Scenario 2 – A case of fire
In early Feb 2008, late in the night, messages and calls regarding a fire raging in one of our small premises started pouring in. Response to the emergency calls brought all the stakeholders to the site in good time, but the damage was already done. Flames were seen in the basement, raised ground floor and first floor of the building.
Only a small on site team was available during non-working hours and could not fight or contain the fire. The city fire brigade had to fight the fire and douse it.
The front portion of the raised ground floor and adjacent areas in the basement and first floor were fully burnt and charred. The flame and smoke had travelled through the above the false roof space and through ventilation ducts, thus damaging the electrical cabling in the ground floor front portion fully and the basement and first floor partially.
The consequential damages were due to smoke entering many areas and blackening the paint and suspected heating of cables due to flames travelling over the false ceilings. Water pumped into the premise to fight the fire had entered equipment such as UPSs, electrical switch gear, Package AC units etc. The water found its way into the basement under gravity and stagnated there causing damage to the gypsum board partitions, carpets etc.
Some of the toughened glass had cracked and broken and aluminium structures had buckled due to intense heat. Wooden partitions in the front of the building were fully burnt.
A few of the electrical DB circuit breakers were found to be still in “Switched on” position even after suffering system down stream damage.
After a forensic analysis, the cause of the fire was suggested to be a short-circuit within the fan coil unit (FCU) of a split AC feeding one small enclosure in the front of the building. This enclosure and the adjacent areas were made of marine plywood. The FCU body seemed to have burnt first, then spread onto the wooden partitions and got further propagated through the live electrical cables, space above the false ceilings and the ventilation ducts.
There were only two security guards on duty at night – as part of manpower and cost reduction. The guard in the front of the building had not noticed any sign of smoke or fire in the concerned area. The guard manning the fire panel in the basement at the rear had seen the alarm panel being activated and rushed to the front portion of the building. By the time he reached the fire had already spread and the CO2 extinguishers kept in the vicinity was not enough to fight the fire.
Actions taken to avoid recurrence
The frequency of inspection and testing of all FCUs was increased, with specific instructions to check for electrical connection tightness, charred or age hardened cable insulation, signs of overheating etc.
Since these actions were carried out by third-party AMC vendors, the supervision of these jobs was marked as a critical activity.
All wooden partitions were replaced with fire-proof Bison boards.
Please await the Part 4 of this series