Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Fico fire spurs sprinkler law for over 1,000 old buildings

City Hall will draft an ordinance demanding that more than 1,000 old buildings in Bangkok install sprinklers to prevent a recurrence of the fire that engulfed the upper floors of the Fico Place building on Saturday.
Forensic workers inspect the fire-ravaged Fico Place building on Asok Road and collect evidence to determine the cause of the blaze. SOMCHAI POOMLARD
Like the 33-year-old Fico Place, the high-rises were built before the enforcement of the 1992 Building Safety Control Act.
It demands that owners install adequate sprinklers, to help prevent fires from spreading to other floors, Deputy Bangkok Governor Teerachon Manomaiphibul said yesterday.
The blaze which started on the seventh floor of the 13-storey building moved quickly to the upper floors due mainly to inflammable interior materials and the lack of a sprinkler system.
Mr Teerachon said the city council will be asked to consider a draft of a new city ordinance which will require tall buildings that were built before 1992 to comply with the 1992 Building Safety Control Act.
Before it is enforced, however, city officials will ask for cooperation from the owners of buildings more than five storeys high to install sprinklers.
Many of the buildings are located in Bangkok business areas, including Silom and Yaowarat roads, he said.
A building safety adviser, however, cautioned that it would be difficult to upgrade old structures to comply with the building safety demand.
Chollachai Thammaviwatanukul, an adviser to the Building Safety Inspectors and Officers Association, said it was not only technically difficult to install a sprinkler system in an old building but also likely to be expensive.
"It's quite difficult, particularly for a building that is being used, to have a sprinkler system installed as the system must comprise a source of water, water pump, pipes and sprinkler heads, all of which are not easy to install in existing buildings," Mr Chollachai said.
A possible alternative would be a smoke detector system with links to the property management unit, internet or mobile phone network.
It can detect smoke and raise the alarm within five minutes.
Dexter Norville, director of property and asset management at Jones Lang LaSalle, said he agreed with City Hall's initiative because safety should come first. While upgrading was technically possible, a big investment might be required, particularly for buildings where it is difficult to include more fire safety features such as a sprinkler system, he said.
The government must be prepared to provide help to building owners to make the upgrading possible.
For example, the government could provide technical assistance and arrange low-interest loans for those building owners willing to comply with the new rule, he said.
Experts from the Engineering Institute of Thailand (EIT) yesterday inspected damage at Fico Place to determine whether the building is still safe to use.
The fire-ravaged structure has been declared off-limits to people pending an inspection by experts.
Speaking before the inspection, Thanet Wirasiri, the EIT's secretary-general, said usually a building's structure is safe if it is not on fire for more than four hours. Firemen took about two hours to douse the flames at the Fico Place building on Saturday.
Meanwhile, police are investigating the cause of the blaze. They are looking into electrical faults and human-related causes, Thong Lor police chief Pol Col Ratthasak Raksalam said.
An initial inspection found electrical wiring on the seventh floor had been replaced before the fire broke out.