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Comfort and safety

How to design fire safety into shopping malls

By Knauf Insulation
November 10, 2022

Knauf Insulation’s fire expert explains why evacuation strategies and infrastructure are at the heart of shopping centre fire safety.

In October 2021 eight senior managers were each jailed for up to 14 years for violating safety regulations after 60 people were killed in a fire that swept through the Winter Cherry shopping mall in the city of Kemerovo in Siberia.

The court passed the sentences after hearing how safety rules at the mall were ignored to save money; management failed to report defects; exits were locked and fire alarms failed to work.

A total of 37 children died in the blaze, many of which were enjoying the cinema, trampolines and a birthday party on the fourth-floor leisure centre while their parents were in a café on the next level down.

The blaze not only highlighted the unimaginable consequences of fire safety negligence but also put a spotlight on how commonplace shopping mall fires are around the world —  a sobering thought ahead of the busy holiday shopping season.

In the first six months of this year alone, there were fires in shopping centres in India, the US and New Zealand. In one shopping mall blaze in Syria in March, 11 people were killed.


Unique fire risk of malls

Knauf Insulation Fire Safety Officer Amaya Osacar

Amaya Osácar, Knauf Insulation’s Fire Safety Manager, says: “Shopping malls offer very unique fire risks. People are moving around, families are often separated in different areas and malls are mixed-use featuring such facilities as cinemas, games areas or parking levels as well as a high density of shops.

“All these areas are obviously contained within the mall, so even if you leave them in an emergency, you are still disorientated in an unfamiliar setting and need to leave the building. It is not like evacuating a shop on a high street, where you are likely to be instantly in a safer place.”

Many malls also feature atriums, which can act as a chimney, funnelling dangerous smoke up to higher levels where it can cool down and descend on shoppers.

Meanwhile, shops within a mall are usually managed by different retailers — with different stock levels of combustible load — so ensuring the enforcement of consistent levels of fire safety management can be challenging.


Constantly vigilant about fire safety

“In all malls there needs to be an emphasis on evacuation. This means a clear strategy that is understood by everyone, rehearsed regularly and involves mall owners, mall management and fire advisory services,” says Amaya.

“And it means constantly being vigilant. For example, I have been in shopping centres where exhibitions, giant seasonal displays or promotional activities are dangerously close to causing blockages to exit points.

“A mall fire is disorienting for people with alarms blaring and family members often separated, so it is essential routes are clearly marked, clear of obstacles and an evacuation strategy is in place and well managed with clear procedures.”

This strategy has to be supported by a physical infrastructure that ensures evacuation is as safe as possible: fire doors that open to networks of escape routes on multiple points; effective alarm and sprinkler systems; fire compartments at strategic points of the building; moveable non-combustible shutters or ‘fire-proof curtains’ that can descend during an emergency.

Routes Fire Safety Evacuation

Critical role of fire shutters

“Fire compartments need to be integrated into malls to prevent the spread of fire, but they are not always possible,” says Amaya.

“It is often easier to introduce fire resistant shutters or smoke curtains that can compartmentalise specific areas of large stores.”

Key areas of fire risk include car parks which require specific active and passive fire protection measures. In terms of compartmentation requirements, careful attention needs to be paid to the lifts connecting both parking and the shopping centre.

“The most importance aspect, is that safety has to be designed into shopping malls from the very beginning. Along with ventilation and smoke extraction systems as well as compartments, the priority is always to get people out safely,” says Amaya.

“Again, what is critical, is to have mall owners and their management involved at every step of the way. There is a moral duty to take responsibility for public safety and companies need to actively take ownership of this responsibility.”


Knauf Insulation’s fire safety expertise

Knauf Insulation offers expertise to specifiers who need to understand how fire standards and regulations have been updated or how building products have been tested or certified.

In every country the company sells its products, there are experts who can provide the specialist knowledge specifiers needFor example, helping customers to select and design the best solution for each challenge.


Knauf Insulation’s fire-safe solutions

Knauf Insulation produces a wide range of A1 and A2 fire-safe solutions for all building applications — from small stores to major shopping malls.

These solutions minimise fire risk and its spread giving people time to leave a burning building, firefighters more time to contain the fire and providing greater building resilience after a blaze has been extinguished. Solutions include:

• Knauf Insulation’s Tektalan Wood Wool board, which combined with Rock Mineral Wool, has a fire resistance of up to 180 minutes. Tektalan does not melt in a fire which means there are no dangerous burning droplets and hardly any smoke created during combustion — a significant factor considering most fire fatalities are caused by smoke inhalation.

The company’s DRS Fire Board provides A1 non-combustible fire protection and has a melting point above 1,000ºC. The board is used as an insulation in doors and is popular with public buildings such as schools and hotels.

Knauf Insulation’s Technical Division produces Fire-teK® products and solutions for circular and rectangular ducts that can meet any fire safe requirements in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems.

• Meanwhile, the company provides Rock Mineral Wool A1 non-combustible solutions for sandwich panels. PBE Boards are widely used as the core for prefabricated sandwich panel building elements due to their fire, thermal and mechanical performance.


• To learn more about how Knauf Insulation can help improve the fire resilience of public buildings such as shopping malls explore the company’s site here.