Monday 15 October 2007

No ladders big enough for a high-rise concrete jungle, say fire experts

AS Dublin city and county go 'high rise' there are fears that the Fire Brigade have been stranded on the ground floor. The emergency services are for the most part using fire tenders best suited to working in a low-rise Georgian landscape.

Forensic scientists who specialise in the causes of urban fires have privately raised fears about a host of safety issues, ranging from poor water pressure in the street-side hydrants, to fire brigade ladders that can no longer reach the top of Dublin's taller buildings.

With a raft of plans for impressive skyscrapers on the drawing boards experts say that equipment will have to be beefed up to cope with a new cityscape.

One of the new generation of skyscrapers is the 32-storey Heuston Gate Tower which will rise to 386 feet. The Watch Tower in the docklands, at 390 feet, will be another addition to the city's increasingly cloud-bound skyline.

"In taller buildings you can't get everybody out, you hold them above and below the fire. You won't be able to pump water up that height and what you do is, fight the fire from inside the building.

"If you have a 50-storey building you build features into it to deal with a fire. Features such as fire mains, and protected escape routes such as stairs and lift shafts," explains Colm Traynor, assistant Chief Fire Officer of Dublin Fire Brigade.

In the advent of a fire, those trapped on the upper floors out of the reach of ladders, would have to contend with the perils of smoke inhalation, and just hope that water can be pumped upwards to the site of the fire to extinguish the blaze.

"We have two turntable ladders in Dublin with a reach of 3O metres. However, in New York or London they don't have high-reach appliances to reach these buildings either," explains Colm Traynor.

An ongoing concern is the constant water outages in Dublin City, where the supply in entire districts can dry up to a mere trickle; a problem acknowledged by the Dublin Fire Brigade. Fire tenders normally only carry 300 gallons of water, which can be used up very quickly.

Another concern are gated apartments, which can pose a problem in emergencies. "There are some concerns there, it's something we need to keep an eye on -- but the City Council is looking at it."

Irish Independent

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