England

Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (1) – Vulnerable People

2019-11-11:  Kensington and Chelsea’s wilful disdain for the Health, Safety and Welfare of ALL the residents within its functional area … and knowing neglect of its legal and ethical Duty of Care towards ALL … resulted in a significant number of people with activity limitations living high up in Grenfell Tower prior to June 2017 … in spite of the now incontrovertible fact that, in the event of a fire emergency, many would be left behind … to die.

‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’

Article 1, 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Colour photograph showing a Firefighter watching the horrific fatal fire scene at Grenfell Tower in London, on 14 June 2017, from a nearby balcony.  Click to enlarge.

London Fire Brigade was an easy target for the Grenfell Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Report, made all the more so following some careless, insensitive and ignorant public comments by its Commissioner, Dany Cotton.  However, we must clearly distinguish between the behaviour of LFB’s Frontline Firefighters, who were brave and dedicated despite inadequate training, and lack of proper equipment, back-up resources and personnel strength … and LFB’s Senior Commanders … which is another matter.

Colour photograph showing the London Fire Brigade (LFB) Commissioner, Dany Cotton.  In order to ensure that transformation of the LFB actually takes place in the short term, and is fully effective, Dany Cotton and all of her Senior Commanders must resign now, or be fired !  Click to enlarge.

In England … there is widespread indifference, and some rabid resistance, to answering the desperate needs, and mitigating the agonizing plight, of Vulnerable Building Users during fire emergencies … which includes people with activity limitations, children under 5 years of age, frail older people (not All older people !), women in late stage pregnancy, people with disabilities, refugees, migrants, the poor, and people who do not understand the local culture or cannot speak the local language.  British National Standard B.S.9999 (not solely those sections previously contained in B.S.5588:Part 8) and England’s National Building Regulations – Approved Document B: ‘Fire Safety’ – offer only token, i.e. inadequate, protection for vulnerable people in fire emergencies.  When a senior representative of BSI, the British Standards Institution, was directly approached by me, and requested to open up B.S.9999 for meaningful updating … the answer was a firm “NO” !  The same attitude is deep-seated among fire research organizations in the country, and among people who develop computer fire evacuation models.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, showing the ‘Fire Safety for All’ Matrix, which outlines the scope of its application in the Human Environment and the different social groups to be targeted.  Balanced consideration must be given to people who use wheelchairs (physical function impairment) … and to people with visual, hearing, psychological, and mental/cognitive impairments … and to other vulnerable building users, e.g. people with health conditions.  Click to enlarge.  Matrix developed by CJ Walsh.

Presentation Overhead showing the definition of ‘people with activity limitations’, with its equivalent French translation … also showing from where this term is derived … and who this term includes.  During a fire emergency, confused and/or confusing disability-related language costs lives !  Click to enlarge.

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Grenfell Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Recommendations – Chapter #33

After hearing the first media reports about the tough Recommendations aimed at London Fire Brigade, I had naturally expected that the other Phase 1 Recommendations would be equally as tough.  But NO … they are far from comprehensive … they are fragmentary, lack depth and any sort of coherence.  Specifically with regard to Vulnerable Building Users, the Recommendations are pathetically and disgracefully inadequate !

And in case there is any doubt, the status quo in England – and to be fair, in many other countries as well – is entirely unacceptable !!

Few people realize that the fire safety objectives in current fire regulations/codes are limited and constrained.  To implement changes to the flawed regulations in England, it will take many years … and, based on recent past history, implementation will be incomplete and unsatisfactory.  Residents in high-rise buildings, whether public or private, must no longer wait in vain for this to happen.  Instead, the time has arrived to become proactive, and to immediately initiate their own comprehensive programmes of Self-Protection In Case Of Fire … which go far and beyond the pathetic Recommendations in Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Report.

Fires Similar To Grenfell Tower Are Frequent

[ Paragraph #33.5 ]  … although not unprecedented, fires of the kind that occurred at Grenfell Tower are rare.

[ Response ]  Not true … misleading, and a complete fallacy !

Just since 2010, fires similar to Grenfell Tower have occurred in South Korea, many in the United Arab Emirates, France, Chechnya, Australia, Azerbaijan, Russia, and most recently in Turkey.  Each one of these fires has been recorded and illustrated on our Twitter Account: @sfe2016dublin.  Seeing, and understanding, this striking pattern of unusual fire behaviour … a competent person would react and plan accordingly.

Effective Fire Compartmentation Is A Delusion

[ Paragraph #33.5 ]  Effective compartmentation is likely to remain at the heart of fire safety strategy and will probably continue to provide a safe basis for responding to the vast majority of fires in high-rise buildings.

[ Response ]  Not true … demonstrates a fundamental flaw in European fire safety strategizing !

In an environment of lax or non-existent compliance monitoring … the quality of architectural/fire engineering design and the reliability of related-construction will both, inevitably, be poor and unacceptable.  Fire loads in today’s residential buildings are also far higher than a generation ago, for example, because of more electrical/electronic equipment and synthetic furnishings.  And whatever about first-built, i.e. whether it’s good, bad or ugly, later alterations and other construction work will typically compromise the original performance of fire resisting doorsets and service penetration fire sealing.  Modern ‘green’ building materials and construction methods are further aggravating these problems.  A competent person would be aware of fire research at the UL Laboratories, in the U.S.A., which confirmed the above developments.

‘ Rigorous enforcement of building codes and standards by state and local agencies, well trained and managed, is critical in order for standards and codes to ensure the expected level of safety.  Unless they are complied with, the best codes and standards cannot protect occupants, emergency responders, or buildings.’

U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Final Report on the Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers.  NIST NCSTAR 1.  2005.

‘Stay Put’ Policies Are Criminal

[ Paragraph #33.5 ]  However, in the case of some high-rise buildings it will be necessary for building owners and fire and rescue services to provide a greater range of responses, including full or partial evacuation.  Appropriate steps must therefore be taken to enable alternative evacuation strategies to be implemented effectively.

[ Paragraph #33.15 ]  e. that policies be developed for managing a transition from ‘stay put’ to ‘get out’ ;

[ Response ]  Too little … and far too late !

[ Solution ]  Two fatal fires separated in time and space … the 2009 Lakanal House Fire, in London, and the 2017 Marco Polo High-Rise Apartment Building Fire, in Honolulu, continue to clearly demonstrate that effective fire compartmentation is a delusion.  Even if carried out by a competent person … it is not possible to establish with reasonable certainty, by means of a visual/surface building inspection alone, whether or not fire compartmentation is effective in an existing building.  The London and Honolulu buildings were not fitted with any active fire suppression system, e.g. fire sprinklers or a water mist system.

Buildings must remain structurally ‘serviceable’, not merely structurally ‘stable’, for a Required Period of Time.  See the Presentation Overhead below.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, explaining the concept of ‘Structural Reliability’ in fire conditions … and defining ‘Required Period of Time’, during which a building must remain serviceable.  Click to enlarge.

Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), firefighters, client organizations, design teams, and building owners/managers must not, therefore, direct, or even suggest, that any of its building users wait (‘stay put’) in that building during a fire emergency.  A competent person always connects building fire performance with its structural performance, and vice versa … and always learns from the evidence of ‘real’ fatal fires.

All Lifts/Elevators Must Be Used For Fire Evacuation

[ Paragraph #33.13 ]  When the firefighters attended the fire at Grenfell Tower they were unable to operate the mechanism that should have allowed them to take control of the lifts.  Why that was so is not yet known, but it meant that they were unable to make use of the lifts in carrying out firefighting and search and rescue operations.  It also meant that the occupants of the tower were able to make use of the lifts in trying to escape, in some cases with fatal consequences.

[ Response ]  There is a ridiculous assumption in Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Report that it is only firefighters who use lifts/elevators during a fire emergency, and that it is dangerous for anybody else to use them.

[ Solution ]  In order to adequately protect Vulnerable Building Users in a fire emergency … ALL lifts/elevators in a building must be capable of being used for evacuation during a fire emergency.

Until such time as firefighters arrive at a building fire scene in sufficient strength and are properly prepared to carry out effective firefighting and rescue operations … Firefighter Lifts/Elevators must be used for the fire evacuation of building occupants/users.  Prior liaison and pre-planning with local fire services is always necessary with regard to the use of firefighting lifts/elevators for the evacuation of occupants/users.

Colour photograph showing a typical sign outside most lifts/elevators around the world … ‘In The Event of Fire, Do Not Use Lift’.  This is a pre-historic dinosaur of a policy which places Vulnerable Buildings Users in immediate and very serious danger during a fire emergency.  Click to enlarge.

A fundamental principle of fire safety design is that there must be alternative, safe and accessible evacuation routes away from the scene of a fire, which can occur in any part of a building during its life cycle ;  these evacuation routes must be capable of being used by all building users, including people with activity limitations.

This is why there must always be at least 2 Fire Evacuation Staircases in High-Rise Residential Buildings !

The location of lifts/elevators and lobbies, within peripheral building cores, must always be considered in relation to the position of adjacent fire protected evacuation staircases, which must be easily found by building occupants/users, and the areas of rescue assistance adjoining those staircases.

To be used for fire evacuation, a lift/elevator must be ‘fit for its intended use’, must operate reliably during a fire emergency, and must comprise a complete building assembly which meets specific performance criteria.

A Lift/Elevator Fire Evacuation Assembly is an essential aggregation of building components arranged together – comprising a lift/elevator, its operating machinery, a hard-construction vertical shaft enclosure, and on every floor served by the lift/elevator a sufficiently large, constantly monitored lobby for people to wait in safety and with confidence, all robustly and reliably protected from heat, smoke, flame and structural collapse during and after a fire – for the purpose of facilitating the safe evacuation of building occupants/users throughout the duration of a fire emergency.

If a building is located in a Seismic Zone, Lift/Elevator Fire Evacuation Assemblies which can safely operate during an earthquake must always be specified and installed.

Gravity Evacuation Chair Devices, which are not electrically-powered and operate by gravity, facilitate downward movement, only, on straight flights of stairs.  Having descended a staircase, with the user having left his/her wheelchair behind, these devices are not fully stable when travelling the long horizontal distances necessary to reach an external ‘place of safety’ remote from a building, perhaps over rough terrain.

Colour photograph showing a Gravity Evacuation Chair and how it is used during a fire emergency.  Click to enlarge.

If lifts/elevators in existing buildings undergo a major overhaul, or if they are replaced, they should then be made capable of use for fire evacuation.

Lifts/elevators used for fire evacuation must always have a fire protected electrical supply which is separate from the main building electrical supply, in order to ensure that they can continue to operate without interruption during a fire emergency.

In addition to conventional passive fire protection measures, Lift/Elevator Lobbies must also be protected by an active fire suppression system.  Water mist is the preferred fire suppression medium, because it is user-friendly, will not greatly interfere with user visibility, uses far less water compared to water sprinklers, and is also climate-friendly.  Furthermore, because people with activity limitations will be waiting for evacuation in lift/elevator lobbies, building designers and managers must ensure that these lobbies are properly fitted out with appropriate fire safety equipment, facilitation aids, smoke hoods, signage and communications, etc., etc.

Proper Use of Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP’s)

[ Paragraph #33.22 ]  f. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to include up-to-date information about persons with reduced mobility and their associated PEEP’s in the premises information box ;

[ Response ]  There is No Recommendation or explanation in Moore-Bick’s Inquiry Phase 1 Report concerning the ‘what’, ‘why’ or ‘how’ of PEEP’s.

[ Solution ]  A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan is a person-specific and location-specific document, and is an integral part of the overall Fire Emergency Management Plan for a building.  It is intended for regular occupants/users who may be vulnerable in an emergency situation, i.e. those with limited abilities in relation to self-protection, independent evacuation to an external place of safety remote from the building, and active participation in the building’s fire emergency procedures.

In new buildings, which are effectively accessible (including fire safe) for all, Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans are not necessary.

In existing buildings, Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans must not be used to limit or restrict access by an individual to any part of a building and its facilities.  To ensure this, sufficient accessibility works must be carried out and appropriate management procedures put in place.

In buildings of historical, architectural and cultural importance, where the historical, architectural or cultural integrity of the building must be protected, Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans may limit or restrict access to parts of a building and some of its facilities.  Refer to the ICOMOS 1964 International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites.

High-Rise & Tall Buildings: Floors Of Temporary Refuge & Minimum Staircase Widths

There are No Recommendations in Moore-Bick’s Inquiry Phase 1 Report concerning these critical issues.

[ Solution ]  There are many fire safety problems associated with high-rise and tall buildings.  Evacuation by staircases alone can take many hours ;  the physical exertion involved in descending even 10 floors/storeys by staircase is too much for many able-bodied people and is impossible for most vulnerable building occupants/users, particularly people with activity limitations.  Passive fire protection of staircases, alone and/or supplemented by pressurization to prevent smoke ingress, is far too unreliable.  And heavily equipped firefighters cannot be expected to ascend more than 10 floors/storeys by staircase before carrying out arduous firefighting and search/rescue operations.  Furthermore, uninterrupted lift/elevator shafts, extending throughout the full height of a tall building, pose a significant risk of uncontrolled fire spread.

Colour photograph showing the very narrow, single staircase in the Grenfell Tower, London.  How anybody – ANYBODY – could ever imagine that this staircase would be adequate to serve the fire evacuation needs of a diverse occupant population in a high-rise residential building is beyond belief !  A Syndrome is a cluster of symptoms which occur together and can be taken as indicative of a particular design abnormality.  Click to enlarge.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, illustrating a sufficiently wide fire evacuation staircase … minimum width 1.5m between handrails … which will accommodate Contraflow and the Assisted Evacuation of people in wheelchairs … with a sufficiently large, directly adjoining Area of Rescue Assistance … which will accommodate people unable to independently evacuate during a fire emergency.  The space provided in an Area of Rescue Assistance, on each floor/storey, is calculated in relation to the design occupant/user population of a building.  Even if a building is fully sprinklered, an Area of Rescue Assistance must adjoin every fire evacuation staircase.  Click to enlarge.  Staircase design by CJ Walsh.

A Floor of Temporary Refuge is an open, structurally robust floor/storey in a tall building – having an exceptionally low level of fire hazard and risk, ‘intelligently’ fitted with a suitable user-friendly and climate-friendly fire suppression system, e.g. water mist, and serviced by sufficient accessible, fire protected lifts/elevators capable of being used for evacuation during a fire emergency ;  it is designed and constructed to halt the spread of heat, smoke and flame beyond that floor/storey, and is intended as a place of temporary respite, rest and relative safety for building users before continuing with evacuation, and as a forward command and control base for firefighters.

In a high-rise, tall, super-tall or mega-tall building, every 20th floor must be a Floor of Temporary Refuge, even if the building is co-joined with another building, or there are sky bridges linking the building with one or more other buildings.

Special provision must be made, on these floors, for accommodating large numbers of building occupants/users with activity limitations … and because people will be waiting on Floors of Temporary Refuge, perhaps for extended periods of time, building designers and managers must ensure that these floors/storeys are properly fitted out with appropriate fire safety equipment, facilitation aids, smoke hoods, signage and communications, etc., etc.

Presentation Overhead, in colour, illustrating and explaining the design concept of Floors of Temporary Refuge.  Click to enlarge.

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Conclusion: Fire Engineering Capacity in England is Lacking

In England … the very important 2005 and 2008 U.S. NIST Recommendations following the 9-11 (2001) Attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York City, were completely ignored.  Following the 2009 Lakanal House Fire, in London, the 2013 Coroner’s Recommendations were only partially implemented.

With regard to Vulnerable Building Users … there is NO capacity within the English Fire Establishment, including the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), English Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), and its Building Design and Fire Engineering Communities … to properly respond to … never mind understand … the Fire Safety, Protection and Evacuation for ALL in Buildings.

Avoiding responsibility and pointing fingers at other Organizations appear to be the initial reactions to Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Recommendations so far.  Refer, for example, to the NFCC Statement, dated 30 October 2019 … https://www.nationalfirechiefs.org.uk/News/nfcc-responds-to-grenfell-phase-1-report

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#GrenfellTowerFire #FireSafety4ALL #NobodyLeftBehind #VulnerableBuildingUsers #PwAL #PwD #NeverStayPut #Firefighters #FFsafety #2019GrenfellRecommendations #SFE #GrenfellTowerFireInquiry #LondonFireBrigade #DanyCotton #FireResistingDoorsets #FireCompartmentation #FireEvacuation #MooreBick #FireEngineering #England #Design #Management #HighRiseResidentialBuilding #UDHR #HumanRights

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England’s 2017 Grenfell Tower Fire – Never Again Elsewhere ??

2018-06-12 …

As we approach the First Anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire Tragedy, in England, on 14 June … a few days ago, on 4 June 2018, the first batch of Grenfell Expert Witness Reports were uploaded (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-44356660) to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Website (https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/) for public view.

At this time, in London … multiple, fragmented investigations are taking place into the actual fire incident … the role of the Local Authority, and building management … those involved in the refurbishment (‘tarting up’) design and construction … the fire services, particularly their ‘Stay Put’ Policy and how it adversely impacted on vulnerable Tower occupants during the emergency … and the highly flawed regulatory model of Building and Fire Codes with light-touch Control, which is still operating in England.  One of Murphy’s Laws immediately springs to mind with regard to the intended ineffectiveness of this overly-complex process !

Colour photograph showing Grenfell Tower in the background … undergoing an almost complete ‘cover-up’ … with, in the foreground, mementos of the Fire Tragedy fixed to railings by local residents. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2018-04-29.

Many other countries have adopted some or all of this modern English regulatory model which, after the repeal of an older Bye-Law format, has been shaped by political expediency, cost-effectiveness and general ineptitude … with little or no adaptation to local conditions in the adopting jurisdictions.  Ireland adopted this model with some, but not a lot, of adaptation.

Fire Safety In Ireland ?

On 6 June 2018 … while that investigative activity was hitting the headlines in England … Minister Eoghan Murphy, T.D., Ireland’s Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, quietly published the Report: ‘Fire Safety in Ireland’http://www.housing.gov.ie/local-government/fire-and-emergency-management/fire-safety/eoghan-murphy-publishes-report-fire … by a High-Level Task Force within his Department’s National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management, after serious concerns and fears had been expressed in the public media that a similar fire tragedy might also occur in this jurisdiction.

To be crystal clear … this Report is a Bureaucratic Whitewash … an insult to the Public !  Nice sounding technical ‘blarney’ camouflages a failure to deal directly with critical issues, and answer concerns … while other important issues are avoided altogether.

.May 2018 – Ireland’s Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government Report

Fire Safety In Ireland    (PDF File, 2.55 MB)

Expanding on my comments in the Interview with Barry Lenihan, on RTE Radio 1’s Drive Time early evening news programme on Friday (2018-06-08) …

A.  Initially, Irish Local Authorities were requested to carry out a preliminary survey to identify all buildings of more than six storeys, or 18m in height.  Specifically, they were asked to identify those buildings which had an external cladding system which might be a cause for concern.

This height threshold of six storeys/18m is arbitrary … an external cladding system can be just as much a cause for concern in a building which is lower.  Imagine discarded cigarette butts or a rubbish fire at the base of such a system … and the resulting speed of fire spread and development across a building façade !

B.  The highly flawed regulatory model of Building and Fire Codes, with light-touch Control, which resulted in the Grenfell Tower Fire Tragedy … we also have.  Wake up and smell the coffee Ireland !

At the beginning of the 1990’s, when Ireland had been persuaded by the European Commission to finally introduce legal, national building regulations having a functional format … our National Authority Having Jurisdiction, in desperation, grabbed the then Approved Documents for England & Wales … brought them back to Ireland, put Irish covers on them, and originally called them ‘Technical Documents’ … but, after seeing a tiny ray of inspiring light, later changed their title to the more accurate ‘Technical Guidance Documents’ !  This hunger for adopting all things English which are fire safety related continues to this day … with a similar, ongoing division of Technical Guidance Document B: ‘Fire Safety’ into 2 Separate Volumes.

This may have been a convenient response under pressure … but it has been very short-sighted.  It has impeded the growth of a comprehensive and coherent philosophy on Safe, Inclusive, Age-Friendly, Resilient, Sustainable Planning, Design and Construction Codes/Controls which is suited to an Irish context and responsible local needs (not desires!).

C.  Everywhere … this Report has a lot – too much – to say about Fire Risk Assessment !  After the Grenfell Tower Fire, however, Fire Risk Assessments must only be carried out by competent persons … and the process of Fire Risk Assessment, itself, must be radically improved !  And of course, prior to any Risk Assessment … a proper Fire Hazard Appraisal must be carried out.

D.  To accurately present Fire Safety Trends in Ireland … it is not enough to furnish reliable fire fatality statistics.  It is also necessary to produce reliable fire injury statistics … and reliable information on direct/indirect socio-economic losses.

E.  The quality of fire safety related construction on Irish Building Sites continues to be very poor and problematic.  Fire Compartmentation is nowhere near being adequately – never mind acceptably – reliable !  And during the last few years we have had quite a number of close-calls concerning fire incidents in medium-rise residential buildings.

F.  Fire Evacuation for people with activity limitations is still handled atrociously in our current building regulations.  This is ironic because, on 20 March 2018 last, Ireland had to be dragged screaming to ratify the U.N. 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) !

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Positive Progress By Another Path !

1.  Abandon the outdated English functional requirements in THEIR building regulations … and adopt a far better, more up-to-date body of functional requirements which is already on the Irish Statute Books … Annex I of the European Union’s Construction Products Regulation 305/2011.  And because there are important horizontal linkages between requirements … immediately finish the ridiculous current separation between Fire Safety requirements and all of the other requirements.  And yes … new Technical Guidance Documents will have to be drafted.

.Regulation (EU) No 305/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 9 March 2011, laying down harmonized conditions for the marketing of construction products and repealing Council Directive 89/106/EEC

EU Regulation 305/2011 – Construction Products.  See Annex I

(PDF File, 998 Kb)

2.  Yes … ‘Persons Having Control’ of buildings have responsibilities with regard to fire safety.  But that is only one side of the coin !  National and Local Authorities Having Jurisdiction have greater responsibilities.

If we are at all serious about Consumer Protection … bad, inadequate, faulty construction must be prevented beforehand … it is too late, too costly and, in many cases, too impractical to correct afterwards.  Self Regulation by building design professions and construction organizations is NO Regulation !  Stringent, independent technical control inspections must be carried out on all projects by Building Control personnel … which used to happen in Dublin City/County and Cork City/County prior to the introduction of legal building regulations in the early 1990’s … and, depending on complexity, must also be carried out at critical stages during the construction process.

Building Control Sections in all Local Authorities must be properly resourced with competent personnel, equipment, training and support infrastructure.

Inspections concerning compliance with all functional requirements in the building regulations, including fire safety, must be carried out only by Building Control Personnel.  Chief Fire Officers must not be allowed to manage or be involved in any aspect of Building Control.  On the same project … a Disability Access Certificate Application and a Fire Safety Certificate Application must be inter-linked and overlap sufficiently, showing no gaps in compliance.  Inspections must be carried out in connection with all Certificate Applications.  Building Control personnel must satisfy themselves that actual construction at least matches, if not improves upon, what is shown in design documentation.

Building Control Inspection Reports must be made available for public view.

3.  Firefighters are NOT a disposable Social Asset !  National and Local Authorities Having Jurisdiction … and some Chief Fire Officers … must begin to understand this fundamental truth !

Fire Services in all Local Authorities must each be properly resourced according to local needs … with competent personnel, equipment, training and support infrastructure.  Shared provision of resources looks very neat on paper but, in practice, works very badly.  Refer to the Grenfell Tower Fire and London Fire Brigade having to borrow firefighting equipment from other Fire Services.

After the 2015 Tianjin Regional Fire Devastation, in China, and the 2001 WTC Attacks on 9-11, in New York City … front line firefighters must be supported by Specialist Hazard Appraisal and Structural Engineering Units.

For Firefighter Safety in buildings and to quickly find people with activity limitations waiting in Areas of Rescue Assistance and/or other survivors in different locations … a portable and reliable Thermal Imaging Camera is an essential piece of every firefighter’s equipment.

And Firefighter Safety begins with good building design.  In all but the most simple building types, Circulation Routes must be designed for Contraflow … people moving away from a fire in a building and towards safety while, at the same time, heavily equipped firefighters are entering the building and moving towards the fire.

Colour photograph showing Contraflow on a building staircase … people moving down a staircase away from a fire and towards safety while, at the same time, heavily equipped firefighters are moving up the staircase towards the fire. Click to enlarge.

There is no place for ‘Stay Put’ Policies in Irish Residential Buildings of any height.

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Ireland’s 2017 Oireachtas Report: ‘Safe As Houses’ …

December 2017 – Houses of the Oireachtas – Joint Committee on Housing, Planning & Local Government

Safe As Houses ?  A Report On Building Standards, Building Controls & Consumer Protection

(PDF File, 1.01 MB)

This was a good effort by our public representatives … but they missed core issues !

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After The Grenfell Tower Fire !

Further to my last Blog, dated 2017-10-10 …

The 2017 Fire in England was not an extraordinary fire.  Since the beginning of this decade, we continue to see a series of such fires: South Korea (2010) – UAE & France (2012) – Chechnya (2013) -Australia (2014) – UAE, Azerbaijan & UAE again (2015) – UAE (2016) – UAE & Russia (2017) – Turkey (2018).

With regard to Command & Control of Large Scale Emergencies … English AHJ’s should have paid attention to the 2005 & 2008 U.S. National Institute of Science & Technology (NIST) Recommendations following the 9-11 WTC Buildings 1, 2 & 7 Collapses.

The Fire Safety Objectives in current Building & Fire Codes/Regulations are very limited.  In Ireland, this is clearly stated in Technical Guidance Document B …

‘ Building Regulations are made for specific purposes.  Part B of the Second Schedule to the Building Regulations is therefore primarily concerned with the health, safety and welfare of persons.  The fire safety measures outlined in this guidance document are intended for the protection of life from fire.’

Only insofar as it is necessary to protect the lives of able-bodied building users/occupants … is there a concern for property protection.

There is only inadequate, token concern for the protection of people with disabilities.

Client organizations, facility managers, building designers, construction organizations … and journalists … must fully comprehend these limits.

In the photograph below … look closely at the External Firefighting Operations at the bottom of the Tower.  There are limits to what can be achieved from outside a building !

Colour photograph showing the developed fire at Grenfell Tower, in London. At the bottom of the Tower, external firefighting operations can be viewed. Click to enlarge.

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  • A Fire Suppression System (Water Sprinklers/Mist/Hybrid) is an essential Fire Protection Measure in ALL Medium and High-Rise Residential Buildings … which include Apartment Blocks, Hotels, Hostels, Student Accommodation & Social Housing, i.e. ANYWHERE there is a Sleeping Hazard.

 

  • A Reliable and Credible Fire Detection & Warning System is an essential Fire Protection Measure in ALL Buildings … and must be capable, under the control of Building Management, of transmitting warnings in many formats, i.e. Audible + Visual + Multi-Lingual Voice + Tactile.

 

  • Fire Evacuation Routes in Buildings must be designed for CONTRAFLOW … people moving away from a fire and towards safety while, at the same time, heavily equipped firefighters are entering the building and moving towards the fire.

 

  • Good Fire Evacuation Route Design is INTUITIVE and OBVIOUS.  In many buildings, however, this is not always the reality.  Effective Fire Evacuation Signage … comprising high-level signage, low-level signage, with both supplemented by photoluminescence … must be installed in ALL Buildings.

 

  • For the purpose of protecting Vulnerable Building Users in Fire Emergencies, ALL Lifts/Elevators in Buildings must be capable of being used for Evacuation.

 

  • Fire Risk Assessments must NO LONGER be carried out by people WITHOUT COMPETENCE in Fire Engineering AND Building Design & Construction … and the Fire Risk Assessment Process itself must be thoroughly re-examined and upgraded.

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Sustainable Fire Engineering – 2016 End Of Year Report !

2016-12-28:  Happy New Year to One and All !

SUSTAINABLE FIRE ENGINEERING

‘ The creative, person-centred and ethical Fire Engineering response, in resilient built form and smart systems, to the concept of Sustainable Human and Social Development – the many aspects of which must receive balanced and synchronous consideration.’

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Organized by FireOx International (Ireland, Italy & Turkey), in joint collaboration with Glasgow Caledonian University’s School of Engineering & Built Environment (Scotland) … and having a widely multi-disciplinary attendance from the U.S.A., Hong Kong SAR (China), Spain, Finland, Scotland, Norway, Germany, England, The Netherlands and Ireland … SFE 2016 DUBLIN was a unique, and very successful, two-day gathering within the International Fire Engineering and Fire Service Communities.

The organizers are very grateful to our Supporters: CIB, FIDIC, iiSBE, and the UNEP’s Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative … and our Sponsor: Rockwool International.

SUSTAINABLE FIRE ENGINEERING fulfils a Critical Role in the realization of a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment 4 ALL !

SUSTAINABLE FIRE ENGINEERING facilitates Positive Progress in implementing the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which incorporates 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 Performance Targets !

SUSTAINABLE FIRE ENGINEERING fast-tracks Proper Compliance with the 7 Basic Performance Requirements – functional, fully integrated and indivisible – in Annex I of European Union Construction Products Regulation 305/2011 !

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A NECESSARY & LONG OVERDUE TRANSFORMATION !

A Building is a permanent construction, complying with basic performance requirements and capable of being easily adapted … comprising structure, essential electronic, information and communication technologies (EICT’s), and fabric (non-structure) … having a minimum life cycle of 100 years … and providing habitable, functional and flexible interior spaces for people to use.

Building Users have a wide and varied range of abilities and behaviours … some having discernible health conditions and/or physical, mental, cognitive, psychological impairments … while others, e.g. young children, women in the later stages of pregnancy and frail older people, are also particularly vulnerable in user-hostile, inaccessible environments.  Not everyone will self-identify as having an activity limitation because of the high level of social stigma associated with ‘disability’.  Building designers and fire engineers must accept that building users have rights and responsible needs ;  the real individual and group fire safety requirements of vulnerable building users must be given proper consideration by both design disciplines, working collaboratively together.

Real Building Users have a wide and varied range of abilities … and during a Fire Evacuation, they will NOT behave like ‘marbles or liquid in a computer model’ !  People with Disabilities, on their own, account for approximately 20% of populations in developed countries … more in developing and the least developed countries.

NOBODY LEFT BEHIND !

‘Fire Safety for ALL’ in Buildings – Not Just for SOME – A Priority Theme of Sustainable Fire Engineering

Current Revision of International Standard ISO 21542 (2011): ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’

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Following the savage 2008 Mumbai Hive Attack in India, and the more recent 2015 and 2016 Attacks in Europe, i.e. Paris, Brussels, Istanbul and Berlin … it is entirely wrong to assume that the main and/or only targets will be specific high-risk buildings types, i.e. Tall/High-Rise, Iconic, Innovative and Critical Function Buildings (refer to 2005 & 2008 NIST WTC 9-11 Recommendations).  All buildings and adjoining/adjacent public spaces must be carefully assessed for the risk of direct or collateral involvement in an Extreme Man-Made Event.

It is a fundamental principle of reliable and resilient structural engineering that horizontal and vertical structural members/elements of construction are robustly connected together.  All buildings must, therefore, be capable of resisting Disproportionate Damage.  The restriction of this requirement, within some jurisdictions, to buildings of more than five storeys in height is purely arbitrary, cannot be substantiated technically … and ethically, must be disregarded.

Fire-Induced Progressive Damage is distinguished from Disproportionate Damage – a related but different structural concept – by the mode of damage initiation, not the final condition of building failure.  This phenomenon is poorly understood.  But, unless it is impeded, or resisted, by building design … Fire-Induced Progressive Damage will result in Disproportionate Damage … and may lead to a Collapse Level Event (CLE), which is entirely unacceptable to the general population of any community or society.  All buildings must, therefore, be capable of resisting Fire-Induced Progressive Damage.

All buildings must also be carefully assessed for the risk of involvement in a Severe Natural Event, e.g. earthquakes, floods, landslides, typhoons and tsunamis.

In all of the above Risk Assessments … the minimum Return Period (also known as Recurrence Interval or Repeat Interval) must never be less than 100 years.

Reacting to surging energy, environmental and planetary capacity pressures … with accelerating climate change … Sustainable Buildings are now presenting society with an innovative and exciting re-interpretation of how a building is designed, constructed and functions … an approach which is leaving the International Fire Engineering and Fire Service Communities far behind in its wake, struggling to keep up.

Colour ‘infographic’ showing the design features of 1 Bligh Street, Sydney CBD, Australia … ‘tall’/skyscraper commercial office building, completed in 2011 … designed by Ingenhoven Architects (Germany) and Architectus (Australia).  Can Fire Engineers understand this new design approach … and then collaborate, actively and creatively, within the Project Design Team ?

Black and white plan drawing of 1 Bligh Street (Level 26), Sydney CBD, Australia … a ‘sustainable’ office building … BUT … Effective ‘Fire Safety for All’ in this building ?  Has Firefighter Safety been considered ??  Property Protection ???  Business Continuity ????  The very harmful Environmental Impacts of Fire ?????

Passive and Active Fire Protection Measures, together with Building Management Systems (whether human and/or intelligent), are never 100% reliable.  Society must depend, therefore, on firefighters to fill this reliability ‘gap’ … and to enter buildings on fire in order to search for remaining or trapped building users.  This is in addition to their regular firefighting function.  Therefore, there is a strong ethical obligation on building designers, including fire engineers, to properly consider Firefighter Safety … should a fire incident occur at any time during the life cycle of a building.

Structural Serviceability, Fire Resistance Performance and ‘Fire Safety for All’ in a building must, therefore, be related directly to the local Fire Service Support Infrastructure … particularly in developing and the least developed countries.  AND … Fire Codes and Standards must always be adapted to a local context !

Colour photograph showing knotted sheets hanging from high-level windows which were used for ‘escape’ by guests … clearly indicating a catastrophic failure of fire protection measures and management within the building. Fire and smoke spread quickly throughout the multi-storey hotel, resulting in 12 dead, and over 100 injured (approximately 1/3 critically).

Colour photograph showing a guest rescue by ladder.  Notice the condition of the ladder and firefighter protection.  Fire safety in a building must be related directly to local Fire Service Support Infrastructure … particularly in developing and the least developed countries.

The fire safety objectives of current Fire Codes and Standards are limited, usually flawed … and will rarely satisfy the real needs of clients/client organizations, or properly protect society.  Fire code compliance, in isolation from other aspects of building performance, will involve a consideration of only a fraction of the issues discussed above.  There is once again, therefore, a strong ethical obligation on building designers, including fire engineers, to clearly differentiate between the limited fire safety objectives in Fire Codes and Standards … and Project-Specific Fire Engineering Design Objectives … and to explain these differences to a Client/Client Organization.  Facility Managers must also explain these differences directly to an Organization’s Senior Management … and directly inform the Organization’s Board of Directors … as appropriate.SFE Mission:  To ensure that there is an effective level of Fire Safety for ALL – not just for SOME – in the Built Environment … to dramatically reduce all direct and indirect fire losses in the Human Environment … and to protect the Natural Environment.

4 Key SFE Concepts:  Reality – Reliability – Redundancy – Resilience !

SFE Design Solutions:  Are …

  • Adapted to Local Context & Heritage ;
  • Reliability-Based ;
  • Person-Centred ;   and
  • Resilient.

SFE SUBSIDIARY OBJECTIVES

  1. To transform Conventional Fire Engineering, as practiced today, into an ethical and fully professional Sustainable Design Discipline which is fit for purpose in the 21st Century … meaning … that fire engineers can participate actively and collaboratively in the sustainable design process, and can respond creatively with sustainable fire engineering design solutions which result in Effective Fire Safety for All in a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment.
  2. To bring together today’s disparate sectors within the International Fire Engineering (and Science) Community … to encourage better communication between each, and trans-disciplinary collaboration between all.
  3. To initiate discussion and foster mutual understanding between the International Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Urban Resilience Communities … and the International Fire Engineering and Fire Service Communities.

SFE DELIVERABLES

1.  2016 Dublin Code of Ethics: Design, Engineering, Construction & Operation of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for All.  Download from: http://www.sustainable-firengineering.ie/sfe2016dublin/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/2016_Dublin-Code-of-Ethics.pdf

The realization of a Safe, Inclusive, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment demands a concerted, collaborative, very creative and widely trans-disciplinary effort at national, local, regional and international levels across the whole planet – Our Common Home.  The informed operation of appropriate legislation, administrative procedures, performance monitoring and targeting, and incentives/disincentives, at all of these levels, will facilitate initial progress towards this objective … but not the quantity, quality or speed of progress necessary.  Our time is running out !

This Code of Ethics applies … for those who subscribe to its values … to policy and decision makers, and the many different individuals and organizations directly and indirectly involved in the design, engineering, construction, and operation (management and maintenance) of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for All.

The Purpose of this Code of Ethics is to guide the work of competent individuals and organizations in a context where incomplete or inadequate legislation, administrative procedures and incentives/disincentives exist … but, more importantly, where they do not exist at all … and, amid much confusion and obfuscation of the terms, to ensure that implementation is authentically ‘sustainable’, and reliably ‘safe’ and ‘resilient’ for every person in the receiving community, society or culture … before it is too late !

2.  Sustainable Fire Engineering Network … Join the LinkedIn SFE Group at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8390667.  Interested Individuals and Organizations are all very welcome.

And … Like the Facebook SFE Page at https://www.facebook.com/sfe2016/

3.  New CIB W14: ‘Fire Safety’ Research Working Group VI Reflection Document: ‘Sustainable Fire Engineering Design, Construction & Operation’, which will establish a framework for the future development of Sustainable Fire Engineering.

Preparation of this Document will soon begin, and the following issues will be explored:

  • Conceptual Framework for Sustainable Fire Engineering (SFE), with a necessary accompanying Generic SFE Terminology ;
  • Strategy for Future SFE Development ;
  • Implementation of 2005 & 2008 NIST WTC 9-11 Recommendations ;
  • Fresh, New SFE Research Agenda ;
  • Resilient Implementation of SFE Research Agenda.

4.  SFE Websitehttp://www.sfe-fire.eu

5.  SFE Twitter Accounts … @sfe2016dublin … and … @firesafety4all

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BS 9999:2008 & BS 8300:2009 – Sleepwalking into Problems ?

2009-06-14:  Ireland has no national standards or codes of practice of its own covering Building Accessibility or Fire Safety in Buildings.  Instead, many people and organizations in this country will just switch to automatic pilot and  – without thinking or questioning – adopt the following two standards of another jurisdiction as the default Irish National Standards …

British Standard BS 9999:2008 – Code of Practice for Fire Safety in the Design, Management and Use of Buildings … was published on 31 October 2008.

British Standard BS 8300:2009 – Design of Buildings and Their Approaches to Meet the Needs of Disabled People.  This Code of Practice was published on 28 February 2009.

If Ireland does not quickly open its eyes … we will be sleep walking into a very problematic legal environment, as far as building accessibility and fire safety in buildings is concerned.

1.   An Immediate Challenge 

A Sub-Group (established at a meeting of the NSAI Accessibility-for-All Standards Consultative Committee WG1 held on Tuesday 2009-05-19) was tasked with developing a common position, suitable for application in Ireland and compatible with European Technical Harmonization, on the following issues:

  • Clear Width of Internal & External Door Openings ;
  • Turning Circles for Occupied Wheelchairs ;
  • Car Parking Spaces ;
  • Fire Safety Issues.

A series of coherent proposals will be presented to the next NSAI AASCC WG1 Meeting, on Friday 19th June 2009 … and, given the absence of Irish National Standards, it will also be suggested how these proposals may be confirmed as best current practice here.

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2.   Overview of BS 8300:2009 & BS 9999:2008

During the development of the Draft ISO Accessibility-for-All Standard, it has been unanimously agreed that Accessibility encompasses the full range of activity related to buildings: to approach, enter, use, egress from and evacuate a building independently, in an equitable and dignified manner (Introduction, 2nd Paragraph, Page 5).  ‘Egress’ under normal, ambient conditions is distinguished from ‘Evacuation’ in the event of a fire emergency.  Use of the word ‘Escape’ is discouraged in any circumstance.  For the first time, fire safety texts have been fully incorporated into the main body of the Draft ISO Standard.

Accessibility within the British Standards Institution (BSI), on the other hand, is still segregated between BS 8300:2009 – approach, entry and use and BS 9999:2008 – fire evacuation.  Conflicts and gaps in content naturally result from such a configuration, which can now be seen as outdated and fundamentally flawed.

This configuration has been replicated, in Irish Building Regulations, with the separate scopes of Part M / Technical Guidance Document M and Part B / Technical Guidance Document B.  Integration between these 2 Technical Guidance Documents is very poor.  In practice, fire safety for people with activity limitations is widely disregarded within the process of Fire Safety Certification in Ireland.

2.1  BS 8300:2009

BSI has arrogantly gone on a solo run, and decided to deviate from some very widely accepted concepts of accessibility, e.g. ‘clear width’ of a door opening (discussed in more detail later).  The ‘Ergonomic Research’ supporting door opening forces of 30 N is at complete variance with earlier research in Britain and must, therefore, be strongly questioned.  Perhaps, it is the case that the Fire Services in England & Wales re-asserted their authority, supported by reference to European Fire Product Standards with little if any input from the European Disability Sector, and insisted on a ‘definite’, i.e. high, closing force being exerted on the door leaves in fire resisting doorsets.

2.2  BS 9999:2008

People with disabilities have a right, recognized in international law after 3rd May 2008, to equal opportunity and non-discrimination in matters of building fire safety, protection and evacuation.  A minimum response to Article 11 (Situations of Risk) in the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is required, therefore, from fire regulators and code writers.  Such a response is absent in British Standard BS 9999:2008.

A close examination of the fire safety texts relating to ‘disability’ in BS 9999:2008 shows that they have not been properly integrated into the ‘mainstream’ content.  In fact, much of the content from the replaced BS 5588:Part 8 has just been grafted onto BS 9999, with very little change or alteration from the first version of Part 8 published in 1988 !

Compare Figure G.1 on Page 360 of BS 9999:2008 … with … Figure 4 on Page 8 of BS 5588:Part 8:1988 … both are exactly the same …

Black and white drawing showing both a token and an inadequate 'area of rescue assistance' in BS 9999:2008 - exactly as shown in the first version of BS 5588:Part 8 published back in 1988 !

Black and white drawing showing both a token and an inadequate ‘area of rescue assistance’ in BS 9999:2008 – exactly as shown in the first version of BS 5588:Part 8 published back in 1988 ! Click to enlarge.

Two Critical Observations in relation to the ‘area of rescue assistance’ shown above:

    –  This drawing in BS 9999:2008 is in direct conflict with the text located directly above it … ‘where the wheelchair space is within a protected stairway, access to the wheelchair space should not obstruct the flow of persons escaping’ ;

but, more importantly …

   –  In BS 9999:2008, fire safety for people with activity limitations receives treatment which is superficial and merely token.  Many times in relation to buildings generally, it is stated in Annex G.1, Page 359 …

‘A refuge needs to be of sufficient size both to accommodate a wheelchair and to allow the user to manoeuvre into the wheelchair space without undue difficulty.’

‘ In most premises, it is considered reasonable to have refuges of a size where each one is able to accommodate one wheelchair user.  Where it is reasonably foreseeable that the proportion of disabled users in a building will be relatively high, or where the use of the premises is likely to result in groups of wheelchair users being present (e.g. some types of sporting, entertainment, transport or public assembly buildings), consideration should be given to increasing the size and/or number of refuges accordingly.’

‘ NOTE 3   Managers of sporting or other venues where a number of disabled people might be present are advised not to restrict the number of disabled people who can be admitted to that venue on the grounds of the size of refuges, since some disabled people who use mobility aids such as a wheelchair will be able to self-evacuate in the case of a real fire.’

and again in Annex G.2.2 on Page 367 …

‘Where it is reasonably foreseeable that the refuges will be used by more than one user (e.g. some types of sporting, entertainment, transport or public assembly buildings), … ‘

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Within such an inadequate and token context, it is understandable that an unduly heavy reliance is placed on the practice of developing Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPS) for individuals with activity limitations.  See Paragraph #46.7a) on Page 248, which states …

‘ By taking into account the individual needs of a person when preparing a PEEP, management will be able to make any reasonable adjustments to the premises or procedures that are necessary.’

These Plans are flawed and discriminatory because they are:

   –  person specific ;  and

   –  location specific ;

… with the underlying assumption in the text being that, beyond the specified location(s), the building is not properly accessible, i.e. does not meet the functional requirements of Parts B & M in the Building Regulations for England & Wales – or, in the case of Ireland, Parts B & M of our Building Regulations.

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There are silly technical errors in BS 9999:2008, e.g. in Annex G.2.3 on Page 368, it states …

‘Unless a different order has been agreed with the fire authority, evacuation should normally be in the following order:

1)     the fire floor ;

2)     the floor immediately above the fire floor ;  [This should read ‘the floors immediately above and immediately below the fire floor’ !]

3)     other floors above the fire floor starting at the top storey ;

4)     all remaining floors.’

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A Technical Term is used in BS 9999:2008 – Place of Ultimate Safety – which complicates the already widely accepted term: ‘Place of Safety’.  The definition provided for the British Term in Section 3: Terms & Definitions (#3.84, Page 17) is so vague that it is of no practical use to fire engineering designers, building managers or building users.

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3.   Comments:  i) Clear Width of Door Openings

Paragraph #6.4.1, on Page 36 of BS 8300:2009 introduces a new understanding of ‘clear width’ for door openings, which is illustrated in Figure 11 (Page 37) … and also a new term ‘effective clear width’.

The new understanding of ‘clear width’ is a complete departure from the standard understanding, widely accepted throughout the world, which is shown in the bottom left hand drawing of Figure 11.

The new term ‘effective clear width’ will complicate the already difficult concept of ‘clear width’.  Wasn’t the ‘clear width’ of a door opening always supposed to be ‘effective’, i.e. properly permit circulation for wheelchair users ?

However, the issue raised in the top right hand drawing of Figure 11 is valid …

Colour photograph showing the Final Fire Exit from a building (somewhere in Ireland). The 'clear width' of the door opening is seriously compromised - the door leaf cannot be fully opened and the panic bar reduces the 'clear width' still more.

Colour photograph showing the Final Fire Exit from a building (somewhere in Ireland). The ‘clear width’ of the door opening is seriously compromised – the door leaf cannot be fully opened and the panic bar reduces the ‘clear width’ still more. Click to enlarge.

Solution:  Retain the current international/European/national understanding of ‘clear width’ for door openings in Ireland … but include text, with supporting drawings, in Revised Technical Guidance Documents B & M to ensure that there is no encroachment on that ‘clear width’ caused by protruding door leaf ironmongery or, more importantly, where the door leaf itself cannot be fully opened to 90o-100o.

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4.   Comments:  i) Clear Width of Door Openings in Existing Buildings

Table 2, on Page 37 of BS 8300:2009, permits the ‘clear width’ for door openings in existing buildings to be reduced significantly below 800mm.

If buildings of historical, architectural and cultural importance are properly identified, and proper allowance is made for these specific building types in Revised Technical Guidance Documents B & M … there is no need to permit a general reduction in the ‘clear width’ for door openings in existing buildings.

Solution:  Clearly indicate in the Revised Technical Guidance Document M that the last ‘Existing Buildings’ Column on the right of Table 2 in BS 8300 should be disregarded.

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5.   Comments:  ii) Turning Circles for Occupied Wheelchairs

Down through the years, it has been just possible to communicate the concept of the ‘wheelchair turning circle’ to building designers and urban planners … whether it be the older 1.5m diameter circle or the newer 1.8m diameter circle.

The new Figures and Tables in Annexes C.3 and C.4 of BS 8300:2009 will be difficult to communicate … and may be a complication too far ?

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6.   Comments:  iv) Fire Safety Issues

Colour photograph showing people trapped at the top of one of the WTC Towers. This Tower collapsed soon afterwards.

Colour photograph showing people trapped at the top of one of the WTC Towers. This Tower collapsed soon afterwards. Click to enlarge.

The Recommendations contained in the 2005 & 2008 National Institute of Standards & Technology (USA) Reports on the WTC 9-11 Incident in New York provide an invaluable and essential empirical basis for the practice of effective fire engineering design in today’s built environment.

The first of these two reports has special relevance for NSAI AASCC WG1 because the typical problems encountered by people with activity limitations during a ‘real’ building fire incident have been highlighted by NIST and closely investigated.  As a result, three important fire engineering keywords have been re-stated with strong emphasis: ‘reality’ – ‘reliability’ – ‘redundancy’.  And, a new key phrase in relation to way finding during evacuation has been introduced to the everyday practice of fire engineering design: ‘intuitive and obvious’.

The 2005 NIST Report, particularly, must be given proper consideration during the development of any reputable fire safety related standard or code of practice for the following reasons:

   –  at the time of the ‘real’ fire incident, approximately 8% of building users were people with disabilities, with 6% having mobility impairments ;  [The percentage of ‘building users with activity limitations’ exceeded the 8% quoted above.]

   –  NIST found that the average surviving occupant in the buildings descended stairwells at about half the slowest speed previously measured for non-emergency/test evacuations.  This raises a serious question over the use of standard movement times in fire engineering design calculations for evacuation ;

   –  NIST strongly recommended that fire-protected and structurally hardened lifts (elevators) should be installed in buildings to facilitate the evacuation of building users with disabilities, and to improve emergency response activities by providing timely emergency access to firefighters ;  [In Ireland, building designers have already adopted this approach by constructing cores of reinforced concrete … even in the absence of European/national standards.]

   –  it was recommended that evacuation routes should have consistent layouts, and be ‘intuitive and obvious’ for all building users, including visitors who may be unfamiliar with the building, during evacuations ;

   –  NIST recommended that staircase capacity and stair discharge door widths should be adequate to accommodate contraflow in circulation spaces, i.e. the simultaneous emergency access by firefighters into a building and towards a fire, while building users are still moving away from the fire and evacuating the building.  This has implications for the minimum clear width of all fire evacuation staircases.  Wider staircases facilitate the assisted evacuation and rescue of people with disabilities.

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No consideration was given in BS 9999:2008, however, to any of the Recommendations contained in the 2005 & 2008 NIST Reports … there is not even a mention of either Report in the Bibliography (Pages 423-429).

   –  For such an important national standard in Europe – BS 9999:2008 – there is no understanding demonstrated of the Fundamental Functional Requirement for Public Safety in Buildings …

Buildings shall remain structurally stable and serviceable …

1.  while people are waiting in ‘Areas of Rescue Assistance’ ;  and

2.  until all of these people can be rescued by Firefighters and can reach a ‘Place of Safety’, which is remote from a fire building – with an assurance of individual health, safety & welfare for the people involved ;

   –  There is a reference to ‘normal movement times’ which are used to calculate evacuation times in Mobility-Impaired People (Paragraph #46.2, Page 247), even though it was found by NIST that the average surviving occupant in the WTC Towers descended stairwells at about half the slowest speed previously measured for non-emergency evacuations.  In a ‘real’ fire incident, there is no such thing as ‘normal’ or ‘standard’ evacuation movement times, and the idea that any building must be clear of occupants within a very short timeframe, e.g. 2.5-3.5 minutes, is ludicrous ;

   –  In the sensitive area of the Resistance to Damage of Enclosing and Separating Partitions (Paragraph #21.2.5 on Page 101) surrounding Firefighting Shafts, it is still permissible in BS 9999:2008 to use non-robust construction, e.g. lightweight plasterboard.  Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse is not discussed in the BS 9999 … and neither is Disproportionate Collapse, which is one of the functional requirements – A3 – in Part A of the Building Regulations for England & Wales (and Ireland !) ;

   –  Although in Wheelchair Users (Paragraph #46.3 on Page 247), it is stated …

‘It should be noted that it can take as many as four people to use an evacuation chair safely and effectively.’

… the dimensions for the minimum width of staircases in Width of Escape Stairs (Table 14 on Page 88) and Firefighting Stairs (Paragraph #21.3.2 on Page 106) disregard the guidance given on Page 247 … and ignore the minimum clear staircase width (1.5m) required to safely assist the evacuation of a person in a manual wheelchair …

Black and white photograph (US FEMA 2002) showing the correct way to assist the fire evacuation of a wheelchair user in an evacuation staircase ... one person at each side, with another person behind.

Black and white photograph (US FEMA 2002) showing the correct way to assist the fire evacuation of a wheelchair user in an evacuation staircase … one person at each side, with another person behind.

And … for some unexplained reason, handrails are permitted to intrude into the ‘clear width’ of a firefighting staircase in BS 9999:2008 (Paragraph #21.3.2, Page 106).

Please note well … this method (shown below) of assisting the evacuation of a person in a manual wheelchair is NOT correct.  It is not possible to support any weight by holding the foot rests on a manual wheelchair, or by grasping the wheelchair by the front wheels …

Black & white sketch showing how definitely NOT to assist the fire evacuation of a wheelchair user in an evacuation staircase.

Black & white sketch showing how definitely NOT to assist the fire evacuation of a wheelchair user in an evacuation staircase.

Manual handling of occupied wheelchairs in a fire evacuation staircase, even with adequate training for everyone directly and indirectly involved, is hazardous for the person in the wheelchair and those people – minimum three – giving assistance.

The weight of an average unoccupied powered wheelchair, alone, makes manual handling impractical.  All lifts (elevators) in new buildings should, therefore, be capable of being used for evacuation in a fire situation.  Lifts (elevators) in existing buildings, when being replaced or undergoing a major overhaul, should then be made capable of use for this purpose.

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Contraflow Circulation, i.e. the simultaneous emergency access by firefighters into a building and towards a fire, while building users are still moving away from the fire and evacuating the building, has not been considered at all in BS 9999:2008.

A clear staircase width of 1.5m provides sufficient space for a mobile person to evacuate (700 mm) and a heavily protected and equipped firefighter to simultaneously move in the opposite direction (800 mm) …

Colour drawing, with photograph insets, showing the symbiotic relationship between Contraflow Circulation and Proper Assisted Evacuation in a building.

Colour drawing, with photograph insets, showing the symbiotic relationship between Contraflow Circulation and Proper Assisted Evacuation in a building. Click to enlarge.

Human Behaviour in Fires should have been discussed in far more detail in BS 9999:2008 … but wasn’t.  It is important for fire engineering designers to understand that the ‘real’ people who use ‘real’ buildings every day of every week, in all parts of the world, have widely differing ranges of human abilities and activity limitations … they are different from each other, and they will react differently in a fire emergency.

Building users need to be Skilled for Evacuation to a place, or places, of safety remote from a fire building.  In the case of people with a mental or cognitive impairment, there is a particular need to encourage, foster and regularly practice the adaptive thinking which will be necessary during a ‘real’ fire evacuation.

Meaningful Consultation with every person known to occupy or use a building, for the purposes of receiving his/her active co-operation and obtaining his/her informed consent (involving a personal representative, if necessary), is an essential component of adequate pre-planning and preparation for a fire emergency.

Adequate Warning of a fire incident in a building should be communicated well in advance of the time when it is necessary to act and should continue for the full duration of the incident.  Warnings should be informative, and easily assimilated in a form (e.g. oral, written, braille) and language understood by the people using the building.

Panic attacks, during evacuation in a ‘real’ fire incident, exist.  The 2005 National Building Code of India refers extensively to this issue.

Solution:  To resolve the technical inadequacies, inconsistencies and content gaps in BS 9999:2008 … it will be necessary to revise Technical Guidance Document B in Ireland.  Fire safety, protection and evacuation from buildings for people with disabilities must be comprehensively included in the process of Fire Safety Certification.

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7.        Conclusions – BS 9999:2008 & BS 8300:2009

There are many gaps and conflicts between these two British Standards, principally because … they are two separate standards … drafted by two different Technical Committees within the British Standards Institution (BSI).

Because of its deviation from widely accepted concepts of accessibility and its tortuous use of terminology, BS 8003:2009 will have an adverse impact on the practice of Accessibility Design in Ireland … and has already complicated the development of the ISO Accessibility-for-All Standard (DIS ISO 21542).

Arrogance within BSI is not the only reason for such deviations.  Distorting the European Union Single Market, for the purpose of introducing technical barriers to trade, is common in Britain … refer to the ‘deemed-to-satisfy’ status of the Approved Documents in the Building Regulations for England & Wales … and the Fire Protection Association’s ‘LPC Sprinkler Rules’.

Input from the Disability Sector during the drafting of BS 9999:2008 was not at all sufficient to ensure that there was a meaningful consideration of the problems encountered by people with activity limitations during a ‘real’ building fire incident.  The necessary range of available and effective fire engineering solutions has not, therefore, been presented in the standard.

In addition … the complete and abject failure to consider the important Recommendations contained in the 2005 & 2008 National Institute of Standards & Technology (USA) Reports on the WTC 9-11 Incident in New York was an inexcusable and unforgivable technical oversight.

The result is a crassly inadequate, discriminatory and deeply flawed national fire safety standard in Great Britain & Northern Ireland.  BS 9999:2008 became obsolete on the very day of its publication !

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Postscript

Please refer to our 1999 Submission to the Department of the Environment & Local Government, in Dublin, concerning the use of British Standard BS 5588:Part 8 in Ireland …

        http://www.sustainable-design.ie/arch/submissions.htm

Following this Submission, our understanding is that an ‘Internal’ Working Party was established within the Department.  However, the Working Party never reported.  No proper response to this Submission has ever been received from the Minister or the Department.

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On 29th November 2006, similar and very polite comments were sent directly to the British Standards Institution (BSI) by e-mail.  Receipt of this e-mail was never acknowledged by anyone in BSI.

The contents of the e-mail were ignored.

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Fire Evacuation of People with Disabilities – Reality Bites ?

2009-03-10:   Regarding Seán’s Comment, dated 2009-03-06.

 

Yes, the guidance provided in Technical Guidance Document B (Ireland) is inadequate … and the same can equally be said of Approved Document B (England & Wales).

 

And yes, you will find only partial answers in British Standard BS 9999, even though it was only published on 31st October 2008 last.

 

Access Consultants in Ireland and Great Britain rarely deal with any matters relating to fire safety in buildings.

 

 

 

Please allow me, therefore, to fill in some gaps for you.  The following guidance is suitable for application in any European country …

 

People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF) experience many difficulties when attempting to independently evacuate a fire building.  However, our reasoning is very simple.  If we can get things right for the most vulnerable building users, we get them right for everyone else also.

 

 

The Target Destination … whether evacuation is independent, assisted by other building users or accomplished by means of firefighter rescue … is a ‘Place of Safety’.  This term is not well defined in legislation or codes.

 

Building User ‘Place of Safety’:

Any location beyond a perimeter which is [100] metres from the fire building or a distance of [10] times the height of such building, whichever is the greater … and … where necessary and effective medical care and attention can be provided, or organized, within one hour of injury … and … where people can be identified.

 

Where there is a Risk of Explosion … multiply the numbers in square brackets above by 4 (at least !).

 

 

 

All Fire Evacuation Routes – inside and outside a building – should comply with Accessibility Design Criteria.  This is an entirely alien concept to many Fire Prevention Officers in Local Authorities, and Fire Consultants !

 

Panic Attacks, during evacuation in a ‘real’ fire incident, exist.

 

Standard Movement Times, during evacuation in a ‘real’ fire incident, do not exist.

 

 

 

People should be able to reach an ‘Area of Rescue Assistance’ inside a building with ease.  In practice, few people understand what the word ‘refuge’ means (as in … refuge point, refuge area, area of refuge, etc).  As a result, these spaces are regularly misused and/or abused in buildings.  And there is great difficulty translating a word into other languages which, in English, can have so many meanings.  In Italian fire safety legislation, for example, ‘refuge’ has been translated as ‘spazio calmo’.  How crazy is that ?

 

So … what is an ‘Area of Rescue Assistance’ ?

A building space directly adjoining, and visible from, a main vertical evacuation route – robustly and reliably protected from heat, smoke and flame during and after a fire – where people may temporarily wait with confidence for further information, instructions, and/or rescue assistance, without obstructing or interfering with the evacuation travel of other building users.

 

 

This is a notional Area of Rescue Assistance …

 

A Clear Evacuation Width of 1.5 metres on the Evacuation Staircase facilitates ‘contraflow’ in a fire emergency (shown on the lower flight of stairs), i.e. emergency access by firefighters entering a building and moving towards a fire, while building users are moving away from the fire and evacuating the building … as well as allowing sufficient space to safely carry an occupied wheelchair down the staircase (shown on the upper flight of stairs).

 

Drawing showing a notional Area of Rescue Assistance in a Building. Click to enlarge. Based on a design by CJ Walsh. Drawn by S Ginnerup, Denmark.

Drawing showing a notional Area of Rescue Assistance in a Building. Click to enlarge. Based on a design by CJ Walsh. Drawn by S Ginnerup, Denmark.

 

 

Evacuation Skills & Self-Protection from Fire in Buildings …

A ‘skill’ is the ability of a person – resulting from adequate training and regular practice – to carry out complex, well-organized patterns of behaviour efficiently and adaptively, in order to achieve some end or goal.

 

Building users should be skilled for evacuation to a ‘place of safety’, and test/drill/non-emergency evacuations should be carried out sufficiently often to equip building users with that skill.  Consideration should be given to practicing evacuation once every month or, at most, every two months; once a year is inadequate.  In the case of people with a mental or cognitive impairment, there is a particular need to encourage, foster and regularly practice the adaptive thinking which will be necessary during a ‘real’ fire incident.

 

Since Fire Protection Measures and Human Management Systems are never 100% reliable … it is necessary for frail older people and building users with disabilities to be familiar with necessary guidelines for self-protection in the event of a fire emergency.

 

 

Assisted Evacuation & Rescue Techniques …

Firefighters have two functions:

         fighting fires ;  and

         rescuing people who are trapped in buildings, or for some reason, cannot independently evacuate a building which is on fire.

 

People with disabilities are participating more and more, and in ever increasing numbers, in mainstream society.  It is necessary, particularly for firefighters, to become skilled in how best to rescue a person with a disability from a building, using procedures and equipment which will not cause further harm or injury to that person.

 

Manual handling of occupied wheelchairs in a fire evacuation staircase, even with adequate training for everyone directly and indirectly involved, is hazardous for the person in the wheelchair and those people – minimum three – giving assistance.

 

Generally … Powered Wheelchairs are too heavy for manual handling in any situation.

 

For these reasons, all lifts/elevators in new buildings should be capable of being used for fire evacuation.  Lifts/elevators in existing buildings, when being replaced or undergoing major overhaul, should then be made capable of being used for fire evacuation.

 

Local Fire Authorities should ensure that they possess the necessary equipment to rescue people with a wide range of impairments, and that specialized rescue equipment is regularly serviced and maintained.  Every Fire Authority should have an ‘accessible’ and ‘reliable’ Emergency Call System which is available, at all times, to the public within its functional area.

 

It is essential that every Firefighter is fully aware of this important public safety issue, and is regularly trained in the necessary rescue procedures involving people with a wide range of impairments.

 

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END

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