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Jamaica equipped to tackle high-rise building fires

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, June 19, 2017

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THE Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) says that it is prepared to handle high-rise building fires should any break out in the country.

The Jamaica Observer was informed, after making checks, that there are nine hydraulic platform fire engines across JFB divisions in the island capable of battling gigantic blazes.

The vehicles carry typical modern tools for a wide range of firefighting and rescue tasks, with common equipment, including ladders, a self-contained breathing apparatus, ventilating equipment, first-aid kits, and hydraulic rescue tools. They can operate as cranes and can also descend into gullies if need be.

Customary fittings include audible and visual warnings, as well as communication equipment such as two-way radios and mobile computer technology. The vehicles can be operated remotely.

They are also capable of extending upwards of 105 feet, which is equivalent to six storeys on a building, and are able to hold up to 1,900 litres of water. The monitor or water cannon, which is attached to the front of the vehicle, is capable of pumping 250 to 1,250 gallons of water per minute.

The information comes after an enormous blaze in west London's North Kensington district, which engulfed a 24-storey apartment building, killing scores of people. Several dozens were injured, 18 of them critically, while an unknown number remain missing. A tenants' group had complained for years about the risk of a fire there.

The building was said to have “met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards”. However, British media said it was not immediately known if the building had a sprinkler system.

Divisional commander for Kingston and St Andrew, Superintendent Kevin Haughton, told the Observer last Thursday, during a demonstration of how the vehicles operate, that while ladders can only extend to the aforementioned height, there are arrangements in place to battle blazes higher than that.

“As part of our proactive arm, Fire Prevention, for our high-rise structures we ensure that they have what is called a rising main inside the building. So what we will do is instead of having to carry our equipment up to, for example, the sixth floor, there is a pipe network fitted with an inlet at the bottom and outlets on various floors.

“So what we will do is to go below the fire floor and connect the trucks to the inlet and pump water into them, and we would have various outlets going up to the highest floor,” Haughton explained.

An outlet is a pipe or hole through which water or gas may escape.

He said that this is a requirement for all high-rise buildings in the country, and that this is a firefighting infrastructure for which the JFB inspects when signing off on buildings.

“We also ensure that for multistorey buildings, [they] have a protected staircase as part of means to escape. These staircases are made from fire-resistant materials and have to have fire-resistant ratings. So they should be able to stand up for a couple of hours before failing, so that all the occupants can be evacuated. Some, for example, have two hours of fire-rating capacity. They must also be enclosed and pressurised.

“So once you open the door to the staircase it automatically closes back. This is a fire prevention requirement because if the door remains open, smoke and heat will enter and the fire will travel from floor to floor via the staircase. When the door, which has fire-resistant capabilities, is closed because the staircase is pressurised, it will blow back the smoke and heat outside of it,” the firefighter further explained.

He said a high-rise building cannot be erected until the JFB signs off on the plan. If this is not done, the superintendent said the developer is not granted a fire certificate, which is needed for insurance purposes.

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