There is a general complacency among South Africans when it comes to safety in general, and fire safety in particular. Most people do not believe they will become a victim of a car accident, a workplace incident, or a fire either at home or at their place of work.
This was illustrated dramatically recently by the devastating fire that engulfed the Braampark office park in Braamfontein in downtown Johannesburg on Tuesday 18 April. “The Braampark fire was a classic example of neither people, nor the building, being ready to deal effectively with a fire,” ASP Fire CEO Michael van Niekerk argues.
Media reports on the Braampark office park blaze recounted how workers in the building attempted to confront the fire with buckets of water, only to discover it was a conflagration already well out of control.
Van Niekerk highlights that the pervasive complacency about fire safety means that the work or residential environment is, firstly, not adequately prepared to deal with a fire, and that, secondly, people are not mentally prepared to act swiftly, and with purpose, during a fire.
The cheapest and most effective way to combat a fire is through the use of portable fire extinguishers and fire-hose reels. The law requires that every building in South Africa greater than 250 m² in area must be equipped with fire-hose reels at a ratio of one per 500 m² or part thereof.
Importantly, these must be located in such a manner that the end of the hose, not the water stream, can reach every part of the building. One fire-hose reel is required on each floor of a multi-storey building. In addition, portable fire extinguishers must be installed at a ratio of one 4.5 kg dry chemical powder fire extinguisher per 200 m² or part thereof in offices.
“However, such fire-safety equipment is obviously useless if no one in the office knows how to use it, or if the location of the equipment is not marked clearly,” van Niekerk points out. Regular Level One fire-fighting training for staff is essential – and not just for fire marshalls either, as these may not be present on the day of a fire.
A small fire is extinguished easily if first respondents act swiftly. A ‘first respondent’ is defined as the first person to tackle a fire with a fire extinguisher or fire-hose reel. “Most people do not know that the purpose of a fire-hose reel is for building occupants to control a fire until the fire brigade arrives,” van Niekerk highlights.
Installing a suitable automatic fire detection and alarm system in a building will alert everyone to the presence of a fire while it is still in the smouldering phase. Knowing where the fire is located is essential when you only have a couple of minutes, or possibly seconds, to prevent the fire from getting out of control.
The second largest shortcoming in terms of general fire safety and awareness is the lack of emergency evacuation training, van Niekerk notes. Regular fire drills will identify any flaws in evacuation routes and procedures. Important considerations in this regard are:
- Is everyone familiar with the escape route?
- Does everyone know where to go for the roll call?
- How does one account for everyone in the building quickly and effectively at the assembly point during a fire?
- Are all of the emergency exit doors marked clearly, and are the locks compliant?
- Are these doors obstructed or blocked by boxes or furniture?
Van Niekerk stresses that the local fire safety or emergency services bylaws require that an emergency evacuation plan be drafted for every building in South Africa, and that this be drilled at least once or twice a year. The drill must include everyone who normally works or resides in the building.
“While it is not law to have a fire drill for our homes, just think about your personal situation, and consider whether children or old aged persons in your home could evacuate the house safely without your assistance during a fire,” van Niekerk illustrates.
“We all think we will be there to assist or guide other family members to safety during a fire, but consider what could happen if you were overwhelmed by smoke and could not go to their aid. Remember, you only have five breaths in a smoke-filled room before you are dead,” van Niekerk stresses. “Do not become a victim of complacency, which may result in loss of your belongings, your property, or possibly even your life,” van Niekerk pleads.
ASP Fire is able to conduct a fire-risk assessment to determine whether the actual fire load within a building exceeds the installed fire-protection system design. “We are able to advise a client accordingly, and assist them with a suitable fire-protection strategy and system design to cater for the likely worst-case scenario that could be faced in the course of normal operations. ASP Fire offers turnkey fire protection projects, so we can also supply, install and maintain fire protection equipment in buildings,” van Niekerk concludes.
About ASP Fire
ASP Fire operates across the entire African continent from its Gauteng base, providing professional, accredited fire risk management and support to its clients. ASP Fire designs, installs and maintains a full range of fire detection and suppression equipment suited to clients’ needs. ASP Fire provides a holistic, proactive and preventative fire solution based on integrated fire risk assessment, training and consulting, with the installation and maintenance of fire detection and suppression systems that meet SABS, NFPA, FPASA, FDIA and SAQCC standards.
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