SINGAPORE - From as early as December 2017, International Plaza in Anson Road had begun reviewing the adequacy of its fire safety measures which had not been extensively upgraded since it was constructed in 1976.
These upgrading works, such as replacing emergency lighting and fire exit signs across all of the commercial and residential building's 50 storeys, is estimated to cost about $200,000.
But the building's general manager N. Dev Raj said the management is happy to do so to keep its occupants of up to 6,000 safe.
"We recognise that this building is more than 40 years old, which is a significant age," he said on Wednesday (July 10), adding that maintenance is one of the management's top priorities.
These upgrades have come in timely, as proposed legislation tabled in Parliament on Monday to amend the Fire Safety Act would soon require around 500 buildings - including International Plaza -to install critical fire safety features to keep up with the latest Fire Code.
These buildings have been identified so far based on their age as they were built before the 1991/2002 Fire Code, as well as their occupancy load and profile of their occupants.
For International Plaza, six fire safety features have been identified for mandatory upgrading by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) during consultations with the building management earlier this month.
As the building management had begun its own upgrading works even before meeting the SCDF, two of these six features had already been enhanced in the past 12 months - the exit signs and emergency lights.
Upgrading works for another three features - the fire alarm system, fire hose reel and fire extinguishers - will be completed by December, said Mr Raj.
The remaining fire safety feature involves the installation of two protective staircases that lead outside of the building. This would prove to be a challenging task due to the building's layout, he added.
The SCDF had earlier said that while these buildings, including International Plaza, remain fire-safe, installing the additional upgrades would further enhance the safety of their occupants.
Hence, flexibility will be exercised on a case-by-case basis and alternative solutions or time extensions may be granted to allow building owners to meet the requirements, the SCDF added.
Mr Raj said International Plaza's building management will engage a Qualified Person (QP) to submit proposals on how it can meet the final requirement.
Another building that would be required to update its fire safety features is the Ling Kwang Home for Senior Citizens, which was built in 1983 and was compliant with the 1982 Fire Code.
The nursing home in Serangoon began upgrading works about two weeks ago to install walls and fire-rated doors to separate exit staircases from the occupied areas of the buildings, as well as to create areas of refuge for occupants, especially those with mobility issues.
The upgrading works will be completed by the end of the year, and will cost the nursing home, which has around 300 residents, about $200,000.
These upgrades are a necessary step for such buildings to keep up with the latest developments in fire safety, said consulting engineer Chong Kee Sen, who was the former president of The Institution of Engineers, Singapore.
He added that while there have been significant cases of fires in Singapore, it is not widespread nor atypical compared with other countries.
"So it's not that our standards are low and we're trying to catch up, but it's just a natural progression as a developed city," he said.
Among the other proposed amendments to the Fire Safety Act in Monday's Bill are new offences to prosecute suppliers or contractors who use or cause the use of non-compliant fire safety products or materials in buildings.
Under the proposed offences, those who knowingly use or cause the use of such materials may be fined $100,000 and face a jail term of up to two years, while those who negligently use or cause the use of such materials may be fined $50,000 if no harm was caused.
The creation of such offences is necessary as it would close the gap in current legislation, which stipulates that building owners can be prosecuted for such offences, said Mr Chong.
Another key proposal in the Fire Safety (Amendment) Bill is to enable the SCDF to outsource routine inspections and enforcement to authorised third parties, such as auxiliary officers as well as retired SCDF and police officers.
In separate responses to The Straits Times, private security firms Certis Cisco and Aetos both said they welcome the opportunity to include fire safety inspections in the scope of work of their auxiliary officers.
"We appreciate the importance of fire safety enforcement, and will take active measures to train our officers before deploying them," said a spokesman for Aetos.