Do you know that architects think about fire all the time? 🔥
In fact, one of the most important authority approvals needed before you can construct a building is the Fire Plan approval.
If you are new to the Fire Code, this post will be super helpful!
I will introduce the 5 key concepts of the code so that you can quickly understand what to look out for while designing your building in practice.
In this post
- Why Fire Code?
- Overview of the Fire Code
- What are Purpose Groups?
- Types of Fire Safety Equipment
- Key Concept 1 - Occupant Load vs Means of Escape
- Key Concept 2 - Travel Distance, Remoteness of Exits
- Key Concept 3 - Fire Compartmentation, Resistance & Rating
- Key Concept 4 - Unprotected Openings and Setbacks
- Key Concept 5 - Site Planning & Fire Engine Accessway Design
- Pro Tips / How to Get Started
Disclaimer: This post is referring to clauses under the Singapore Civil Defence Force Fire Code 2018, available here. Do consult your seniors and local building codes to apply the concepts in practice.
Why Fire Code?
Architects help to design for the safe occupation of these buildings by provision of fire safety measures based on a few factors: the purpose of the building, occupant load and any flammable hazards.
Your role as an architectural designer is to assist the Architects or Qualified Persons to check and prepare fire building plans declaring all of the design considerations and provision of these equipment to ensure a safe occupancy in future.
Overview of the Fire Code
You must understand that there are many different chapters in the Fire Code that deal with different scales, functions and disciplines. The best way to start getting familiarised with the Fire Code is review them chapter by chapter.
Below is a overview of the Singapore's Fire Code as reference. I suggest you read this whole blog post before viewing the codes themselves.
Chapter 1 - General
Chapter 2 - Means of Escape
Chapter 3 - Structural Fire Precautions
Chapter 4 - Site Planning & External Firefighting Provision
Chapter 5 - Electrical Power Supplies
Chapter 6 - Firefighting Systems
Chapter 7 - Mechanical Ventilation & Smoke Control Systems
Chapter 8 - Emergency Lighting & Voice Communication Systems
Chapter 9 - Additional Requirements for Each Purpose Group
Chapter 10 - Requirements for Special Installations
Chapter 11 - Regulated Fire Safety Products and Materials
Appendix 01 - Fire Safety Report
Appendix 02 - Fire Safety Instruction Manual
This was how I understood the various clauses in the Fire Code. It is not about the wordings but high level concepts that can be broken down as such below:
Site Planning - Fire engine accessway, building setback
Building Design - Dry/wet riser, exit provisions, fire access panels
Room Layout - Exit locations, fire extinguisher,
Furniture/Products/Services - Sprinkler, lighting, exit signs, false ceiling, acoustic panels
Architectural - Building/Site/Room Layout
Civil/Structural - Fire resistance, loading for fire engine
Electrical - Emergency lighting, fire lift, home fire alarm device
Mechanical - Fire hydrant, dry/wet riser, sprinkler, breeching inlets
Purpose Groups (explained in next section)
Habitable vs Non-Habitable areas
High Hazard (eg. Storage of Flammable goods)
Exit Provision and Design (corridors, staircases, lifts)
What are Purpose Groups?
The first thing to note is that the fire code requirements differ by the function of building/space, called Purpose Groups.
Purpose Groups (or PG in short) relate to the declaration of function of the building, resulting in varying risks requiring different set of fire safety provisions.
PG 1 - Small Residential
PG 2- Residential
PG 3 - Institutional
PG 4 - Office
PG 5 - Shop
PG 6 - Factory
PG 7 - Place of Public Resort
PG 8 - Warehouse/ Storage
Hence it is important to note certain clauses that only apply to your selected purpose group(s).
For mixed developments, it is typically essential to follow the requirements in the purpose group that has higher fire risk.
An example is PG 8 vs PG 1- which do you think has a higher fire risk?
Types of Fire Safety Equipment
Next, you need to note the various fire safety equipment that fall under three categories: Detect & Alert, Fight the Fire and Guide & Protect. These categories are defined below.
Alert & Detect:
These equipments are designed to notify emergency services and/or detect fires within the building.
- Strobe lights
- Call points
- Alarm bells
Fight the Fire
These equipment are for active use to directly/assist in extinguishing the fire, suitably and adequately located within the building for easy access.
- Fire Extinguishers
- Riser Systems (Dry/Wet Riser)
- Breeching Inlet
The following equipment is required for easy access and activation to fight the fire within the site:
- Fire hydrant
- Breeching inlet
Guide & Protect
These equipment are required to assist occupant to exit the building.
- Exit sign
- Exit emergency lighting
- Fire-rated doors/ walls
Key Concept #1 - Occupant Load vs Means of Escape
As architectural designers, we need to allow for a safe passage for occupants to evacuate during a fire through the design of the width, length and number of escape routes. We need to ensure that these escape paths are sufficiently catered for.
This is shown through a set of calculations as well as presentation of these routes on plan for building plan approval.
The nature of these routes depend on the following factors - occupant load and function.
In essence, an area with high occupant load (more people in the space) requires wider escape paths/staircase to vacate the building in a fire.
Check with your local codes on the computation mechanics.
Sample occupant load factors are shown below:
Common widths to note include 850mm for doors, 1m for exit staircase, 1.2m for corridors.
Key Concept #2 - Travel Distance, Remoteness of Exits
The next concept you need to learn is whether the exits are within travel distance from the most remote points in the room.
An exit is defined as a exit door to a staircase and/or exit passageway.
You can calculate either as 1-way or 2-way and also as a actual or direct travel distance.
A direct distance is the measurement of escape path ignoring any internal partitions and furniture, unlike actual travel distances.
Sprinkler provision will also dictate the travel distance requirements for the building.
If the building is sprinkler protected, the travel distances can be longer.
Refer to your building codes for the detailed requirements.
Remoteness of Exits
Most rooms have 2 exits separated by a distance from one another, called remoteness of exits.
This distance is calculated as 1/2 the diagonal of the room. If the room is sprinklered, you can place the exits closer at 1/3 the diagonal.
Placing the exits far apart allows for occupants to choose an exit closer to them and also have an alternative exit if the other exit is not accessible.
Key Concept #3 - Fire Compartmentation, Resistance & Rating
In this section, you need to understand the concepts of fire compartmentations, resistance and rating.
Trust me, it is easy to get these terms mixed up.
Fire compartmentation involves the separating the building into parts based on adjacencies and occupancies with varying fire risk.
The separation shall be achieved via the provision of fire rated walls.
Sprinkler protected buildings will allow for larger compartments (cubical extents) of non-fire rated wall rooms.
Fire resistance refers to the ability for the structure to resist heat and pressure arising from a fire within a fire compartment.
The longer fire resistance it has, the safer it is.
Materials are required to be tested for fire resistance in order to be fire rated.
After performing required tests to demonstrate fire resistance, suppliers of building components can declare conformity to fire ratings.
The ratings can be based on Classes and or time.
Example: Class 0 are inert to fire, 1/2 hour fire rated doors can resist fire for 1/2 hours.
All of the products used in a building are regulated and must have a certificate/document of conformity submitted to the building authorities during plan approval and at completion stage.
Key Concept #4 - Unprotected Openings and Setbacks
Have you ever wondered why some facades have openings and some doesn't?
Apart from natural ventilation, daylighting and views, these openings are also deemed as unprotected openings.
Unprotected Openings to Exit Staircases
An unprotected opening refers to the area on the facade that is open to external where a fire can break out.
There is a danger that the fire can transfer from one room to another across buildings and rooms. Thus, there are clauses in place in the Fire Code to prevent this from happening.
Below is an image explaining the 1.5m or 3m setback distance from unprotected openings to exit staircases.
1.5m is for internal exit staircases while 3m refers to external staircases.
Unprotected Openings and Building Setbacks
The key concept you need to be familiar with next is the computation of building setbacks based on the percentage of unprotected openings on a opposing building elevation.
You will need larger building setbacks for elevations with a higher percentage of unprotected openings.
Computation of setbacks requires the identification and area calculation of unprotected openings over the area of the enclosing rectangle.
Key Concept #5 - Site Planning & Fire Engine Accessway Design
Here you need to understanding the various parameters for site planning. This is key in ensuring an easy access for fire engines and fire fighters to put out fires in the building(s).
Fire Engine Accessway
Firstly, the design of the fire engine accessway should adequately cover each building.
The length, width, gradient (max 1:15) and turning radius is dependent on the building size or cubical extents as well as the purpose group.
Secondly, the location of the fire engine accessway in relation to the building should be between 2-10m to allow for a easy access for fire fighter to the upper floors via fire access panels.
There should be a cul-de-sac turning facility provided if there are dead ends longer than stipulated lengths. Lastly, every part of the driveway should be 50m away from a fire hydrant to allow easy access to water to fight the fire.
In order to fight the fire, hydrants connected to the water lines underground shall be provided at 100m apart.
All parts of the fire engine access road and accessway shall be within 50m of a hydrant.
There are also pressure requirements for the hydrants depending on the road level.
Architects need to indicate on site plan where the signage at start, middle and end of fire engine access road and accessway are.
This facilitates the easy entry of fire engines and also notify drivers not to obstruct these service roads.
Breeching Inlets and Dry/Wet Risers
The breeching inlet is where the fire fighter will connect their water pumps on fire engines to the dry/wet risers.
The risers are required to direct water to the upper floors for the firefighters to fight the fire.
These breeching inlets are to be visible from the Fire Engine Accessway.
Fire Access Panels (or openings)
For some building purpose groups, fire access panels or openings are required to be provided at maximum 20m apart along the facade facing the fire engine accessway.
The image below shows a section across the Fire Engine Accessway with the proximity to the various fire safety provisions mentioned above.
Pro Tips / How to Get Started
With all these concepts, I hope you have a head start in mastering the Fire Code in your architectural practice.
Some tips for you to get started:
- Read chapter by chapter - it takes a few rounds of reading to fully understand the concepts.
- Look through fire plans - see what is written and indicated legends on plans.
- Consult mentors when in doubt - you should check with them to clarify the clauses.
- Practice makes perfect - you need to go through a few rounds of fire plan submission to understand what is required for fire safety.
That's about it!
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