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Fire safety of High-rise buildings several unique challenges require new solutions and technologies

The World Trade Center events of September 11, 2001, focused the world’s attention on high-rise buildings. Since that time, there have been several other events that have kept the world’s attention on high-rise building fire safety, including fires in Madrid, Venezuela, and two in Chicago. The two deadliest high-rise fires in U.S. history were caused by terrorism. The fires and building collapses after the planes flew into the twin towers of New York City’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 killed 2,666 people, not including the 157 passengers and crew on the two planes. On April 19, 1995, a truck bomb outside a nine-story federal building in Oklahoma City killed 169 people. In 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 14,500 reported structure fires in high-rise buildings per year.


The fire accident in the 24-story Grenfell tower in London, in June 2017, claimed over 70 lives and injured 79 people. It is one of the worst disasters in the world and the incident threw a light to the fire safety concerns on high rise buildings across the globe. In India, the horrific Carlton Towers accident in Bengaluru in the year 2011, took the lives of 9 and injured 69 people. The recent Kamala Mills fire accident in Mumbai which claimed 14 lives gave a burning concern over the fire safety in India.


High-rise building is generally defined as building taller than 24 metres. Certain skyscraper buildings in the world are taller than 100 metres.High-rise buildings have garnered significant attention in the fire safety world over the years. High-rise buildings present several unique challenges not found in traditional low-rise buildings; longer egress times and distance, evacuation strategies, fire department accessibility, smoke movement and fire control. Fire lasts longer in a high-rise building because high-rise buildings are usually large in area and heavy in fire load. Therefore, high-rise building fire often lasts longer and sometimes it may spread to the adjacent buildings. Because of the “chimney effect” of the high-rise building, fire and smoke can spread to the upper floors very rapidly through staircases, elevator shafts and ducts in a very short time if the fire and smoke control measures are not adequate.


Generally speaking, there will be more occupants in a high-rise residential building than those of a low building.  The multiple floors of a high-rise building create the cumulative effect of requiring great numbers of persons to travel great vertical distances on stairs in order to evacuate the building, , which makes the evacuation more difficult. The public, code bodies, local, regional and federal governments, as well as the design, build, and ownership communities are all affected by high-rise building safety.Generally, the fire safety objectives may include life safety, protection of property and structure, continuity of business operation, heritage and environmental protection. However, the fire safety objectives of a building may vary with the occupancy, structure and height of the building.


Common Causes of fire accidents include:

  • Electrical short-circuit – Faulty electrical system and malfunctioning circuit breakers are one of the leading causes of electrical fires. Or Heating equipment in contact with combustible materials like cloth or wood.
  • Kitchen fires due to unattended cooking or LPG and microwaves
  • Intentional fires like arson
  • Careless smoking
  • Children playing with matchsticks and candles

infographic - before you buy an apartment

Violation of fire safety laws is one of the major causes of fire accidents in India. Every building in India needs to comply with the state guidelines. Many states adopt The National Building Code (NBC). Hence, the fire safety rules are different in every state. Violation of safety laws have a serious impact as the country is overpopulated and a fire accident could lead to many fatalities. Fires also damage livelihoods most often and so in a sense can destroy years of having built a business or enterprise.


Fire fighting Solutions

In case of fire, smoke with high temperature and toxicity brings great danger to people’s life. Therefore, the fire protection design of buildings shall consider how to prevent fire and smoke from spreading out of the fire origin. In this case, reliable fire separation shall be needed. For example, installation of fire door for each family can effectively prevent fire and smoke from spreading to the lobby.


Evacuation of multi storey buildings in the event of fire is effected today almost exclusively via stairwells. However, the attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 showed that there is a need for alternative evacuation paths when mass evacuation of buildings with many storeys is needed. This has increased interest in evacuation lifts (elevators) capable of providing the capacity needed to evacuate high-rise buildings. Evacuation via staircases is not ideal in very high buildings, partly due to the long time required, and partly due to the fact that the number and size of the necessary stairwells would take far too much space. As a result, the number of buildings depending partly or entirely on evacuation lifts for safe evacuation is increasing.


Director of Bull Products, Bradley Markham, says that implementing fire safety solutions, such as wireless fire alarm systems, to ensure health and safety isn’t compromised is crucial in a high-rise building. Wireless alarm systems provide the ideal solution for high-rise buildings, as they can be connected to multiple buildings or levels, without the worry of hazardous cables and wires.


Fire Suppression − A fire suppression system starts operating once it receives fire alerts from different sensors and detectors. Fire suppressors are used to prevent the spread of fire and put it off. Fire extinguishers spray water, foam, carbon dioxide (CO2), and other fire-resistant materials to control fire. Different types of fire extinguishers are used for different types of fires, and accordingly, extinguishers are labeled based on their extinguishing ability.

Fire Response − Fire response systems are activated simultaneously with fire suppression systems to prevent fire spread. These systems alert occupants in a building by triggering alarms, siren systems, and warnings by public alerts, and sending emergency messages to police, freighting troops, and ambulance. Fire response systems considered in this study are emergency lighting systems, public alert systems, secure communication systems, and fire alarm devices.

Fire Sprinkler − Fire sprinkler systems are effective in controlling or suppressing fire. Sprinkler systems are made up of a network of pipes in the walls and ceilings that have sprinkler heads, providing protection to hallways, rooms, stairways, and other areas of a building. Although fire sprinkler systems are mostly used in commercial and industrial buildings, they are also being increasingly used in smart buildings and homes. A fire sprinkler system is a fire protection system consisting of components such as fire sprinkler heads, alarm test valves, alarm valves, stop valves, and motorized alarm bells.


The lessons learned from these fires are simple. It is necessary to make sure that the protection of the structure and the compartmentation of high-rise buildings are satisfactory. That is not enough, however. Buildings should be sprinklered, and if they are, they would be significantly safer. High-rise fires are more likely to have fire detection, sprinklers and to be built of fire-resistive construction and are less likely to spread beyond the room or floor of origin than fires in shorter buildings.


Firefighting Autonomous Air Vehicle

In 2017, a Turkish firm called Dahir Insaat showcased its own high-rise aerial firefighting eVTOL concept in a YouTube video. Founded by by Russian engineer and inventor, Dahir Kurmanbievich Semenov, the company has floated many concepts, frequently criticized as wildly impractical.


EHang, the Guangzhou, China-based drone and autonomous aerial vehicle manufacturer, which has been pushing its unmanned electric VTOL technology in the urban air mobility market.In 2020, Chinese  EHang showed off the aircraft at a launch ceremony in Yunfu, China, with a demonstration of its ability to extinguish a high rise-fire. The July 31 announcement that the company has developed a bomb-throwing, fire suppressant-spewing version of the 216 air taxi (216F) for fighting high-rise building fires. According to the company, the firefighting version of the 216 has a ceiling of 1,968 feet, a curb weight of 1,376 pounds and can carry up to 40 gallons of firefighting foam and six “extinguisher bombs”. In its release, EHang says that the autonomous firefighting 216F could “become essential equipment for thousands of fire stations across China and eventually those around the world.”

As can be seen in EHang video of the high-rise fire demonstration, the 216F uses an optical zoom camera to identify the location of fire. “It then hovers precisely in position and uses a laser aiming device to fire (in succession) a window breaker, the fire extinguishing ‘bombs’ and then a full-range spray of firefighting foam. Multiple 216Fs can be deployed to rapidly extinguish the fire.” The press release also pictures a pair of 216Fs in the fire engine bays of a Chinese fire station. EHang posits deploying the craft to urban fire stations to assist in firefighting within a 3 mile radius. Their autopilot and dispatch management capability would enable rapid response “even before the firefighters arrive.”


Timothy Sampey, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department, said it raises questions. “If you’ve ever been to a Chicago high-rise, I don’t know that a little wand like that would break one of the windows. Secondly, I don’t know that I would want the window broken.”Sampey points out that Chicago building codes require high strength windows for “Windy City” high rises. Designed to withstand bird strikes and bullets, the sturdy windows force firefighters to use sawzalls, drills and suction cups to penetrate them. That is, if they want to penetrate them. The Chicago Fire Department has studied high rise airflows and the potential of wind-driven fire with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Illinois Fire Service Institute. “By ventilating too soon and without enough agent to suppress the fire, I’m creating more harm than good,” Sampey says.


The natural wind swirling around cityscapes can indeed fuel fires, particularly when funneled through a window. Chicago’s number two firefighter cites incidents in large cities like New York where a high-rise fire window-breach and resulting wind-driven fire incinerated an NYFD crew in a hallway. He adds that while EHang may use an effective Class A firefighting foam, 40 gallons may not be enough to put out a blaze. If it comes through a narrow window opening, it may also only touch a portion of the fire. Its effectiveness might differ for commercial or residential high rises with different architectural compartmentalization.


EHang suggests capacity issues could be overcome by employing multiple AAVs. “Multiple drones means they’re fighting air currents together in proximity,” Sampey observes. He’s not a fan of multiple window breakage exacerbating the wind-driven fire issue or of the resulting glass debris which can float and travel before landing on ground, potentially injuring firefighters or others.


LUNAR, a new multi-purpose search and rescue device

Over the decades, milestones in firefighter safety technology have included the open-circuit breathing apparatus, flame-resistant fabrics, thermal imaging cameras, and Bluetooth communications. In April 2021,  global safety equipment manufacturer MSA Safety Incorporated (NYSE: MSA) announced the availability of LUNAR, a new multi-purpose search and rescue device that promises to join that list of breakthrough innovations.


LUNAR uses Cloud technology to deliver breakthrough fire-scene management capabilities for incident commanders. According to Nish Vartanian, MSA Chairman, President and CEO, the introduction of LUNAR delivers on the company’s vision of being a leader in introducing new-to-world technology that protects lives. “We’ve always viewed LUNAR, and its many potential applications, as a major leap forward and game-changer when it comes to enhancing firefighter safety,” Mr. Vartanian said. “Based on firefighter feedback that our team gained through months of LUNAR testing and evaluations with hundreds of firefighters around the world, we believe LUNAR has genuine potential to change the way fires are fought.”


Versatile in design, LUNAR can be used as a stand-alone device or as part of an MSA SCBA system. Key features include:

  • Exclusive Firefighting Assisting Search Technology (FAST), which combines distance and direction data enabling firefighters to locate separated teammates faster, when every second counts;
  • Personal thermal imaging enhanced with edge detection for improved situational awareness;
  • Direct cellular cloud connectivity to send real-time stats, including estimated air pressure, time remaining, and battery life, to Incident Command and remote monitoring personnel for a complete safety point-of-view; and
  • A unique LUNAR-to-LUNAR network that automatically keeps each device connected to all others on-scene.


According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there has been a 35% increase in Mayday calls during the COVID pandemic, with more than 40% of Mayday calls never making it to Rescue Teams due to radio communication challenges. Jason Traynor, MSA’s General Manager of Global Fire Service Products says that LUNAR will help alleviate that burden.


“The ability to stay connected to your team can make all the difference during a rescue mission,” Mr. Traynor said. “To be prepared for a day that is more unpredictable than ever, firefighters need advanced tools that can help connect those who are on- and off-scene, and support the safety of the entire team with accountability, technology, and data-driven insights. LUNAR will do that and more.”


Dry powder missiles fire extinguishing truck

Our dry powder missiles fire extinguishing truck, being researched and developed by integrating military and civil technologies, is currently the only effective outside rescue fire-fighting system to suppress and put off fire burning at above 60 metres of high-rise building.


This system integrates with the actual demand of fire-fighting and rescue equipment, applies aviation launching and controlling technologies into the fire-fighting field and realizes accurate, swift and highly efficient fire extinguishing of high-rise building. It is the world’s pioneer to apply aerospace launching technology, control technology and information process technology to the fire-fighting area by innovatively applies the way of launching missiles to solve the fire-extinguishing problem for high and ultra-high buildings.


It locates the fire site precisely by using infrared and visible light detection technology, and employs high-accuracy trajectory calculation technology to measure and set fire-fighting parameters. In fire site, it is able to spray the extinguishing agent safely and effectively, produces no fragment during the extinguishing process and ensures the personnel’s safety. It is the effective and workable solution to resolve the difficulties faced by conventional fire-fighting vehicle when encountering fire at high-rise building, such as inadequate fire extinguishing height, too large turning radius and poor passing property. It resolves the problems of “can’t enter”, “can’t deploy” and “can’t operate” faced by conventional fire-fighting system when situated with high-rise building fire. Beside high-rise building, it is also applicable to fight for forest fire by launching the fire extinguishing bombs from a safe distance.


Regular inspection & safety audit

Fire safety does not end with installing fire safety equipment, there has to be a regular inspection. The inspection should be carried out by the fire department or authorities in every jurisdiction. Surprise inspections by the authorities are also the best way to ensure safety at all the times. Having said that, it is also the role of every association or owners to ensure thorough maintenance of fire safety equipment in their community.



Thorough training is vital to ensure workers are aware of how to respond if a fire was to break out, how to alert others in an emergency and the steps they need to take to prevent a fire in the first place.


People living in an apartment building need to think ahead and be prepared in the event of a fire. It is important to know the fire safety features in your building and work together with neighbors to help keep the building as fire-safe as possible. The evacuation plan should be posted in places where all residents can see and review it, and the building management should hold a fire drill with occupants at least once a year. Most states also require that buildings periodically test their fire safety systems as well. Be sure to participate when your building drills take place. When looking for an apartment or high-rise home, look for one with an automatic sprinkler system. Sprinklers can extinguish a home fire in less time that it takes for the fire department to arrive. In case of fire, always use the stairs to get out, never the elevator. Make sure to practice using the stairs as part of your escape plan. If someone in your family has difficulty climbing down steps, make sure to incorporate a contingency for this into your plan.


Smoke from a fire is toxic and deadly no matter what kind of structure you live in. When you hold your fire drill, everyone in the family should practice getting low and going under the smoke to the exit. In the event of a fire, if both stairwells are filled with smoke, stay in your apartment and wait for the firefight. If you can’t exit an apartment building due to smoke or fire in the hallway, call the fire department to report your exact location and gather in a room with a window to await their arrival. Close all doors between you and the fire. Use duct tape or towels to create a seal around the door and over air vents in order to keep smoke from coming in. Wave a flashlight or light colored cloth at the window to let the fire department know where you are located. If possible, you should open your windows at the top and the bottom so fresh air can get in. Don’t break the window – if smoke enters the room from outside the building, you won’t be able to protect yourself.


Fire Protection System Market

The global fire protection system market size is expected to grow from USD 67.7 billion in 2020 to USD 95.4 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 7.1%. The market growth is fueled by the growth in the construction industry, increasing human and property loss due to fire breakouts, stringent regulations, and rising adoption of wireless technology in fire detection.


Key market players  includes: Johnson Controls, United Technologies (Carrier), Honeywell, Siemens. and Halma.

Johnson Controls (Ireland) has recently started concentrating on its core business by acquiring non-profit companies. This has helped the company grow its revenue and expand its presence in emerging markets, including India, China, and some countries in the Middle East and Latin America. Johnson Controls offers fire detection and alarm systems, and fire response systems. The fire detection and alarm systems provided by the company are fire alarm panels and fire alarm peripheral devices such as detectors, sounders, and manual call points. Fire response systems include mass notification devices. The company has a business unit committed to developing and providing quality products, services, and solutions related to fire protection safety and security. As a leading innovative firm, the company is focused on delivering value to shareholders and meeting the needs of its customers. Tyco was acquired by Johnson Controls to form Johnson Controls (US) after the spin-off of the automotive seating company Adient plc (Ireland). After the merger, Johnson Controls became a leading provider of building and energy storage solutions and services.


Carrier (US), previously operating subsidiary of United Technologies, has been offering a broad portfolio of fire protection products for various applications. It focuses on enhancing its technology business through product launches, partnerships, and acquisitions. The company aims to improve its production of fire suppression and detection solutions. It has a research and design center in India and has opened a center of excellence in France. These R&D centers focus on the development of new products to strengthen its customer base.


Honeywell (US) is one of the leaders in the fire protection market with strong international recognition. Key factors contributing to its market leadership include a well-positioned product portfolio, strong brand name internationally, customer retention, and global presence. Honeywell takes advantage of its ability to leverage collaborations across diverse operations in home and building automation solutions, especially in the fire and security segment. For instance, the company is collaborating with Huawei Technologies (China) to develop smart building offerings using IoT to improve the building intelligence by providing functions such as access control, intrusion monitoring, and fire detection. Honeywell also focuses on various strategic acquisitions to become the premier technology and manufacturing company with a better-positioned portfolio. For instance, in 2017, the company acquired Scame Sistemi, a global provider of fire and gas safety systems. The acquisition is expected to strengthen its product portfolio for the Home and Building Technologies segment.


Siemens (Germany) strategy includes widening its portfolio of security products by developing new products and system components. It also focuses on expanding its presence in the markets in EMEA and the Americas by entering into partnerships and agreements with companies in the same business. Siemens also intends to expand its portfolio of modules and systems related to automation. The company focuses on strengthening its in-house production capabilities for enhanced quality and proper utilization of resources. The company has also been focusing on optimizing processes, improving productivity, and increasing energy efficiency to cater to changing customer needs. For instance, the company has launched Cereberus FIT FC 360, which is an addressable control panel supporting up to 126 detectors and other fire alarm peripherals. The company offers extinguishing systems such as the CO2 extinguishing system, Novec 1230 extinguishing system, and an inert gas extinguishing system.


Halma (UK) is involved in developing and marketing products and services that improve the safety and mobility of its customers. It offers products such as fire detection systems, smoke detectors, specialist fire suppression systems, people and vehicle flow solutions, security systems, and elevator safety products that improve the safety of commercial and publicly owned infrastructure. Since 2012, the company has achieved a CAGR of 10% for revenue and 11% for profit with a good balance between organic growth, acquisitions, and dividend growth.



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