Posted on 07/11/2018 in Fire Safety Regulatory 2018
Nordic Fire Safety Days 2018 (NFSD)

NFSD2018 brought together some 130 participants in Trondheim, Norway, 6-7 June 2018, including researchers, fire and rescue services, technical consultants and concerned administrations. Presentations covered a wide range of themes: fire safety engineering, smoke spread in buildings, tunnel fires, fire testing, fire dynamics, industrial fires, fire service interventions, structural fires, social aspects of fire safety policy, fire protection of historic and wooden building facades, R&D funding (workshop  with pinfa, see below), domestic fire risks and furniture fires (see below).

The first keynote by Simo Hostikka, Aalto University, Finland, showed the consequences of a new problem: the rapid build-up of pressure in apartments or rooms in ‘low ventilation’ (energy efficient) buildings in case of fire; This has led to dangerous blowing out of whole window/frame structures onto streets, and to tragic fire deaths as people are trapped unable to pull open inwards-hinged doors. He noted that fire safety engineers and ventilation engineers together can solve the pressure and smoke spread issues of modern energy efficient buildings if they work together, but if the buildings are only optimized for a single objective, then problems remain unsolved or even unidentified, until a major incident occurs.


The second keynote by Thomas Gell, Swedish Fire Protection Association, underlined the rapid rate of technical change, with increasing complexity of fire safety systems as alarms are now integrated into other electronic systems, merging of fire safety engineering with other building and system management, and the need to take into account societal changes such as sustainable development and the ageing population.

Shared messages in a number of presentations and discussions at NFSD2018 were the following, illustrated by selected presentation notes below:

  • challenges to fire safety posed by the ageing population,
  • increasing fire loads in homes
  • new potential fire sources and fire risks: internet of things and generalised electronics, new decentralised renewable energy production and energy storage devices, new materials
  • increasing interconnection of fire safety with both societal / technology developments, e.g. fire alarm systems integrated into building energy and ventilation systems, implications of fire safety for new energy systems or green buildings, links between fire prevention and welfare services
  • need to improve how materials fire testing reflects fire safety effectiveness in real use conditions, to translate test requirements into clear regulation, and to ensure that fire regulations are correctly implemented

Ageing population: René Hagen, European Fire Safety Alliance and Fire Service Academy IFV indicated that in the Netherlands persons >65 years are nearly three times more likely to suffer a fatal fire, the proportion of elderly in the population is rising rapidly, and at the same time society is inciting to the elderly to live at home (the number of old people is rising, but the number of people in old people’s homes is not). This leads to specific new fire intervention problems such as apartment blocks in which many of the occupants are elderly and cannot escape without assistance, and with elderly neighbours who also cannot assist. Also, the elderly are more susceptible to and are often more rapidly incapacitated by smoke. He underlined the need to ensure that materials in contact with the elderly are less flammable, to prevent accidental fires starting, especially clothing, furniture, bedding. He showed fire tests of furniture, showing that EU domestic furniture subjected to a small flame generates a large fire within minutes, underlining that 25% of fire deaths are known to be caused by upholstered furniture (the figure may be higher, because a quarter of fire deaths do not have identified cause). Anders Jonsson, Karlstad University, showed that in Sweden elderly people (>85) have a higher risk of fire fatality. Marie Aanestad, Rogaland Fire & Rescue Services, Norway, noted that three quarters of fire deaths are in risk groups (elderly, students, handicapped, refugees …) and half receive social welfare services, so that linking fire prevention to welfare services is important and cost-effective.

Increasing fire load: Igor Dzolev, Novi Sad University, Serbia, presented a survey of 120 flats, showing that mean fire load (flammable materials, including both construction materials, decoration, furnishings and consumer goods present) has more than doubled, from 335 to 801 MJ/m2 from 1985 to the present day. This compares to levels of around 300 MJ/m2 in the USA in the 1970’s (NFPA) and the figure referred in the Eurocode of 780 MJ/m2 (Vassart O., Eurocodes, EN 1991-1-2, 2014

Grenfell Tower fire, London: Richard Hull, UCLAN, University of Central Lancashire, UK, presented his assessment of key issues which together led to the London Grenfell Tower fire 2017 becoming a catastrophe. The official guidance accompanying the UK Building Regulations was inadequate concerning cladding materials: in particulate “Approved Document B” was modified in 2006 to allow combustible materials in claddings of high-rise buildings after either full scale fire test (BS8414) or with use of data to show comparable safety (“desk top study”). BS8414 does not include windows, whereas in Grenfell the fire spread from the cladding into flats through the windows. Removing the use of “desk top studies” is a key recommendation of the Hackitt Report on the Grenfell fire (see pinfa Newsletter n°92). Available information suggests that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was 100 to 150 mm PIR (polyisocyanurate foam) for thermal insulation, 50 mm air gap, then 4mm sandwich panel (3 mm polyethylene foam coated both sides with aluminium) and that it is unclear whether the use of these conformed to the official guidance (the polyethylene filled ACM had obtained a Euroclass B without being flame retarded). Intumescent seals to compartmentalise and prevent fire spread around and up the cladding did not function, and sealing around windows was also not compliant and did not prevent fire penetration into many flats. Prof Hull noted that some 300 buildings in the UK are covered in similar combustible panels. He also noted the importance of HCN released in smoke from nitrogen containing materials polymers, because this can cause incapacitation (unconsciousness) more rapidly than carbon monoxide, so preventing escape, as well as subsequent death. Fire testing methods need to be reassessed to take into account these risks.

Furniture fire safety: NFSD included a short session on furniture, chaired by Björn Sundström, RiSE. Two speakers questioned the need for fire safety regulations for furniture. Richard Hull, University of Central Lancashire UK, discussed fire statistics from the UK, suggesting that although the number of fire deaths is decreasing, the number of smoke toxicity victims is not. Also, although most deaths occur in living rooms and bedrooms (where upholstered furniture and mattresses are present), most fires occur in kitchens. He presented the results of testing 4 items of different furniture foams/textiles in duplicate (see study summarised in pinfa Newsletter n°87) concluding that the UK Furniture Fire Safety Regulations reduce heat release, but not smoke toxicity. These tests included one wool-cotton (not polymer foam) sofa which complied with the UK Regulations without using flame retardants. Also, some items of furniture sold in the UK do not in fact respect the Regulations either new (see BBC “Fake Britain”, pinfa Newsletter n°41) or after some time if flame retardants are being lost from the materials (UCLAN tests not yet published).  He concludes that the UK Regulations should be revisited to better ensure appropriate fire safety, including addressing smoke toxicity and addressing ageing of furniture (ensure that flame retardants are not lost into the environment, so posing toxicity risks and also ceasing to be effective).

Thomas Mayer Gall, Deutsches Textilforschungszentrum Nord-West (German Textiles Research Centre), presented the development of phosphoros and nitrogen (poly- and cyclophosphazens) and N-P silicon FR surface treatments for textile fibres. The former have already demonstrated effectiveness on cotton, cotton/PET or cotton/PA blends, with no loss in washing, abrasion or solvent extractions (indicative of no skin transfer), because they cross-link to the textile surface. The chemical backbone is biodegradable, so low environmental impact can be expected, but full toxicity testing needs to be carried out before industrialisation (c.f. REACH).  Roberta Dessi, European Furniture Industries Association (EFIC) presented the campaign for “Flame Retardant Free Furniture” (see pinfa Newsletter n°87), underlining the complexity for the furniture industry resulting from different furniture fire safety standards across Europe: specific regulations for domestic furniture fire safety in the UK and Ireland, highly variable regulations for office and public-space furniture in different Member States. The campaign is based on indicated toxicities of certain halogenated flame retardants (San Antonio statement, 2010, pinfa Newsletter n°6). Participants present underlined the importance of fire safety for upholstered furniture, given that it causes at least one quarter of home fire deaths (see René Hagen, above), and the need to maintain strong fire safety requirements for furniture in public places. They noted that fire safety can be achieved in furniture without using flame retardants, and that no regulations anywhere oblige the use of flame retardants: they did not understand why the furniture industry is campaigning for “FR free furniture” when it today itself is making the choice to use flame retardants. Participants also noted that some flame retardants are unquestionably safe (although simple minerals as such are not suitable for use in furniture) and underlined the need to accelerate development and implementation of flame retardants which are polymeric or react into polymers, so do not leach out (no loss of fire properties over time) and have lower toxicity risks.

Nordic Fire Safety Days, 7-8 June 2018, Trondheim, Norway

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