized to the occupants later when the building is completed and occupied.

III. The quantity surveyor, the architect and the consulting engineer should ensure that the building design will eventually comply with all approved documents on building regulations and commit to ensuring that ‘Hope House’ will be one of the fire hazard prevented and prepared buildings in Preston.


Chudley, R 1999, Construction Technology, Longman, London.
Frisch, A. 2001, Fire, Black Rabbit Books, Mankato.
Macdonald, AJ 1994, Structure and Architecture, Reed Educational and Professional Publishers, United Kingdom

McCarthy and Gauche, 2004 ’Developing a Fire Safety Plan’, Association of Registered Nurses Journal. March, Vol. 1 no.3 pp. 79

Naito, T. 1983, ‘Fire Prevention and Protection’, Encyclopedia of Occupational Health Safety, Vol.1 Pp.866, I.L.O

Phillips, B.G, 1951, Escape from Fire, Spon Ltd, London
Published: 2009-03-14
Author: Aggrey Nzomo

About the author or the publisher
I am a graduate of Moi university kenya in Linguistics and Foreing languages. I am aged twenty two and a good narrative and descriptive writer. i currently write with an online company the i have with me finished poems and short stories. i also write sex episodes and i have four episodes so far. i am a single male of an African origin.

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