Playgrounds located within buildings, such as the ones in Westgate Mall and Safra Jurong (right), are apparently designed to be entertaining for young children. The facilities are well padded to minimise injuries, and staff control access to prevent overcrowding.
However, such playgrounds have a basic structure that is essentially a vast network of tunnel-like pathways.
Incidents such as the Dusseldorf airport fire in 1996 have shown that fire can be started from outside a building and spread unnoticed in unexpected ways before erupting in a flash fire in minutes. Rapid marshalling and evacuation are key to survival.
However, for the playgrounds in question, certain features may impede such evacuation. While most of the structure is built with see-through material, there are certain blind spots. In an emergency, particularly when visibility is reduced by smoke, it may be hard to ascertain if all the children have been evacuated.
The tunnel-like structure features numerous bottlenecks and dead ends, which add to the fun factor but impede children and adults alike in an evacuation.
Even worse, in an emergency, parents and caregivers instinctively look for their children. The possibility of a large number of children moving out and adults moving in to reach their children can result in a dangerous gridlock.
Is there a fire code for such playgrounds? In particular, do the obstacles designed for entertainment ultimately hamper firefighters with their bulky equipment?
Tey Chee Meng
This article was first published on May 25, 2014.
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