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Similar tragedy less likely to happen in the West, say fire experts

WESTERN FIRE experts, including those responsible for the even taller CN Tower in Toronto, are adamant that fire in similar structures in the West would have a very different outcome.

Enforcement of fire regulations is far stricter, they say, maintenance is given a much higher priority and in some cases there are crucial design differences.

A Toronto Fire Department spokesman said the operators of the 553m CN Tower had a comprehensive fire plan and fire control system.

'They carry out frequent fire drills, involving the evacuation of up to 1,500 people, which can take 50 minutes, ' he added. 'The real difference between here and Ostankino is that the elevators are outside the core, with their own independent power supply, and so are part of the evacuation process.'

Early post-tensioned concrete telecommunications towers like Ostankino and London's Telecom Tower were basically simple tubes with all services inside.

Later designs tend to have more complex cross sections, as in Toronto, or feature external panoramic lifts as in Barcelona.

The Telecom Tower is undergoing a major refit which will see its two lifts upgraded to full firefighting status. This involves upgrading lift doors and lift shafts to give them a two hour fire rating and installing protected independent power supplies and secure communication systems. The building will also get a full sprinkler system and the insulation on cables in the lift shaft proper will be halogen free.

Although foam or inert gas-based extinguisher systems are normally preferred for fighting electrical fires, both the CN and Telecom towers depend on water sprinklers fed from high level reservoirs. These are seen as the only practical option for such tall, high volume structures. Wet rising mains pressurised by basement pumps allow firefighters to operate at any level.

Getting Ostankino's three lifts working again will be a mammoth task.

Ove Arup associate and vertical transportation expert Roger Howkins estimated it would take at least 40 weeks for one of the few Western manufacturers able to supply such extreme equipment to deliver a suitable replacement.

Cost would be ' a minimum of £3M per car'. And if the guide rails have buckled in the fire, the task of replacing and realigning them will take many months.

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