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The 1996 Garley Building Fire Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1912 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Considered it is a degree course concerning fire engineering that personally would like to focus on the case relating to fire and happened in Hong Kong so that I can apply comparatively more self acquainted knowledge and legislation on the study. Hence, the Garley Building Fire, technically can be defined as catastrophe relating to the number of people reported killed/injured, is selected for this case study even though it is quite an old case happened in 1996.

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The five-alarm happened in Garley Building was started in the afternoon of 20th November 1996. It was office hours that the building was full of office workers, customers and visitors yet nobody seemed to be aware of the fire. The open elevator shaft acted like a chimney that eventually spread the fire to another upper floor. The firefighter had spent more than 20 hours to extinguish the blaze, however, at last, 41 lives loss (including one firefighter) and 81 people injured in this catastrophe.

Referring to the findings in various reports, the details and causes are summarized in below.

The Garley Building was undergoing renovation at the time of the fire and welding was found to be the source of the fire. The welders carried out welding works inside a lift shaft and cut metal with electric welder, which is contrary to building codes. The shower of red-hot sparks and molten droplets from the works fell through the lift shafts and ignited the construction materials placed on 2/F landing.

Two elevator shafts had had their elevators removed and bamboo scaffolding was erected inside the lift shafts. Hence, smoke and burning smell became ‘normal’ at that time due to cutting and welding which as a result, lowered the occupants’ alertness of fire.

As the building’s smoke detectors were triggered and the fire alarms rang routinely due to the intermittent welding activities, the 2/F tenant, China Arts & Crafts, wrapped the fire alarms with plastic as to lower the disturbance. Consequently, it lowered the occupants’ alertness of fire and caused the relative inaction.

The fire-resistant elevator doors were removed for light as well as fresh air plus bamboo scaffolding inside the lift shaft provided a chimney effect eventually rose to the 13th floor and started another fire there.

Special design of jewelry store with office doors locked automatically when fire alarm sounded that trapped and suffocated majority of the workers in their office.

Many of the occupants injured/died through the process of opening a window that caused a flashover, consumed most of them in the fire.

With unusable elevators and impassable staircases due to the smoke, firefighters had difficulty to reach upper levels of the buildings.

Consequences of the Fire

Fire disasters destabilize mainly economic and social development but also physical and environmental.


Garley Building was destructed in the fire together with its infrastructure and utilities network;

The occupants, affected companies, were forced to suspense their operation and remove to some other places for a new start.

Some of the affected companies even had to shut down their business that unemployment was one of the direct results of the fires.

Nearby business, like restaurants, were also affected as the working people in Garley Building were part of key customers in that district;

As Garley Building was badly damaged by fire, despite strong redevelopment merit and keen interest from the majority owner, the land assembly process was traumatic. A land premium has to be paid for modification and land exchange on the urban renewal;

Economy is overloaded with the enormous expense of putting out a fire and the expense that is required for the re-establishment of damaged areas.


The quality of life for residents is reduced;

The fire affected citizens psychologically due to the loss of their homes and loved ones;

Awareness of fire is increased in different levels of people, like occupants, building management, government, construction / renovation companies, etc.

Physical and Environmental

41 lives loss and 81 people injured were reported in the fire;

The increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere spoiled the environment and injured health of especially the neighbor residents in such as respiratory problems;

Analysis of the Contributing Factors

In Garley Building fire, referring to various fire reports, the immense heat and smoke made these floors a death trap for the people working there. At which, the windows could not be opened; the escape routes were filled with smoke or impassable; the people’s alertness of fire is low (like the workers dropped the molten droplets freely, the occupants wrapped the fire alarm, jewelry shop had no special design on her interior design against fire, etc.)

Contributing factors to the rapid spread and the consequence:

Inadequate fire-protection installations;

No automatic fire alarm;

No sprinkler system;

Use combustible plywood as provisional elevator doors.

Lesson Learned & Implications

In the Garley Building fire, people’s awareness of fire safety is low. The repairers overlooked the fire safety during the installation work; the building management office was inattentive to the renovation and its possible consequences; the tenants disregarded the function of fire alarm system, neglected the means of escape and were thoughtless about the design of their offices.

To lower the possible harm due to fire, a comprehensive Tenant Manual, Renovation Policy and Emergency Management is essential. Concerned parties have to consider their particular situation and work out a plan about fire risk mitigation strategies, which should be regularly, reviewed/ practiced for their work place.

When the Garley Building fire later, in 20th November 1996, the Buildings Department and the Fire Department immediately conducted on a sample survey of the old commercial buildings. In the survey, the majority of the survey of the old commercial buildings, which no fire service installation facility, and no-standard means of escape and no specifications, are the fire resistant structures. Buildings Department and Fire Department recommends that the Government Board agreed to the need for legislation to improve fire safety of the old commercial buildings.

The main purpose of expansion of the Fire Safety (Commercial Premises) Ordinance coverage for May 1997 to 1987, the old commercial buildings. The Bill will empower the Director of Buildings and the Director of Fire Services, as the law enforcement agencies, to require owners and tenants in commercial buildings, to improve or enhance their buildings for fire safety measures.

With similar requirements, the existing commercial building fire safety regulations, owners or tenants of the old commercial buildings, will be required to provide or improve one or more fire protection measures, including emergency lighting, automatic cut-off devices for mechanical ventilation systems, manual fire alarm systems, fire hydrant and hose reel systems and automatic sprinkler system. The new legislation will also require improvements to building structures, including means of escape, portable fire fighting, rescue and fire-resistant structures.

To work out a fire mitigation strategy, some mitigation measures are suggested and categorized into three focuses.

Information, Education, and Planning

Fire Safety Committee – Building Management and Fire Department should seek participation from residents to support fire safety committee for the concerned premises.

Expand Information and education to residents – Fire Safety Committee and Fire Department should provide and expand informational and educational programs for residents, property owners and communities.

Evacuation Planning – Efforts by the Building Management, Fire Department and Fire Safety Committee should provide a plan and identify evacuation assembly areas.

Reducing Structure Ignitability

Improvement made on architectural features like extensive use of glass, get better provision of natural ventilation, internal building void, good thermal insulation materials, etc.

Enhancing Code of Practice / Legal Requirement

Legislative requirement could help and force the concerned parties to do the necessary preparation and management.

How to keep the standard

The first level is the maintenance and inspection. The current legal framework, but provides for regular inspection and certification of fire service installations, however, there is no requirement for the motionless components, such as fire doors, fire-resistant structures, such as fire dampers and fire doors are essential preventive measure. Fire Department requires an annual inspection certificate, if this is placed in our facilities, the Garley Building fire tragedy may not occur.

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The second is the management control. Maintenance contractors need to oversee the construction and management, in order to avoid improper unlawful. Hau Tak Market, Tseung Kwan O fire last year is a good example of the importance of proper control. The fire burned for 14 hours, destroyed 40 shops, because the contractor shut down the entire sprinkler system repair. In other places, it is not uncommon for contractors have been disabled the fire alarm and fire direct link, due to the frequent occurrence of false alarms. In fact, the contractor should be to improve the fire detection system to reduce false alarms, rather than shut down the system. All of these need proper exercise of management control management company or owners corporations.

The third layer is the audit. Since the enactment of the Factories and Industrial Undertakings (Safety Management) Regulation, it has become a mandatory safety audits of large industrial enterprises and large construction contracts. There is no mandatory requirement for fire safety management audits of the buildings. This audit can be determined, for example, is there a system to check the fire doors kept closed at all times, is there a system to manage and maintain the closure of fire service installations, and whether there is a system of evaluation and effectiveness of fire drills, etc.


Garley Building fire occurred, there had not removed until 2003. The original landlord, China Resources Enterprise, the original plan to build a “Ginza-style” shopping center, but later changed the plan to build a new office building. Work in the building was completed in 2007.


People in Hong Kong may just worry about weather-related incident like typhoon, hill fire as a kind of disaster. Yet, the general awareness of fire safety in building is comparatively low that nobody believes, at least at that time, a fire can turn out a disaster and killed/injured more than a hundred in 20 hours.

Preparation and education on fire safety and emergency management are hence critical and essential. With the support and restriction given by the Government, disaster likes Garley Building fire could probably be mitigated.


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