Annals of the MBC - vol. 2 - n' 3 - September 1989


Cannata E., Masellis M. *

Sicilian Region Fire Department, Prefecture of Palermo, Italy
* Dipartimento di Chirurgia Plastica e Terapia delle ustioni, Ospedale Civico USL 58, Palermo, Italia

SUMMARY. An emergency fire plan should be prepared as early as the planning stages of a building so that due account may be taken of all safety factors, also with regard to the position of the building and its future use (hotel, hospital, offices, school, residential etc.). It often happens however that it is necessary to prepare the emergency plan when the building is already completed, and this paper deals with such a situation. Priority must be given to an examination of the architectural plans of the building and of accompanying reports in order to know all parameters regarding evacuation of persons in the event of a fire: the stairs (whether smokeproof, protected etc.), lifts, corridors and passageways, safe areas in the building, the number of floors, the density of persons per floor, the surface area and the cubic capacity of each floor and any activities of specific risk. Other factors considered concern the fire-resistance of the structures, the reaction to fire of the materials used, fire loads and any division into fireproof compartments. On the basin of hypotheses of where in the building fire may break out, it is possible to study how the flames may spread and how therefore persons and structures will be involved.

After describing the "scenario" of the fire, the authors of the paper examine the various phases of the operation from the moment when the alarm call reaches the Provincial Headquarters of the Fire Department to when the Operations Room at the Prefecture goes into action, and all the various public and private organizations involved in civil defence are activated. These are: the Fire Department, State Police, local Police, the National Electricity Board (ENEL), the Gas Company, local Health Units (USQ and the Burns Department of the Regional Hospital.
The current regulations in Italy regarding fire prevention require that all projects for high-rise residential buildings (over 24 metres in height) be presented for authorization to the Provincial Fire Brigade Headquarters with responsibility in the area.
The same authorization must be obtained for buildings where large numbers of persons assemble together or are permanently resident, as for example hotels, hospitals, offices, schools and places of public entertainment.
These projects must be examined in the light of current regulations or, failing these - and regrettably some sectors are still completely unprovided for -taking into account general criteria adopted on the basis of past experience in the single branches of the various activities.
Since the primary purpose of fire prevention must be to carry out all measures necessary for the safety of the general public, and to limit the damage caused by fire, it is clearly of fundamental importance to have full knowledge of all the parameters required for the preparation of an acceptable project.
It is frequently necessary however to work in the presence of other pre-existing conditions. This makes the preparation of an emergency plan particularly difficult and complex, as it is not always possible to respect all the prescribed safety precautions in buildings in sites where previous conditions already exist.
In such cases criteria of equivalent safety have to be applied, i.e. supplementary requirements must be imposed in lieu of those that are not feasible. In this way sufficient safety standards can be maintained.
The plan considered here refers to already existing high-rise buildings.
In order to prepare an emergency plan for fire in a high-rise building, it is necessary first of all to have access to all the relevant plans, designs and detailed technical reports of the original building project and of the surrounding area.
These documents will indicate the nature and the extent of the fire risk, the presence of devices to prevent fire or reduce its spread, and the existence of fire-fighting contrivances.
In high-rise buildings two conditions are necessary if the primary aim of fire prevention is to be achieved, i.e. personal safety. These conditions are: escape routes and fire-resistant structures.
Personal safety can be adequately guaranteed a) if the structures of the building are capable of withstanding for a sufficient length of time the heat stresses caused by the fire, and b) if the persons involved are able to evacuate the building quickly and without difficulty and to reach safety by way of safe escape routes.
Other measures, besides the two above-mentioned which are absolutely fundamental, depend on the purpose the building is used for, and on risks deriving from this use. In the case studied here of a residential building, the danger of explosion can normally be excluded, because of the absence of flammable substances which, in certain air conditions, can produce an explosive gas.
In certain cases, e.g. hospitals, where these flammable substances may be present, a check must be made to ascertain if the appropriate planning and structural precautions have been observed and if the dangerous substances are properly handled.
With regard to fire resistance, a clear distinction has to be made between buildings with reinforced concrete load-bearing structures and those with steel structures.
Reinforced concrete offers the best protection, since it maintains an excellent degree of resistance even at high temperatures, unlike steel structures, which are particularly vulnerable to fire.
Fire resistance has to be calculated, and in high-rise buildings this should never fall below 60%. If this figure is not achieved, steel structures must be protected with appropriate materials in order to reach the minimum limits.
There is an obvious correlation between fire resistance and the escape routes: the structures evidently must be able to resist long enough to permit everyone in the building to escape to safety.
Considering that on average a person should not remain for more than one minute in the place where the fire has broken out, and that the average person in one minute can cover 30 metres, it must be ascertained if the maximum distance from any point in the building to a place of safety is within the 30-metre limit.
The term "place of safety" means the street or any large enough open space, as well as suitably equipped indoor places separated from risk zones by fireproof filters, i.e. rooms having a predetermined resistance to fire of at least 60 minutes and provided with adequate aeration.
The purpose of the filter is to prevent smoke and flam& from passing from the fire zone to the escape routes or to safe areas where persons escaping from the fire can wait for rescue-workers.
Caged stairs with continuous walls of known resistance provided with air-filters are known as smokeproof stairs; they offer a safe way of escape from the building.
Due note must be taken of the fact that while in moderately high buildings (maximum 7-8 storeys) rescue-work can be effected also externally to the building by firemen using fire-ladders or masks, when the building is very high this is not possible. The reason for this is not only that fire-ladders cannot reach beyond certain heights but also because at these great heights - as we know from experience - people get in a state of panic and refuse to entrust their lives to the rescuers.
It is therefore clear that the escape routes are fundamental to individual safety and that this varies in relation to the purpose of the building.
For example a residential high-rise building is bound to have a larger number of small rooms than one used for offices. The zone effected by the fire is thus usually less extensive in the first case than in the second.
The spread of the fire depends on various factors: the way the building is divided up into rooms, as just said, the violence of the fire, the presence of wind, the general lay-out of the building, the ventilation system, and in particular the materials used for the external walls.
If the external walls are constructed with glass, the fire spreads rapidly and violently from one floor to another.
A building constructed entirely with glass outer walls is at twice the risk of a building with 50% glass on its outer surface.
As already said, the purpose of a building is basic to any emergency plan: all the parameters clearly change from case to case.
Schools: limited fire risk; the pupils are young and are accustomed to using the exits every day; the buildings are normally used only in day-time, when however the building is crowded.

Hotels: high fire risk; fire can surprise guests of the hotel in their sleep; there are many associated risk- activities, e.g. restaurants, kitchens, air-conditioning plants, discos etc.

Hospitals: high fire risk, like hotels, but in addition the patients are not all self-sufficient and they may not be able to reach safety without assistance.

The emergency plan must take into consideration the various possible sites where fire may break out. Then, on the basis of the various parameters involved (lay-out of building, violence of the fire, ventilation, etc.), it is possible to study how smoke and flames may spread and thus how individuals and property will be affected.
In a fire it is a well-known fact that the greatest number of deaths are caused by the breathing of smoke; burns and panic are not however far behind as causes of fatalities.
All persons who are regularly present in a high-rise building and those who enter it on a chance occasion must therefore receive clear instructions on what to do in the event of a fire.
There must be clear notices indicating the ways to places of safety, exits, stairs and lifts, also showing the whereabouts of fire-fighting equipment extinguishers, Water-jets and fire-alarms.
It is also i M~portant to display floor-plans of the building, of the "You are here" type, clearly showing the quickest way to safety. This helps to prevent too many people making simultaneously for the same exit.
All the various designs concerning the floor-plans and the different sections of the building should be available in the porter's lodge, together with plans of the electric installations, the air-conditioning plant, automatic and/or manual fire-extinguishers and fire-detectors.
Frequent unannounced fire practices are advisable in order to make sure that everyone knows automatically what to do and will react properly even when under the emotional stress of a real fire.
When what we may call the "internal" emergency plan has been drawn up, we have to consider the "external" plan, which comes into action the moment the alarm is passed on to the nearest Station of the National Fire Brigade, using the special fire-alarm number "115" which recently has been introduced throughout Italy.
As soon as the first team of firemen has been despatched, the Fire Office must immediately contact: the State Police Force, which is responsible f6f public order in the area of the fire; the Municipal Police Force, which in accordance to plan cordons off all traffic not only in the area in the immediate vicinity of the fire but also in all streets which must be kept free to let rescue vehicles pass; the National Board for Electric Power (ENEL), in order to cut off electricity in some parts of the building, if necessary, and to restore it in others; the Water Board, in order to ensure adequate supplies of water to the hydrants in the fire area; and to the Gas Company, in order to cut off the gas supply, if necessary.
As soon as the first teams of firemen arrive on the scene, if the fire is particularly serious the Officer-in-Charge will inform the Chief Officer of the Provincial Fire Brigade, who will send more rescue-teams with mobile motor-pumps, fire-ladders, masks, fire-fighting equipment, ambulances etc. He will also inform the local Prefect, the Regional Inspector of the Fire Brigade and the Operations Room of the Ministry of the Interior.
At this point the Prefect will take over the direction of the rescue-work. He will activate the Operations Room at the Prefecture, and contact the representatives of the various boards and agencies belonging to the Provincial Committee for Civil Defence.
The Chief Officer of the Fire Brigade will proceed to the scene of the fire, and from there give detailed information to the Regional Inspector who, if necessary, will provide for the intervention of men and equipment from neighbouring Provincial Commands.
The Operations Room at the Prefecture will alert the local hospitals and the Burns Department of the Regional Hospital, which will send a medical team to organize the despatch of the injured to the local hospitals, according to the number of beds and the specialist medical assistance available, on the basis of pre-established plans.
The Red Cross and local hospitals will also be invited to send a sufficient number of ambulances to transport all the injured.
Meanwhile, rescue operations are in progress, taking into consideration the "Internal" emergency plan; after a rapid preliminary survey of the situation, priority is given to saving all those persons who have not been able to reach safety using their own resources.
On the basis of information provided in the emergency plan and from sources at the scene of the fire, the rescue-workers will proceed first to places where it is known that persons are directly threatened by the fire and then to places where they may have sought temporary shelter.
When the building has been cleared, the attack on the fire continues, in order to extinguish the flames where the fire is more dangerous, either in extent or by position.
Subsequently the firemen will proceed to the extinguishing of minor fires.
This is followed by:

  • recovery of the bodies of any victims of the fire
  • elimination of sources of possible danger caused by the fire and/or the cordoning-off of areas that are still dangerous
  • identification and reactivation of all parts of the building and systems that are undamaged or are not so badly damaged that they cannot be immediately used again
  • information to those aftected by the fire, the authorities, the media
  • gradual and orderly withdrawal of the rescue units employed.

RÉSUMÉ. Il faudrait préparer un plan d'urgence en cas d'incendie dès le moment du projet de l'édifice pour pouvoir prendre en considération tous les facteurs de sécurité, y compris la position de l'édifice et son futur emploi (hôtel, hôpital, bureaux, école, résidence). Mais bien souvent il faut préparer le plan quand l'édifice est déjà terminé, et c'est le cas que nous étudions ici. Avant tout il faut examiner les projets originaux de l'édifice pour connaître tous les paramètres qui concernent l'évacuation des personnes: les types d'escalier, les ascenseurs, les couloirs, les lieux sûrs de l'édifice, le numéro des étages, la densité des personnes sur chaque étage, la surface totale et la capacité cubique de chaque étage, et la présence d'activités qui pourraient être dangereuses. Il y a en outre d'autres aspects comme la résistance au feu de la structure et des matériaux utilisés et l'emploi de compartiments à l'épreuve du feu. Sur la base des hypothèses concernant le point précis où le feu peut éclater on peut étudier la propagation des flammes et les zones de l'édifice qui seront atteintes. Les Auteurs décrivent toutes les phases de l'opération de secours, et ils indiquent toutes les organisations intéressées: le Corps provincial des Pompiers, la Préfecture, qui organise les secours, la police d'Etat et la police municipale, la Société de l'Électricité, la Société du Gaz, les Unités sanitaires locales et le Centre des Brûlés de l'Hôpital Régional.


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