During the recent Muscat Safety Design in Buildings Conference, Gulf Fire took the opportunity to speak with panellist and speaker: Wail Almuhrzi, Managing Director of Aman Fire Protection Consultants, on his background and the changed approval processes by the Omani Civil Defence.
Gulf Fire: So tell us about yourself. How did you get into fire safety?
Wail: I’m originally a civil engineer. I attended Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat, but then I did my Master’s degree in Fire Safety Engineering in the U.K., at the University of Central Lancashire.
After graduating, I decided not to work as a civil engineer, and I got my training at a Danish company here in Oman, called COWI, as a Fire Safety Engineer.
At the beginning of my career, I was working on one of the biggest projects here, the Muscat International and Salalah Airports, and it inspired me to go for my Master’s Degree in fire engineering. After that, I started my company and it grew from there. We went from two engineers to, now, twenty-five engineers, with our head office in Oman and branches in UAE and Saudi.
Here, in Oman, we have been contracted with the civil defense to deliver training sessions in accordance with the NFPA and other practical training to inspect and test fire protection systems. Each training session accommodates more than thirty officers, and we do practical training for fire protection systems and on using testing kit equipment.
One of the main challenges when it comes to fire safety in buildings, from the point of view of the Civil Defense, is when a developer doesn’t begin the dialogue until the end of his design stage. At that point, it is more difficult to ask them to change the layout after the architectural design of the structure is completed. It’s not easy to go to someone and ask him to go back and change it, and that’s a challenge for the consultant. The question is, why wasn’t it brought out earlier?
A big challenge the Civil Defense is having is that a lot of contractor, suppliers and consultants working in the market are not up-to-date with what civil defense does. The difficulty is when everyone comes to them and says, ‘this is what we have now, you have to accept it because we cannot go back and change it.’ They offer to do mitigations, but that doesn’t solve the issues and doesn’t improve the safety. So, I would say that a conference like this helps to update the people on exactly what Civil Defense requirements and recent updates. It helps us a lot to educate the people and share the knowledge that we have.
The civil defense has a number of resources for plan review and inspection and these sources are busy all the time with their tasks, so when someone comes to Civil Defense without a proper assessment of his project, he shouldn’t expect Civil Defense to do the task for him.
Then there is the lack of providing supporting documents that the building is constructed in accordance with applicable codes and standards. Having people going to Civil Defense with a letter stating that everything complies with the codes is not enough; it needs to be supported with a report that demonstrates that they have a record of completion, stating what they have installed in the project with inspection records. It’s not just about doing the paperwork. You need someone who is very confident and qualified, and can come into their offices and present the project clearly.
Gulf Fire: Are you saying that there is a lack of communication and not an understanding of the process?
Wail: Correct, there are a lot of people who are doing things that they are not supposed to do, and the Civil Defense is targeting these people to improve them and provide more guidance on how they can make their projects better by involving the proper engineers.
So, for example, you have a multidisciplinary firm. They have mechanical engineers and electrical engineers, but they don’t have Fire Engineers. So thinking that they are doing the right thing doesn’t help.
It’s like having an architect working on interior finishes. When I look at it as the Fire Engineer, I will ask about the wall ceiling finishes, for flame- and smoke-development impacted by the interior finishes, for example; things they would not think about.
Gulf Fire: Do you think the building owners and developers have a responsibility to ensure that they have Fire Engineers in the design company they engage?
Wail: Yes, that’s one of the most important things that the developer or the owner of the buildings can do. They have to hire someone on their behalf, directly under their project manager.
Sometimes, when the specialist contractor hires the fire consultants, not everything goes to the owner or the developer. A lot of things are being filtered. The specialist contractor have a bias in the contractual negotiations that don’t allow the developer to cover everything with the Fire Consultant, and the result is that a lot of corners are being cut and not communicated properly, especially when it comes to limitations that will be applicable as a result of that cut..
Gulf Fire: What is the collaboration between the Civil Defense Departments across the G.C.C?
Wail: There is a committee that sits together and tries to coordinate codes and standards. This committee has a GCC Conference, where they come with new suggestions and areas of discussion. Another development seen in the U.A.E. is countries having their own code, something called the U.A.E. Fire code; and in Saudi, they have a Saudi building code. Each country is trying to develop their own standards, but they have one overall GCC standard.
Now, I’m sitting on the committee for the Oman building codes, and we are working on the development of an updated Fire code.
Gulf Fire: What is the future of fire engineering in the region, what are the current programs at Universities?
Wail: We work closely with the universities, and we sit on the committee for the ICEM colleges here. As a Fire Consultancy, we have a responsibility to take trainees from the universities and educate them. We work hard to convince the university to develop a program on fire engineering, and there is now a course available to the students as part of the architectural department. There are really only a few good universities around the world that actually teach fire safety or fire protection field; you can probably count them on two hands. There is needs to be an initiative to encourage universities to make these courses a part of the curriculum.
We also work heavily in oil and gas, and we have done more than ten mega projects in this field within the last year. Projects in oil and gas are not primarily about life safety, but are concerned more with the protection and containment of fire, and how to reduce the damage to the adjacent areas, to the whole, or to the adjacent property. Life safety is not difficult to be maintained in the design because. In these projects, there is not a large number of employees. Most of it is machines and equipment are automated but challenges present with the type of hazards. Also the response time for these facility are not critical like buildings where there is occupants.
I care about people trapped inside an apartment building at 2 a.m. Occupants will need to evacuate the building immediately or civil defense has evacuated the people, or rescues those trapped inside, so time is very critical compared to an oil and gas installation. But with oil and gas, if a fire developed in a tank, it would take a long time to extinguish and loss of life is not the primary concern. Civil Defense has a department that deals with hazardous materials and they have another department that deals with industrial projects, both working together and doing a very good job looking after the oil and gas projects.
Gulf Fire: What other countries are you active in?
Wail: Right now, we are active in Saudi, as well as in Abu Dhabi, and we have clients coming to us from Iran, Iraq and Kuwait.
Gulf Fire: Wail, thank you very much for your time and for sharing your thoughts with the readership of Gulf Fire magazine.
Top image: Safety Design in Buildings Expert Panel Discussion on Omani civil defence preliminary drawing requirements featuring: Wail Almuhrzi, Dr. Mirza Ahmed, NOMAD, Andy Dean Head of Façade Engineering, WSP, Elie Ghoussoub Principal Consultant, WSP, and Altaf Afridi Deputy VP Marketing, dormakaba.
For more information, go to www.safetydesigninbuildings.com