SR 10 on 10: Pankaj Dharkar, Former International President, Fire & Security Association of India (FSAI)

SR 10 on 10: Pankaj Dharkar, International President, Fire & Security Association of India (FSAI)

Mr Pankaj Dharkar is the Founder-President of a renowned MEP and Green Building Consulting Firm “PDA-Pankaj Dharkar& Associates,” that provides innovative and sustainable design solutions in the field of Building Engineering Services. During his rich experience of 40 years, he has successfully designed and coordinated more than 4000 projects of various applications such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals, educational institutes, hotels, restaurants, offices, shopping malls, software & biotech parks, data centers, diamond processing units, residential towers, banks, auditorium, studios, supermarket etc.

Currently, he is the National President Elect of FSAI (Fire and Security Association of India), after having been the National president for 3 years and Gujarat Chapter president for 6 years. He is also the Founder Member of the Indian chapter of CTBUH-Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. He has served on the board of several eminent engineering societies as a President, Secretary, Regional Director, Trustee, Co-Convener, Chairman, Co-chairman, Organiser etc. He was also associated with School of Building Science and Technology (CEPT) at Ahmedabad, as a visiting faculty. He is at present the National Chairman of the GEM council, the new Green Building Certification program by ASSOCHAM.

SR- What are the pre-requisites a developer must get for fire & security clearance? Are the requirements unified throughout the country?

Technically, a developer is supposed to take a pre-fire approval which is given when the plans are approved. Normally, it is expected that the applier must adhere to the regulations given in the latest National Building Code (NBC). But in our country, NBC is still a recommended code. The interpretation of NBC may differ in different states as there are minor variations applicable in different cities. Since it is not mandatory, the interpretation of each fire officer and the corporation team supersedes NBC in many cases.

SR- Regular audits are of utmost importance for less or no fallouts. What role does FSAI play in ensuring that such audits do take place?

FSAI has taken a very bold initiative as we have come up with FSAI Suraksha Index launched in September 2019. Under the initiative, we are doing case studies across the country on various types of buildings, be it residential or commercial. Like a green building certification, this index will tell us how much the building is safe and at what level. With this initiative, we are not only addressing fire but also safety and security. This is a one-of-a-kind system in the world that addresses fire, life safety, and security simultaneously.

Security is an important concern considering the crime incidences happening across the country particularly against women and children. The use of CCTV should not be seen as a measure to diagnose a crime but can proactively warn you. There are many modern tools and technology available today that predict and give signals in case of a threat as a preventive measure. We call it ‘Video and Analytics’. It is a new form of technology which is getting popular. With this rating system, the minimum level is for the Fire NOC and NBC certification. But we are trying to encourage people to try and go beyond the minimum level so that in the future, when you go to a restaurant you will know exactly whether the place is safe or not. Our dream is to put such a system in place that in future when a buyer goes to buy a house or a building, he should be able to ask the developer about the safety level of the building.

SR- When it comes to ensuring fire safety in buildings, what role do people staying there have to play? What they should and should not do to prevent accidents?

Firstly, it becomes their duty to ensure that the fire prevention system remains in order. They must ensure that a fire drill happens every month or bi-monthly so that the occupants remain aware of what must be done in case of fire from quick evacuation to how to operate the fire prevention systems. It must be understood by all occupants that the fire department could take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to reach the accident spot depending upon the traffic conditions. Therefore, the first fight has to be done by the occupants, and hence they must know how to operate the fire measures like an extinguisher or a hose that is put into place. If this is done properly, a lot of major accidents can be avoided since fire grows very fast and it’s the quickness of the initial response that determines the further course. The residents are the first line of defense and thus the response has to be prompt.

SR- What measures are taken by FSAI to increase awareness about security measures to be taken during a fire or other natural disasters?

The biggest initiative by FSAI is creating awareness among the masses through children. It is known as the ‘student initiative program’ under which we have reached almost 5 lakh students across the country with the help of the local fire departments. Under the initiative, our volunteers visit schools and teach the students about various safety measures one can take in the event of any fire. These young kids then act as our messengers to their parents. In fact, a few months back, a young girl in Mumbai saved almost 14 lives after getting trained by FSAI volunteers in her school. Another incident happened in Ahmedabad on Deepavali where all the senior members of the family got hurt but one young girl survived as she went to the bathroom and ran the shower.

We have also started with the ‘Fire and Life Safety Marathon’ in Pune and Chennai which we will expand to other cities as well in order to create awareness. The first few marathons have been attended by almost 6000 runners which will grow in the coming years. We are also conducting educational seminars for professionals like architects, builders, and designers, engineers, etc., in order to create awareness about the technicalities of fire safety measures.

SR- Our structures are changing but are the safety measures and regulations changing with that?

The National Building Code was revised in 2005 and again in 2016 and got implemented in late 2017. It is completely true that during this time, the structures of buildings have changed drastically. The heights are increasing and even the technology available to tackle fire is also developing. The government needs to revise the code as per the changing structural sizes and technology available every 3-5 years. Any code cannot be stationary as it is a continuous process.

We need to change our perspective towards designing the façade. the window-wall ratio should not be more than 40% which means there should not be not more than 40% glass, particularly on west and south wall.

SR- Buildings are often considered ‘energy guzzlers’? What are your tips for architects & engineers to effectively design the HVAC system in order to reduce the building’s energy consumption?

Currently, in India, the building sector consumes almost 32% of the national energy consumption. It is estimated that by 2030, the building energy consumption will cross 40%. Today even an affordable house is having at least one air conditioner. In the case of the middle and upper-middle class, it is one AC per room, putting together, which increases to 3-4 ACs per household. However, globally, India’s penetration in the air conditioning market is still low at about 4-5% while the developed world has about 60-70% and a country like China has surpassed 35%. In spite of the recession, currently, we are seeing a 15-20% growth in our HVAC sector every year. There is huge pressure on energy from the residential sector. As an HVAC consultant, we always try to encourage the developers and builders to follow the energy consumption building code in order to bring down the energy consumption by we need to change our perspective towards designing the façade. window-wall ratio should not be more than 40% which means there should not be not more than 40% glass, particularly on west and south wall.

Which materials you feel are highly unsafe for new age buildings and what could be the alternatives?

The fire in the Raghuvir Textile Market, Surat, is a classic example where the building envelope was quite flammable. Similar incidents have happened across the world where a lot of flammable materials are being used in the building envelopes and façade. Architects must carefully select and implement the façade materials as it is an area that has seen some nasty fires across the globe. Even the insulation materials of facade like Polyurethane, emit toxic gases when burnt and hence are hazardous to human life.

Most insulation apart from rigid glass wool is inflammable materials. I would say that almost 80% of the façade materials currently being used in the country could be flammable materials. Therefore, we need to change our perspective towards designing the façade. In fact, having an all-glass façade is also an energy guzzler. While we copy European design mindlessly, we fail to recognize its function. While in west, such a façade is used to bring sunlight and heat inside; in India, it is quite opposite. In fact, ECBC clearly states that the window-wall ratio should not be more than 40% which means there should not be not more than 40% glass, particularly on the west and south wall.

SR- What changes could be made in the existing architecture/engineering education curriculum for awareness about safety in the future generation?

There are 50 thousand architecture graduates every year. Still, there is no curriculum for fire safety while they are the people who must know fire bylaws of a building. Therefore, now FSAI has signed an MoU with Council of Architecture wherein we are developing a curriculum containing all the necessary education. Once it is accepted and modules are cleared, it will be taught as a compulsory subject to all architecture students.

Similarly, in engineering colleges, we are developing chapters. We currently have 21 engineering colleges where we have chapters. Fire and life safety are not taught in Engineering course, so we are trying to create interest among students as we need a lot of engineers to join this field and help create a ‘Surakshit Bharat’. In Bhartiya Vidyapeeth, Pune we have created a laboratory for engineering students where they get hands down training of various systems. We have plans that wherever we have chapters, we train our future generation right from college.

To me, the Green Building awareness has not even taken shape in the country. Today we have three certification programmes, USGBC, IGBC and GRIHA. A total of 6000 buildings are registered out of which, 2500 are certified buildings.

SR- With much stress on Green buildings, what changes do you see in construction & design in five years?

To me, the Green Building awareness has not even taken shape in the country. The first Green Building movement started way back in 2001-2003 with CII and USGBC coming together and today we have three certification programs; USGBC, IGBC, and GRIHA. With these three organizations, a total of 6000 buildings are registered out of which, 2500 are certified buildings. We are now starting a fourth movement called ASSOCHAM-GEM. ASSOCHAM has 4.50 lakh members. In order to create awareness among our members, we have taken this initiative. The current Chairman of ASSOCHAM is also a developer, Mr Niranjan Hiranandani who is well connected in the building construction industry and I am sure, with his support we will be able to create awareness in this segment which I personally feel has huge potential.

SR- Any other message you would like to share with our readers?

I would like to say that the Swachch Bharat movement has taken shape in India and a lot of awareness is getting created about Green buildings and water consumption in buildings. On similar lines, all of us need to work towards creating a ‘Surakshit Bharat,’ which is the need of the hour in terms of fire safety, life safety, women safety, etc. It is necessary for building a great future for our future generations.

Read more- 10-on-10 with Ram Vanji Sutar

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