Fire Protection in an Indis High Rise Home

Fire Protection Systems are an integral, essential aspect of residential habitat design. The intricacy of these systems in a high rise building is exponentially more complex than regular dwellings. 

Every apartment project that we develop is designed and installed as per the ‘National Building Code (NBC) of India 2016, Part – 4, Fire and Life Safety’. We also work in close consultation with the local fire department in Hyderabad during the design phase of this system.

Effective Fire Safety Systems are designed to achieve three distinctive objectives. Early Prevention of Fire, Timely Evacuation and Accessibility to Firefighters.

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Early Prevention of Fire

Prevention mechanisms are at the frontlines of any firefighting effort. There are a series of facilities put in place to ensure that a fire can be put out before it achieves critical mass and turns catastrophic.

Smoke Detectors

Strategically placed Smoke Detectors are the first line of defence. In accordance with regulatory norms; one smoke detector is placed for every 12 square meters of floor plate. These detectors will sound an alarm when smoke levels associated with a fire are detected. This alerts a resident and gives them an early chance to either take action if the fire is manageably small or to evacuate the premises at the earliest.

Extinguishers

In the corridors on every floor there are 4 extinguishers provided for small local fires: 2 Dry Powder Chemical and a Water Based Type. These extinguishers are recycled every year and the pressure is checked every week to ensure effective functioning.

Automated Sprinkler System

The Automated Sprinkler System is a very important early measure mechanism that can quash a potentially devastating fire. The system is elegant, effective and very reliable. Sprinkler systems consist of a network of water pipes that run along every wall of the apartment and the common areas. At regular intervals a sprinkler head is strategically placed to cover a room or an area of a larger room.

The sprinkler head is a seemingly simple yet ingenious mechanism. Each sprinkler head has a glass bead filled with a heat-sensitive alcohol and glycerin based liquid that expands rapidly. The liquid in the sprinkler heads that we install at Indis are designed to expand and shatter the glass bulb at a temperature of 68 degrees celsius. This simple, chemically triggered, localised mechanism is fail safe and does not require electricity, or batteries, or any other consumable that needs regular maintenance. Its simplicity is inherently why it is so effective.

When the glass bead shatters, it allows water within the pipe to exit and ricochet of a reflective clamp designed to spray the water across a large distance.

For the geek in you.

Did you know the colour of the Glycerin Bead says a lot about the sprinkler system.

An automatic fire sprinkler is basically a valve activated by heat. It’s main component is a small glass bulb which holds a heat-sensitive liquid. They are color coded and each color represents the temperature at which it will explode, releasing the water flow.

When the ceiling temperature reaches a specific level, the liquid inside will expand, causing the glass to break.

Because some industrial environments operate at temperatures higher than normal, it’s necessary that some fire sprinkler heads are capable of resisting higher temperatures before exploding.

Busting two Common Myths about Sprinkler Systems

Myth 1

A lot of people think that a sprinkler is activated by the smoke detectors. This is incorrect. These two systems are not interconnected. They are independent and serve two distinct purposes. The smoke detectors are there to warn you of a possible fire. The sprinklers are there to put out an existing fire. A sprinkler will not necessarily go off if a smoke detector is triggered. A sprinkler will only be triggered if the flames are hot enough to raise the ambient temperature to 68 degrees celsius and thereby shatter the glass bead.

Myth 2

This particular myth has been popularised due to Hollywood. If one sprinkler head is triggered the entire sprinkler system will turn on and flood the building. We’ve all been witness to a protagonist in a movie using a lighter to burst a sprinkler and set off the entire system. This is not true in your apartment. Each sprinkler head can only be triggered by localised heat. If it's not hot enough it will not be triggered. In other words, if there is a localised fire in the next apartment, you do not have to worry about your sprinklers turning on.

For the geek in you.

Deluge Systems

So is Hollywood terribly wrong when they trigger an entire sprinkler system in one go? Not really, they do have a real world excuse for that plot point. It's called a Deluge System. If you chose to read further, be honest with yourself you are a geek. But do keep in mind that Deluge systems are not installed in any Indis home. This is the exact opposite of the kind of system installed in our High Rise Apartments.

"Deluge" systems are systems in which all sprinklers connected to the water piping system are open, in that the heat sensing operating element is removed, or specifically designed as such. These systems are used for special hazards where rapid fire spread is a concern, as they provide a simultaneous application of water over the entire hazard. 

Water is not present in the piping until the system operates. Because the sprinkler orifices are open, the piping is at atmospheric pressure. To prevent the water supply pressure from forcing water into the piping, a "deluge valve" is used in the water supply connection, which is a mechanically latched valve. It is a non-resetting valve, and stays open once tripped.

Because the heat sensing elements present in the automatic sprinklers have been removed (resulting in open sprinklers), the deluge valve must be opened as signaled by a fire alarm system. The type of fire alarm initiating device is selected mainly based on the hazard (e.g. pilot sprinklers, smoke detectors, heat detectors, or optical flame detectors). The initiation device signals the fire alarm panel, which in turn signals the deluge valve to open. Activation can also be manual, depending on the system goals. Manual activation is usually via an electric or pneumatic fire alarm pull station, which signals the fire alarm panel, which in turn signals the deluge valve to open.

How are we sure if there’s enough water in the sprinkler system?

This is a question worth asking; what’s the point of all this infrastructure if there’s no water behind the pipes? Again, the solution to this is both technically exciting yet logically simplistic.

Dedicated Tanks

Water is first pumped into dedicated large capacity Fire Tanks. When these tanks are at full capacity the water only then overflows into the daily use Domestic Tanks that supply water to your kitchen and bathrooms. This way water is first prioritised to the Fire Tanks. If the Fire Tanks are not full, your daily use water will be affected, thereby signalling a plumbing issue that needs rectifying.

Active Triple-Redundancy Water Pressure System

The amount of piping run for the entire fire system is equal to or in some cases greater than the piping used for domestic water delivery. This system makes sure that water is in those pipes at all times and more importantly is at the right water pressure for effective results.

When a sprinkler head is triggered, sensors in the pipeline detect a drop in water pressure that turns on a Jockey Pump. This is an electric pump capable of delivering 180 liters per minute thereby automatically maintaining water pressure. If the fire spreads further and more sprinklers turn on, the water pressure will drop even further. If the pressure drops below the capacity of the first pump; a high capacity electric Main Pump which can generate a pressure of 2280 lit per minute, is the second line of action. If the systems demand even more water pressure a tertiary Diesel Pump (with its on Diesel Power Generator) with a similar capacity of 2280 Lit per minute automatically comes into action. The reason for the pump being diesel powered is another screen of redundancy in case electricity is not available during a crisis. 

For the geek in you.

Sprinklers in the Basement

Sprinklers in the basement car parks operate differently from the rest of the apartment building. There is a very good reason for this. Parked cars have tanks full of gasoline. Controlling a fire in such an environment is very critical. The basement is divided into zones, once a temperature of 68 degrees is detected by sensors, sprinklers turn on across the entire zone to prevent any spread of the fire.

Apart from that there is a manually triggered mode (operated purely by firefighters at the Fire Panel) by which a fire can be contained in a specific zone ( of 3000 sft area) with the use of specialised sprinkler heads that create a curtain of water. When turned on; each zone is effectively enclosed within these curtains of water. This mitigates fire travel to a great degree.

Timely Evacuation

This second objective is paramount in a major fire. Time is of the essence in a Fire Evacuation. Minutes make a big difference in achieving positive outcomes. All this comes down to effective planning of exits and stairwells.

All our homes are built according to exacting regulations that demand the distance from the apartment front door to the staircase to be within the range of 15 to 22 meters. Even the width and the number of flights of stairs are as per specified regulatory norms. Failure to abide by these norms can result in the occupancy certificate not being issued.  

Accessibility to Firefighters

Fire Engine Access

The project is planned according to standards to ensure that a Fire Engine can drive effortlessly across the podium in an emergency and reach any side of a tower without any obstructions.

External Facade Access

In the event of major fire. Firefighters need the ability to access an apartment from the external facade. The need could be to fight a fire from outside or to evacuate residents trapped from accessing the Fire Exits. For this purpose, the facade is designed for emergency access to FirefIghters. Window panes can be shattered easily, and the presence of no grills allows for instant entry and evacuations.

Firefighting Tools

Firefighters have access to industry standard tools and facilities across all our projects.

Fire Hydrants are present across the podium, each corridor, the basements and at specified locations. In fact, the hydrant on every floor is accompanied by a 30 meter rubber sheath hose. FireFighters also have access to the Central Fire Control Room that allows them to interact with the entire system and turn on certain manual overrides that allow them to do their job.

For the geek in you.

How do we keep this complex fire system Operationally Ready?

If you’ve gone through the entire blog on the fire system, you would appreciate the sheer amount of engineering involved in keeping a high rise home safe from fire. Like the airbags in a car. No one wishes for an incident that requires these systems to kick in. But in the event that something does happen, it's good to know that the machinery is primed and ready to use. 

To ensure operational readiness of the whole fire system; water in the entire fire system is drained once every week (on a Saturday) into a tank for cleaning and thereafter the fire system is recharged by all its three pumps. Hence the operational readiness of the three pump system is checked for deployment readiness on a weekly basis.