This is a case study on an actual fire accident that happened in July 2008, in a small office premise in Chennai.
The fire occurred at about 10:30 PM. The duty staff comprised only two security guards and a security supervisor. This was in view of the cost reduction drive. It is doubtful whether a larger duty staff would have helped in this case.
The building consisted of:
- A basement housing some meeting rooms, storage spaces, the utility controls and the security control room with fire panel, CCTV etc.
- A raised ground floor with offices, customer service counter and kiosks.
- First floor with offices, meeting rooms and server room.
The fire was attributed to a short-circuit in the Fan Coil Unit (FCU) of a split air-conditioning unit located within a kiosk in the front end of the building.
The FCU was mounted on to the partition wall made of commercial marine plywood. The fire from the FCU spread onto the wooden partitions, that accelerated the burning and helped in spreading the fire further.
The other views of the worst affected areas in the vicinity of the fire indicates the intensity of the heat generated.
The actual burning down of the most affected area took less than 15 minutes. The local fire brigade reached the scene within 12 minutes of the fire alert and started the fire-fighting.
The fire then spread above the false ceiling, through cable trays and the ventilation ducts. Some of the damages above the false ceiling and soot stains near ventilation louvers are shown in the images given below.
The customer service areas were totally devastated by the fire and could not be used till they were re-built. The other areas were also affected due to smoke stains, water logging, doubt on integrity of the electrical circuits, no data connectivity etc.
The interiors were rebuilt in 12 weeks time and put back in use. The ground floor cabling was completely renewed, all the ducts were internally cleaned, and all the affected furniture replaced. In the other areas, everything was inspected for damage and only essential items were replaced or repaired.
- Large number of structural glazing panels had cracked due to the intense heat and were replaced.
- Water sprayed into the electrical room during the fire fighting phase had entered the UPS. The two UPSs had to be shipped to the OEM for testing and overhaul.
- All the carpets had to be written off due to water logging and soot staining.
- Many computers and peripherals in the ground floor were damaged due to extreme heat and water ingress.
- About 25% of the furniture had to replaced and the balance had to be repaired.
- One staircase, in the vicinity of the fire had to be tested for structural integrity since a steel channel was found to have distorted due to extreme heat. The affected steel channel was replaced.
- 100% data cables were replaced due to partial burning of a few bunches.
- The server room went through a deep cleaning due to water logging under the false floor and some ingress of water into the racks during the fire fighting.
Business Continuity Plan (BCP)
The robust BCP helped the premise user in shifting their operations almost seamlessly to their alternative locations within 24 hours. The client servicing was also not very badly affected.
The premise had a comprehensive insurance cover and helped in recovering the cost of refurbishing the premise to its original state.
Fires can happen from very minor faults and cause much damage to assets and property. We need to take precaution against the occurrence of fire rather than regretting later. Proper inspection and maintenance of all electrical installations, cleaning of electrical contacts, premises cleanliness, pest control (particularly rodent control), and a disciplined work force will all go a long way in avoiding fire accidents.