(790 words)

 

A basic question that must be asked is whether a hotel is designed and constructed to avoid tragedy. While hotels constructed in the United States must comply with a state and/or local fire code, such codes are not necessarily uniform in their requirements. For example, the Puerto Rican fire code did not require smoke detectors in the DuPont Plaza Hotel, nor did it require the hotel to be fully sprinklered. In the Philippines, a modern fire code was not adopted until 1978, and any hotel constructed prior to that date only has to \"gradually\" conform to the new code.

 

In addition, while a building might have been properly constructed under one regulation, such regulations are under constant review and revision. New thinking, improved techniques, and updated construction methods are typically introduced into the code about every three years. However, existing hotels are usually not required to be upgraded. Since there are as many international construction practices as there are countries, particular attention must be directed toward questions of construction when selecting overseas hotels.

 

In the DuPont Plaza Hotel fire, it was determined that a vertical opening between the ballroom and casino allowed smoke and fire to spread to the hotel lobby, effectively blocking the exit paths from the casino and for high-rise occu­pants. Within minutes, glass partitions between the ballroom foyer and the casino failed. The products of combustion swept through the casino, trapping those occupants who had not escaped.

 

It was also determined in the DuPont Plaza fire that the products of combustion were able to infiltrate the high-rise tower through the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system; through passenger and service elevator shafts; and through utility penetrations (i.e., pipe chases and guestroom toilet exhausts in the bathrooms); and through a stairway.

 

Due to the natural tendency of a fire to spread upward, the floor/ceiling assembly is often the first major barrier to be attacked. The longer this system will stand the impact of fire, the longer people have to evacuate safely and the greater the possibility that the fire will be controlled and/or extinguished before other areas of the facility are threatened. Minimum fire resistance ratings for the floor/ceiling assemblies are determined by the type of construction.

 

By asking such questions, the travel planner and traveler seek to determine the following:

 

1. If chutes, dumbwaiters, elevator shafts and lobbies, seismic joints, electrical or plumbing chases, or conduits carrying cable for telephone or cable television that might extend the entire height of a building have been properly sealed with a noncombustible material for the full thickness of the penetration. For example, if the doors on trash or linen chutes (which have openings on each floor of a hotel) are broken, inoperable, or improperly attached, in the event of a fire in such a shaft, toxic smoke can be vented into hallways and exits a considerable distance from the actual fire.

 

2. If elevators automatically bypass fire-involved floors, returning any occupants to a safe floor and discontinuing operation until reactivated by hotel or fire department personnel, thus forcing hotel guests to utilize designated emer­gency exits. (However, when buildings reach 100 feet in height, emergency power sufficient to handle an elevator for use by the fire department should be provided. It is unrealistic to expect a fireman carrying 50 to 75 pounds of equipment to climb more than 100 feet and then be effective for firefighting and rescue purposes.)

 

3. If exit corridors have a minimum one-hour fire-resistive construction and if doors leading into guest and meeting areas are at least one-and-three-quarter-inch-thick solid wood core.

 

4. If openings in exit corridor walls and ceilings, such as transoms above doors or louvers to provide makeup air (which also provide easy passage for smoke into a guest or meeting room), are sealed with materials similar to those required in wall construction.

 

5. If self-closing devices, or automatic closers that are activated by the presence of smoke, have been installed on all openings in fire-rated walls (i.e., guest room, stairwell exit, elevator lobby).

 

6. If smoke detectors have been installed in the air-conditioning duct systems to shut down the system, assuring that smoke will not be recirculated to guest and other areas in the hotel.

 

7. That each guest room has at least one break-out type window or operable window. Are break-out windows also provided with safety railings, and are operable windows on all levels prohibited from normally opening more than four inches?

 

8. If the air conditioning system can exhaust any smoke-laden air to the exterior of the building in a fire emergency.