Houses and condominiums in Singapore are mostly made of concrete and steel. Wood is used only for doors and windows and the structures themselves only have few things that are flammable. However, this doesn’t mean that they are totally immune from fire. As a matter of fact, condominium fires are quite common in Singapore, although most of them are put out before they can cause much damage.
Tall buildings like condominiums have two approaches to fire safety: fire suppression and evacuation. Fire suppression means minimising the chances of fire and, in case a fire does break out, preventing it from spreading. Evacuation means ensuring that the occupants can quickly and safely escape if a fire goes out of control. Both approaches are equally important.
One of the basic fire suppression tactics employed by condominium designers is compartmentalisation; not just in Singapore but everywhere in the world. This involves separating the condos with thick walls and fire-resistant liners so as to make it difficult for fire to spread from one condo to another. This is the reason you don’t often hear of condominium buildings gutted by fire.
Compartmentalisation works well enough most of the time. Only a very small percentage of condo fires spread to adjacent condos. But when it fails, as it can happen sometimes, the result can be catastrophic. There are several ways it can happen. Water pipes and power ducts might penetrate the walls. If they are not well insulated, they can easily catch fire.
But whatever fire suppression techniques are used, no condo can be totally safe from fire. Every condo is filled with flammable materials like wooden furniture, carpets, curtains and clothes. All of these can easily catch fire if one not careful. It just takes a gas stove with a leaking pipe, a carelessly thrown cigarette butt in the bedroom, or an unattended burning candle on the table to start a fire.
Carelessness by occupants is the major cause of condominium fires. People often store combustible materials inside their condos or in the corridors. This is the reason the Singapore Civil Defense Force fire safety guidelines prohibit the storage of combustible materials along common corridors. Shoe racks are allowed, but there must be an escape passage of at least 1.2 metres.
There are hundreds of condominium fires in Singapore every year. The reason you do not get to hear about most of them is that they do not get to grow large enough to cause much damage. However, to the owners of the condo, no fire is too small. Even a small fire can damage the property and cause injuries. Therefore, you just can’t be complacent about fire safety features incorporated in the building.
Since fires can break out anytime, you must always be ready for it. Even you are extra careful, there is no guarantee that your neighbours will be. So, make sure that a fire alarm and a home fire extinguisher are installed on every floor of your condominium building and that they are in proper working order. To ensure that they will not fail you when you need them the most, have them replaced every five years.