Could the fire in Dubai happen here in NYC?

On New Year’s Eve, one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, located in Dubai, became engulfed in flames. The exterior of the tower, which is plated in Aluminum-Composite panels (thin sheets of metal over a plastic core), is what actually burned. Apparently these plates are commonly used, and even numerous buildings here in NYC are covered in them.

Now this begs the question of whether a fire; like the one in Dubai, happen here in New York? “Anything is possible, but it’s less likely in New York,” says Freeborn (Matt Freeborn, manager of fire testing at Intertek, a safety company that does extensive work in New York). Both city agencies and authorized proxies like Intertek aren’t just good at checking out buildings: They also look hard at the whole materials food chain, from fabrication to construction, making sure that the right materials are being used in the right way. ACPs used in the United States now include a fire-retardant core, made from a type of plastic that starts emitting water vapor at high temperatures and thereby stops fires from spreading. The National, Dubai’s English-language paper, reports that many pre-2012 buildings in the UAE were constructed with non-fire-resistant ACPs. The last major overhaul of the relevant parts of our fire code, introduced in 2001 and thus covering the entire ACP era, would not have allowed those. At the Address, according to early media reports, the rubber and silicone gaskets that hold the panels in place may also have helped the fire spread; in the U.S., building components are tested not just in isolation but in combination with whatever else they’ll actually be adjacent to in the finished building. No such vetting seems to have taken place in Dubai.”

Even though anything is possible, construction work that is done here seems to be slow moving and more tedious, with more safety regulations that are put into place. In New York City, construction seems to be one of the very few things that move at a slower pace.



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