High-rise office fires are different, deadly, and can end in disaster.
Evacuation is difficult and the spread of smoke and heat is toxic. Effective responses to high-rise fires require capable command and control from fire services. Even then, loss of life is common.
That’s why adequate preventative measures aren’t optional.
Keep reading to learn why high-rise office buildings pose unique challenges.
Evacuating High-rise Office Buildings
Evacuating high-rise buildings can take several hours, even with adequate fire safety planning.
Elevators that meet section 7.14 of the Life Safety Code may (technically) be used for evacuation. However, elevators aren’t considered in fire safety planning. In general, a building’s occupants are forced to take the stairs, which is something that some people may not be able to do.
A common strategy in a typical scenario is to have all building occupants on the floors above and below a fire evacuate several floors below the fire floor. There they await further instructions from safety officials or fire protection services.
Situational Awareness Is Difficult
Knowing what’s going on is difficult in high-rise buildings. This is true for both the building’s occupants and the fire protection services.
It’s often difficult to identify a fire floor from outside a building. Some building plans give inaccurate indications of floor numbers, and unusual floor layouts are common. Mezzanines, for instance, make planning more difficult.
Open-floor Fires Can’t Be Extinguished
Legally mandated safety standards require the installation of sprinklers and other systems. Yet high-rise building fires can quickly engulf large open areas.
One of the things no fire service will openly admit is that it’s virtually impossible to extinguish a blazing open-floor office fire. A 20-thousand-square-foot fire can’t be put out by standard fire hose nozzles. Hoses spray 300 gallons of water per minute at a range of fewer than 100 feet.
In these serious instances, fire protection services resort to a “controlled burn”. The firefighters remain in defensive positions to prevent the fire from spreading. There, they wait until all flammable material has burned away.
HVAC Systems Are Deadly
The air conditioning systems used by many high-rise buildings can cause smoke to spread throughout dozens of floors at a time. This not only compounds situational awareness but contributes to the “stack effect”.
This effect makes smoke clouds move unpredictably.
High-rise Buildings Trap Heat and Smoke
The smoke and heat from fires can’t be vented from high-rise buildings effectively. This is for two reasons.
First, many high-rise buildings use locked or sealed windows. Firefighters think of them as “windowless” structures for this reason. Second, HVAC systems and the stack effect cause a sharp temperature difference between a building’s interior and exterior.
Upgrade Your Preventative Measures
Fires in high-rise buildings quickly spin out of control. To prevent needless loss of life, high-rise office buildings need additional safety measures in place.
At United Fire, we provide world-class fire protection services across all aspects of fire safety. Click here to learn about our safety inspection services.