Guarding against a Grenfell-like disaster in Singapore

Guarding against a Grenfell-like disaster in Singapore

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) on Tuesday (Jun 27) said it maintains a high standard of fire safety for all buildings, but in the wake of a London inferno believed to have killed 79, experts suggested there could be room to make further enhancements.

The 24-storey Grenfell Tower was gutted by fire on Jun 14, with the residential block’s newly installed cladding - or facade coating - suspected to have aided in the blaze’s intensity and impact.

An SCDF spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia the number of fire fatalities per 100,000 population in Singapore is “among the lowest in the world”, backed by “strict” enforcement of a Fire Code - last reviewed in 2013 - to ensure the safety of occupants in buildings.

“The Fire Code mandates stringent fire safety standards for construction materials and cladding used in all buildings,” said SCDF. “Flammable materials are not allowed to be used as cladding, and construction materials must not allow fire to spread along the material’s surface when ignited.”

“These materials must also undergo testing by accredited laboratories to ensure product integrity and compliance.”

“Specifically for cladding materials, testing is required to be conducted annually,” added the emergency services provider.

SCDF also noted that registered architects and engineers are required to submit building plans to them for approval. The building works must be inspected and endorsed by a registered professional before occupancy.

While praising SCDF’s “detailed” regulations for building fire safety, Professor Richard Liew of the National University of Singapore’s civil and environmental engineering department noted that modern high-rise buildings are being built in more complex ways which introduce potential fire risks that need to be assessed.

“For example, the concave structure is currently typical of building facades in architectural design, but it increases the flame spread rate increases,” he explained. “In addition, window glass facades, as the weakest part of a building, may break easily when subject to a fire, significantly accelerating fire spread.”

At least 79 people died in the Grenfell Tower inferno on June 14, 2017
The Grenfell Tower inferno pictured on June 14, 2017. (Photo: AFP/Natalie OXFORD)


When it comes to HDB buildings, every residential apartment is designed as a fire compartment to prevent the spread of fire to adjacent units, said SCDF.

“The fire-rated entrance door, walls and floors of each unit act as effective fire barriers. Common corridors, lift landings and staircases in HDB residential buildings are designed to have open ventilation for smoke dispersal. This is a key design feature of our fire safety measures.”

However, architect and fire safety engineer Chan Kok Way observed that HDB flats are not equipped with fire alarms or sprinkler systems.

The fire safety expert, who’s registered with the SCDF, suggested a bi-annual fire drill to be conducted for HDB residents. Prof Liew concurred, highlighting the importance of making residents familiar with evacuation paths along with prevention and suppression methods as well as the proper use of fire-fighting devices.

SCDF meanwhile explained the measures to be taken in the event of a home fire.

“First, everyone should have a home fire extinguisher to put out small fires. Should the fire escalate and smoke starts to fill up the room, evacuate to safety in an orderly manner and call 995. Do not use the lift,” said the spokesperson.

“It is important to keep the common spaces and exit staircases free of obstruction to facilitate evacuation. Members of the public should report any potential fire hazards to the SCDF.”

“A regular check (on common areas) should be conducted,” Prof Liew proposed. “To ensure no obstruction to firefighting efforts and smooth evacuation in a fire emergency.”

Source: CNA/jo