Posted on 04/11/2019
Need for integrated approach to fire safety

Patrick Van Hees, Lund University, underlined that fire safety is increasingly complex, with new materials and evolving building design, so that reliance on past fire scenarios is inadequate. Fire safety be based on a holistic approach, taking into account building design, different functions, equipment, risks for firefighters and multi-material building components. Important challenges include preventing fire spread through windows, taking into account changing uses of building spaces (e.g. attics), risks from falling parts or materials, specific electric and design risks related to photovoltaics. Ensuring fire safety can be in conflict with building functions such as insulation, ventilation, water barriers. Fire tests for materials are small scale, and there is a real need to improve understanding of how such testing can predict fire safety performance in full scale installations (e.g. in façade systems), in order to allow cost-effective material design and screening.

Chris Jelenewicz, SFPE (Society of Fire Protection Engineers), presented the SFPE fire safety engineering R&D roadmap, published in 2017 and undergoing regular updates. He emphasised the transparency and inclusive process, with over 500 SFPE members having given input in writing or in meetings during the development of this roadmap. It identifies both the range of fire safety research needs, and priorities, in different themes covering buildings, non-building fires, reliance – sustainability, human behaviour, fire service, etc. Priorities identified include: smart buildings, smart fire safety systems and smart egress; impacts of changing populations; energy storage; fire risks related to sustainable construction; environmental impacts of fire. Update is underway and comments on the roadmap are welcome to SFPE is also working to promote engagement of fire safety research along the themes and priorities identified.

Birgitte Messerschmidt, NFPA (US National Fire Protection Association), explained the holistic approach to fire safety developed by NFPA “Fire Life & Safety Ecosystem”. A concern is that regulators are not prioritising fire safety, which is treated as less important as sustainability and recycling, and of course cost. At the same time, industry aims only for compliance, which does not always imply safety, whereas the public “assumes” fire safety. Priorities for action should include enforcement of fire safety regulation compliance (inspections), building and fire system maintenance, new tools for firefighters to understand the fire risks of modern synthetic materials and spatial management policies to reduce wildfire risks and impacts.

Lotta Alm, Lund University / BRIAB Sweden, presented the “Action against fire” public information campaign engaged by Swedish authorities. Objectives included promotion of fire alarms and fire extinguishers in homes, particularly targeting vulnerable populations. Results of monitoring surveys are contradictory, with 90% of interviewees saying they want fire safety, but also 90% saying that they believe they are not at risk of fire in their own home.

Antonio Cicione, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, underlined the massive fire safety challenge of growing urban populations in developing countries. South Africa has already experienced several major, tragic fires in informal urban settlements, with national fire fatalities increasing from 300 to 600 from 2003 to 2015. Challenges are that international fire codes are seen as too complex and expensive to implement. Compliance verification is nearly inexistent. Training of engineers in fire safety is needed.