Busan High-rise Fire Sends Urgent Warning

      October 04, 2010 13:50

      A jet stream of water from an ordinary fire engine can reach up only 15 stories, while a ladder from a fire truck can reach only 18 floors. At present, there are no measures to deal with fires in buildings higher than that. In Seoul alone, there are 120 high-rise condominiums and 76 apartments that are 31 stories or higher. People living in those buildings must have had an unpleasant wake-up call when they saw a huge fire travel quickly up a portion of a 38-story residential building in Busan on Friday.

      It took just 20 minutes for the blaze that started at a trash collection site on the fourth floor to travel up to the 38th floor. The building's concrete body was covered with aluminum panels for aesthetic effect, filled with glass fiber for insulation and coated with flammable paint causing the flames to spread upward quickly. One resident living on the 15th floor did not even know there was a fire until 45 minutes after it started. Fire alarms failed to go off, and there were no emergency broadcasts warning residents to evacuate.

      Firefighters who arrived at the scene three minutes after the blaze was reported apparently sat idly by waiting for instructions from their superiors as residents urged them to break the glass covering the concrete body of the building and pour water into it. Staff at the apartment's management office also failed to act quickly, saying they needed to get authorization from their boss.

      Skyscrapers are springing up left, right and center in Korea, including a second Lotte World building, the DMC Landmark in Sangam-dong, and a high-rise office building in Yongsan in Seoul, as well as the Incheon Tower and the Busan World Business Center. They must be equipped with fail-safe fire extinguishing and alarm systems. It is especially important to create evacuation spaces in between floors. An entire floor should be set aside for evacuation in case of fire and those spaces should be equipped with emergency elevators made of non-flammable materials. High-pressure fire extinguishers should be set up as well. And an emergency stairway connecting the lobby to the roof should also be installed.

      The 160-story Burj Khalifa in Dubai is equipped with a fire safety zone every 25 floors, while the Taipei 101 has one every eight floors. The Shanghai World Financial Center (101 stories) and the Jin Mao Tower (88 stories) also in that city are equipped with evacuation zones every 20 floors. The National Assembly's Public Administration and Safety Committee last month passed a special law stipulating the construction of evacuation floors in high-rise buildings, but it applies only to structures higher than 50 stories. The government set up an ordinance requiring the construction of fire-safety zones every 30 floors, but since standards and procedures have yet to be created, the ordinance is useless.

      The fire in the Busan condominium sends a warning to all high-rise buildings in the country that are vulnerable to fire hazards in the absence of effective fire-prevention and fighting measures.

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