Fire risk rising as cities grow taller

Updated: 2011-06-30 07:34

By Cao Yin and Zhao Yinan (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The nation's fast-growing inventory of high-rise buildings coupled with its lack of firefighters have combined to challenge China's ability to manage its fire risk, the minister of public security said on Wednesday.

Fire risk rising as cities grow taller
Firefighters participate in a firefighting competition on Tuesday in Dazu county, Chongqing municipality. [Luo Guojia / for China Daily]

The number of high-rise buildings in China and the length of its subways have doubled since 2007, Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu told lawmakers while presenting a report on fire control on Wednesday.

And he said more than half of the country's major fires took place in crowded locations.

Meng said China now has 275,000 high-rise buildings and 2,377 skyscrapers that are taller than 100 meters, as well as more than 1,020 kilometers of subways.

Some 3,300 fires broke out in high-rise buildings between 2008 and 2010, resulting in a direct economic loss of about 600 million yuan ($92.8 million), according to information released by the ministry.

A high-rise building is defined as one with more than 10 floors or that is higher than 24 meters.

Currently, Beijing has 555 fire engines, including 38 with scaling ladders, and more than 7,300 fire fighters, according to statistics from the municipal fire prevention bureau.

Fire risk rising as cities grow taller

"Fires in tall buildings are a huge challenge all over the world, not only in China," said Xia Chunlei, a press officer from the city's fire control authority.

He said the capital has the most advanced fire engine, with a 101-meter ladder, but it cannot meet the challenge posed by the fast development of tall buildings that are more than 300 meters.

Among thousands of skyscrapers in the country, at least 46 are taller than 300 meters and more are under construction, said Du Lanping, chief engineer with the fire control bureau under the Ministry of Public Security.

Quan Jingjiu, a manager responsible for security in a large office building in the capital, told China Daily that it is hard in such a huge high-rise to organize fire drills because workers are from many different companies.

The building, which has 22 floors, is about 60 meters high. Managers have installed smoke detectors in each room and ensured that there is a sprinkler for every eight square meters, he said.

"I participated in firefighting training and told workers in the building how to use the extinguishers," he said.

But he said the difficulty in arranging mass fire drills is a problem.

"So, all we can do is to check firefighting equipment in each office each month," he said.

To solve such challenges, Kang Qingchun, a professor who specializes in fire control research at the Chinese People's Armed Police Force Academy, said it is important for relevant departments to establish a regulation to ask officers working in skyscrapers to take part in the drills, because it is related to their life and safety.

"In addition, residents in high-rise buildings should know their escape routes and how to save themselves, instead of relying on firefighters," he said.

After all, even the most advanced fire prevention equipment cannot keep up with the fast pace of urbanization, he add.

Kang said the most important thing to do is ensure ordinary people are aware of firefighting and fire prevention.


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