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5 Key Lessons from the Fatal 2014 Marina Bay Suites Fire

Picture taken from Google Map

The evening of 13 January 2014, two security staff lost their lives while investigating what was thought to be a false alarm on the 65th floor of the high-rise Marina Bay Suites. They took the fireman’s lift up and upon reaching the level, the pair were met with thick smoke and raging flames. Worse still, the lift malfunctioned, causing them to be trapped inside and unable to close the lift doors. Regrettably, these deaths were due to a combination of factors and could have been prevented. According to reports, the cigarette butts and other flammable materials that were left at the lift lobby, which was under renovation, were most likely to have started the fire.

This raises some pressing concerns: Why were there cigarette butts in a non-smoking area? Why was the fire alarm dismissed as a false alarm? Why was the fireman lift not grounded when the fire alarm was triggered as per fire safety regulations?

5 Key Insights

1. Don’t discard trash or lighted materials in common areas ⁠— embers can smoulder for some time before erupting into flames.

Picture taken from SCDF Case Study: Marina Bay Suites Fire

Negligent and inconsiderate actions like discarding flammable items carelessly can increase the likelihood of mishaps that end in tragedy. The incident report states that a trash bag containing sawdust, a cigarette packet and cigarette butts was found at the scene. The flammable nature of the sawdust and other trash items provided “ignition fuel” for the embers from the cigarette butts, the “ignition source.” The danger posed by smouldering fires may not be immediately obvious, but it should not be ignored. Embers can smoulder for a long time before flames are detected. According to the SCDF, “Do not underestimate the destruction that could be caused by embers of lighted materials.”

2. Every fire alarm has to be treated as a real threat until further investigation proves otherwise.

Although the fire alarm system at Marina Bay Suites had a history of false alarms, according to the SCDF, “every fire alarm must be treated with utmost caution and we must be vigilant in our approach when investigating such cases.” This advice extends to every individual in a building, be it staff or the general public. Take responsibility for your personal safety and familiarise yourself with basic emergency protocols — it could save your life and those of many others.

3. The fireman’s lift will be grounded when a fire alarm is triggered and can only be operated by fire-fighters.

Picture taken from SCDF Case Study: Marina Bay Suites Fire

Equipped with a back-up power supply, the fireman’s lift or fire lift is programmed to be grounded when a fire alarm is activated. Only through the fireman's switch can SCDF fire-fighters operate the lift for fire-fighting purposes and special evacuation cases. In this case, the fireman’s lift did not remain grounded but malfunctioned at a critical moment, trapping the security staff in that fatal situation. To prevent such tragedies from recurring, it is crucial to ensure that every fireman’s lift is duly serviced and maintained so that they are operationally ready for emergencies. Also, it is important for everyone to be educated on the function and protocol of this fire safety feature.

4. Always use the stairs to evacuate during a fire, not the lift.

In a fire-related emergency, instead of rushing to the lifts, always evacuate by the stairs, often indicated as emergency exits. Lifts can become a hazard on their own as their operations can be affected by fluctuations in the power supply or malfunctions. In this case, had the staff managed to get out of the lift and to the emergency exit on their right, it could have been a safer route.

5. Head to a refuge floor if you are on a very high floor when a fire breaks out.

Picture taken from SCDF Case Study: Marina Bay Suites Fire

As more high-rise buildings emerge, it becomes harder for occupants of higher floors to evacuate to the ground floor. Thus, refuge floors have been introduced as secure locations within the building structure. They are usually designed as sky-gardens that are “naturally ventilated and are made of fire-resistant materials.” Look for the sign, “Fire Emergency Holding Area,” “displayed inside the staircase and on the wall immediately outside the staircase at the refuge floor.” The increased accessibility of these levels, some are even connected to other blocks, facilitates evacuation and the fire-fighting process.

In terms of fire protection, prevention, and precaution, the Marina Bay Suites Fire has demonstrated how fire safety standards need to be taken seriously and held to professional standards at all times. Every individual, from the management to the staff, and the public, should know the basics of fire safety. Such awareness and preparation, although sometimes tedious and time-consuming, are necessary to prevent as many emergencies as possible and to equip us to deal with those we cannot avoid.

Committed to establishing Fire Safety for All, BSE will continue to raise our standards and educate our clients and the public in order to keep our community safe.




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