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Jumeirah Lakes Towers Dubai, U.A.E

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Interview hot topic with Jason Hird!

Interview with Jason Hird

What are the most common causes of fire in buildings in this region? Does our hot climate have a role to play?

Most building fires can be traced back to human action, such as a misplaced candle, leaving something burning on the cooker or carelessly discarding a lit cigarette.  Often fires are also started through faults in the electrical system, or poorly serviced electromechanical units such as air conditioning systems. In industrial buildings, manufacturing systems can also play a part - high temperature processes posing a particular risk. Whilst the UAE does suffer extremes of climate, our buildings are designed to cope with this, and high external temperatures are not usually a contributory factor to fires.

Since fires in buildings can be down to a combination of factors, including poor design or workmanship, faulty equipment and human error/actions, it is virtually impossible to completely eradicate the risk. Our primary objective, therefore, is to minimise the risk wherever possible through good design and use of fire-safe building materials and systems, and ensure that any fire that does start can be contained to give enough time for safe evacuation of occupants and access for fire fighters.

What are the most important considerations in designing a fire-safe building?

Fire safety should be a primary concern from the very earliest stages of the building design. High fire risk processes and equipment should be located away from centres of occupation; the potential spread of fire restricted by sub-dividing the building into compartments, separated by fire-resisting walls and floors; and careful attention paid to the selection of building materials, particularly wall and ceiling linings, to ensure they are not themselves combustible and likely to add to either the fire load of the building, or the rapid spread of flames.

What is the ideal fire-resistance rating for buildings in the UAE? Do all developers/fire consultancies build to standards?

Fire resistance requirements vary depending on the type of building, its use, and its construction - with high rise buildings and hospital for example requiring much higher levels of fire protection to acknowledge the different problems and time involved in evacuation.

Generally, the minimum period of fire performance required is 30 minutes for internal fire-rated partitions, 60 minutes for general area separation, rising to 120 minutes insulation and integrity for multi-storey applications, such as high rise hotels or apartment blocks.  Occasionally we provide systems to achieve 180 minutes although this is normally limited to risers / shafts or areas protecting sensitive material.

There are now well developed sets of standards for fire safety in buildings across the Emirates, which developers and fire consultancies will aim to achieve. There is, however, ongoing concern to ensure that these standards are applied correctly and consistently on every new building project.

Why do internal linings play such a crucial role in fire safety?

Internal linings, such as wall linings, partitions and ceilings, are the first line of defence should a fire start. They have a crucial role in containing the fire, reducing heat build-up, reducing the spread of flames and thus slowing fire growth, and in preventing the fire from spreading from one room or compartmentalised area to another.

They are also a key component in the protection of evacuation routes and in providing safe access for emergency personnel.

Which lining materials are best for fire resistant applications? Does cost have an impact on contractors' choice of materials?

In terms of fire protection, partitions and lining systems incorporating gypsum-based plasterboards have a head start. Not only are gypsum plasterboards rated as a material of limited combustibility, with Class 1 surfaces, but gypsum has a unique way of fighting fire. It has water 'locked' within its crystalline structure, which is gradually released when the board is exposed to flame. This significantly reduces the. rate of temperature rise at the surface and thus increases the fire insulating properties of the structure.

For more demanding levels of fire protection, specialist fire boards, such as Gyproc FireStop board, have glass fibre and other additives incorporated into the core to improve cohesion and screw-holding capabilities, which further improves fire integrity and adds to overall system performance.

All Gyproc systems use components that are tested, individually and together, to give a guaranteed level of fire performance, so contractors can be assured of meeting the standards required.

Cost is a serious consideration on every project and as such, most contractors have realised the overall cost savings (and improved acoustic performance) achieved by using the fast and easy-to-install Gyproc lightweight systems, which more than outweigh any initial ‘material’ or ‘cost per m²’ savings when considering traditional heavy masonry construction. As a result, use of lightweight systems is growing rapidly in every sector of the industry.

As with any construction technique, of course, it is important to use the correct installation methods and site practices when installing lightweight systems. Thankfully, the installation skills are relatively simple and quick to learn. Gyproc is now leading the market with modular on-site installer training courses and technical support to ensure that all fire-rated systems achieve optimum installed performance, for the highest level of fire protection in any building environment.

Gyproc Customer Centre Toll free 800 497762