Burning issues: Professor Paul Pang talks about fire-safety installations and measures needed to safeguard buildings in case of fire
The occupant of a flat has the right to ask the property management office for proof if the complex is built and run by reputable developers and management companies
Professor Paul Pang Tat-choi, the past chairman of the fire and structural divisions of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), discusses fire-safety installations and measures needed for buildings.
What fire-safety installations are required for buildings or houses?
For residential buildings, the most important installations are the fire hydrant and hose reel. There should be sufficient hydrants and hose reels on each floor to ensure every part of the building can be reached by not more than 30 metres of the hose. If it is a high-rise, in addition to a fire hydrant, hose reel and a fire-service tank system, [a building is required by Hong Kong’s fire-safety code to have an] emergency generator, emergency lighting, exit signs, fire alarm system, fireman’s lift and a portable hand-operated approved appliance. For buildings of more than three storeys, the requirements include fire alarm systems, fire hydrants and hose reels, and portable hand-operated approved appliances. No specific fire services installation is required for single family houses not exceeding three storeys high, including New Territories Exempted Houses. It is recommended that owners install and maintain portable fire extinguishers.
How do I know if the building I live in complies with the fire safety code? What if it doesn’t?
It is difficult for an occupant without professional knowledge to know if a building complies fully with the fire safety code. The occupant of a flat has the right to ask the property management office for proof if the complex is built and run by reputable developers/management companies. The owner’s corporation is legally required to carry out and regularly review fire risk assessments of the premises with the help of a registered fire services installation contractor, who is also authorised to do a compliance check on installations. A certificate will be issued and signed by the contractor once it is shown that the premises comply with the fire-safety code. If the check involves the building layout, such as means of escape, means of access for fire fighting, fire doors, unauthorised building works [among others], then the job must be carried out by an authorised person registered under the Buildings Ordinance.
What is fire engineering?
Fire engineering is the holistic application of science and engineering principles to protect people, premises and content of a property from fire hazards. Application of fire modelling, engineering performance-based fire codes, hazard assessment and fire safety management are all factored in. Fire engineering design offers a flexible alternative wherever impracticable to comply with prescriptive provisions in the fire safety code, especially when designing for special or large and complex buildings, such as a shopping mall, MTR structures, airport terminal buildings, or alteration and additions in existing buildings. The aim is to provide an overall level of safety equivalent to that which would result if fire safety was achieved through full compliance with the prescriptive provisions of the relevant codes of practice. The building management office must also ensure that it has a fire safety management and incident response plan in place, including regular fire drills, training for staff on evacuation, fire escape routes, and so forth. There are a number of fire engineers and consultants specialised in this profession in
What safety advice would you give on the use of appliances or electronic devices?
Choose appliances made by reputable brands. Don’t overload sockets. Plugging too many electrical appliances into one socket can cause overheating. Follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions for the use of appliances or electronic devices. Don’t use devices that have exceeded life expectancy and pay attention to wear and tear. Anyone buying a second-hand home that comes with appliances should commission a registered electrician to ensure that no electrical installations, including sockets, fuse boxes and trunkings, have been altered illegally. A certificate will be issued and signed by the registered electrician on completion of such an inspection.