fire service support infrastructure

Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (3) – Fire Alarms !!

Previous Posts In This New Series …

2019-10-31:  Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Report – Information

2019-11-11:  Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (1) – Vulnerable People ?

2019-12-21:  Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (2) – Fire Emergency Plans !

2020-03-23:  The Grenfell Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Recommendations (Part V in Volume 4 of the Phase 1 Report), were published on 30 October 2019.  The initial issues covered in those Recommendations are fragmentary, lack depth and coherence … and in the case of Fire Alarms, with just one indirect reference to them in Paragraph #33.22 … they are in serious error.

Colour image showing the Volume 4 Cover Page of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report.  The Phase 1 Recommendations are contained in Chapter #33, on Pages 771-780.  Click to enlarge.

[ Paragraph #33.22 ]  There were no plans in place for evacuating Grenfell Tower should the need arise.  I therefore recommend:

d. that all high-rise residential buildings (both those already in existence and those built in the future) be equipped with facilities for use by the fire and rescue services enabling them to send an evacuation signal to the whole or a selected part of the building by means of sounders or similar devices ;

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FUNDAMENTALS OF A SOLUTION

1.  A Fire Alarm (more precisely from here on, a Fire Detection & Warning System) is a critical safety feature in all buildings … ALL BUILDINGS … from the smallest and most simple, to the biggest and most complex … no exceptions !!

In order to survive in a fire emergency, Vulnerable Building Users need more time to react, and evacuate, than other occupants/users.  The valuable time provided by early, accurate and precise detection is the only way to effectively facilitate this.  The ‘Required Time’ to prepare for evacuation depends on many factors, e.g. building complexity, familiarity of users with evacuation routes, range and severity of user activity limitations, etc.

It follows, therefore, that if building occupants/users have to wait 15, or 20, or 30 minutes before firefighters arrive at the fire scene (Full Response Time*) and ‘an evacuation signal to the whole or a selected part of the building’ is only then sent by those firefighters … all of that valuable evacuation time for vulnerable building users has been lost.  This is ridiculous, and makes no sense whatsoever.  This Recommendation must be rejected out of hand, and ignored !

[ *Full Response Time: The time interval from the receipt of an emergency communication at the primary public safety answering point (#PSAP) to when emergency response units are initiating action or intervening to control a fire incident. ]

Colour photograph showing the Single, Narrow Staircase (1.040 metres in width between a handrail on one side of the staircase and a bare wall on the other side) in London’s Grenfell Residential Tower.  This staircase, which was inadequately protected from fire, heat and smoke, was not wide enough to facilitate the ‘contraflow’ circulation of firefighters entering, while occupants evacuated at the same time.  Without a Fire Alarm in the building, occupants could not have known that a serious Fire Emergency was in progress … especially Vulnerable Building Users accommodated high up in the Tower … and they remained in place (‘stayed put’).  Once firefighters arrived at the scene, occupant evacuation using this staircase became impossible or extremely difficult.  Click to enlarge.

Important Note:  In Chapter #34: ‘Looking Ahead to Phase 2’ of Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Report, Volume 4 … Paragraph #34.14 states …

A question was raised about the width of the stairs, given that they provided the sole means of access to the upper floors of the tower for firefighters as well as the sole means of escape for the occupants.  However, the stairs appear to have complied with requirements of the legislation in force at the time of their construction and the expert evidence supports the conclusion that they had sufficient capacity to enable all the occupants of the building to escape within a reasonable time.  This aspect of the building will not, therefore, be the subject of further investigation in Phase 2.’

Astounding !  Absurd !!  FUBAR !!!

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All Fire Emergency Warning Systems must be designed to accommodate People with Hearing Impairments.  Audible and visual warning devices must be provided together, as a single combined unit.  This is particularly important in noisy and isolated building spaces, e.g. bathrooms, small meeting rooms.  Vibrating devices, such as pagers or mobile phones, can be integrated into a building’s fire emergency warning system in order to provide any individual with a tactile emergency alert.

Colour photograph showing a single combined visual-audible Fire Emergency Warning Device.  Click to enlarge.

Important Note:  Audible sounders, on their own, are never a sufficient Fire Emergency Warning !

2.  The Purpose of a Fire Emergency Warning System is to provoke calm, efficient and adaptable evacuation movement by ALL building users/occupants at the earliest possible stage in a fire incident, without causing user confusion, disorientation or panic. In all building types, therefore, a reliable, informative and accessible fire emergency warning system must be installed, and such a system must always have a fire protected electrical supply.

Colour photograph showing the movement of building occupants and users.  The purpose of a Fire Emergency Warning System is to provoke calm, efficient and adaptable evacuation movement by ALL building occupants at the earliest possible stage in a fire incident, without causing user confusion, disorientation or panic.  During a Fire Emergency, STANDARD MOVEMENT TIMES DO NOT EXIST.  Click to enlarge.

3.  To provoke a Calm Response from Building Users … the output from Fire Emergency Warning Devices, e.g. light, sound and messages, must be adapted to the local context of people and building surroundings.

Fire Emergency Audible Warnings … A sufficient number of low-output audible sounders, i.e. between 60-80 dB, must be specified for effectiveness.  Small numbers of sounders with high output (in order to reduce costs) should never be specified, as this can lead to confusion, disorientation and panic attacks among some building users/occupants.  The output of sounders must be adapted to suit interior surroundings, e.g. in small spaces with hard surfaces a lower sound output will be adequate.

Colour image.  The output from Fire Emergency Audible Sounders must be between 60-80 dB.

Important Note:  When they are asleep, hearing-able children (around ten years of age and under) … and hearing-able older people (around 65 years of age and over) are more difficult to wake and rouse sufficiently for evacuation when alerted by an audible signal alone.

Fire Emergency Visual Warnings … Light strobes/beacons must be clearly visible.  To reinforce #1 above … light strobes/beacons must be placed in wash rooms and in other locations within buildings where people may be alone ; they must also be placed in noisy environments.

A sufficient number of low-output strobes/beacons must be specified for effectiveness.  Small numbers of strobes/beacons with high output (in order to reduce costs) should never be specified, as these produce a glare which may cause confusion, disorientation and panic attacks among some building users/occupants.  The light output of strobes/beacons must be adapted to suit interior surroundings, e.g. in dark rooms.

For light strobes/beacons, a slow rate of flash is important, i.e. no faster than once every two or three seconds, in order to encourage a calm response from building users/occupants and to avoid photosensitivity seizures.  Most importantly, the flash of one strobe/beacon must be synchronized with the flashes of all other light strobes/beacons in view.

Colour video clip (.gif).  The output from Fire Emergency Visual Strobes / Beacons must be no faster than one flash every two or three seconds.  The flash rate shown above is too fast !   Click to run video clip.

Fire Emergency Voice Message Warnings … Are essential to improve Warning Credibility.  In other words, building users are far less likely to sit around wondering, waiting to see whether this is a ‘real’ fire emergency, a false alarm, a practice evacuation, or an electrical error.  Verbal or voice messages must be short and contain appropriate warning information which is easily assimilated.  The speaker should be distinct and easy to understand.  Live messaging during a fire emergency is preferred over pre-recorded, standard messages.  In today’s multi-cultural social environment, messages must be transmitted in at least two to three different languages, as appropriate.

Fire Emergency Directional Warnings … Combination sounder, visible strobe/beacon, and voice messaging Fire Emergency Warning Devices are now a mainstream technology, are readily available, and are being specified in new and existing buildings.

Colour image showing a combination Fire Emergency Directional Audible Sounder, with Voice Messaging capability.  Click to enlarge.

Audible directional signalling must be installed when dealing with difficult building configurations, e.g. in large open office layouts/spaces with minimal signage … where building users/occupants are unfamiliar with their surroundings in modern shopping centres/malls and other complex building types … or visibility of high-level signage may be reduced because of smoke logging.

Directional sounders, which guide building users during a Fire Evacuation towards Exits, Areas of Rescue Assistance and Lift/Elevator Lobbies, must be positioned at carefully chosen, suitable locations.  Once reached, a directional sounder must also have a voice messaging capability in order to inform people about the next phase of evacuation.

4.  Fire Emergency Warning Systems must be Accessible (for People with Activity Limitations), i.e. capable of transmitting a warning in many formats in order to ensure that all users/occupants perceive and act upon the warning in a calm manner and, thereafter, that effective evacuation movement commences without delay. Warning Credibility improves in direct relation to the type and number of different warning formats.

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As well as indirectly referring to Fire Detection and Warning Systems, Paragraph #33.22 in Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Recommendations has some other things to say about Evacuation.  So this is an opportune moment to discuss some practical and human issues concerning Fire Emergency Evacuation … and, straight away, to deal with an unexpected consequence arising from the current CoronaVirus/CoVID-19 Emergency …

CORONAVIRUS / CoVID-19 EMERGENCY

There have been widely reported instances, in many countries, of panic buying in shops because of the 2020 CoronaVirus/CoVID-19 Emergency … but the photograph below illustrates an example of a panic reaction by building management.  This appears to be a crime scene … the yellow and black tape is so dramatic.  In a real Fire Emergency, many building users/occupants will be reluctant to use this final fire exit ; they will not have the time to read the small print on a notice ; they will attempt to re-trace their path of evacuation and find another exit.

Colour photographs showing how, as a panic reaction to the 2020 CoronaVirus/CoVID-19 Emergency, a Final Fire Exit has been blocked off from normal, everyday use.  Click to enlarge.

This panic reaction by building management IS a serious impediment to Fire Evacuation !

Whatever the Motives of Building Management …

  • in countries which have Fire Codes / Regulations, this action is illegal ;   and
  • in these days, when a wide range of ‘smart’ technologies is readily available … this action is inexcusable.

SOME PRACTICAL FIRE EVACUATION ISSUES

A Skill is the ability of a person, resulting from competent training and regular practice, to carry out complex, well-organized patterns of behaviour efficiently and adaptively, in order to achieve some end or goal.  All building occupants/users must be skilled for evacuation to an external ‘place of safety’, which is at a safe and remote distance from the fire building.  Practice fire evacuations must be carried out sufficiently often to equip building users, particularly vulnerable users, with this skill, i.e. at least once every six months ; in complex building types, practices should be carried out more often.  Prior notification to occupants/users, and regular scheduling of practice evacuations should be avoided.

Familiarity with Fire Evacuation Routes will be fostered and greatly improved by means of normal, everyday use by occupants/users.  This is an important task for pro-active Building Management in existing buildings … and an important aspect of new building design for Architects and Fire Engineers.

While the transmission of fire emergency warnings in many formats will increase Warning Credibility, close observation of past tragic ‘real’ fire events, e.g. the WTC 9-11 Attacks in New York City, shows that initiation of evacuation and the actual process of evacuation itself can be problematic.  An interesting, easily assimilated and user-targeted skills programme of training should incorporate practical solutions to deal with the following typical problems:

  1. Fire Emergency Preparedness: Irregular attendance of building occupants/users at fire prevention and safety training sessions, and participation in practice fire evacuations. Users not being familiar with a building’s fire emergency management plan and not knowing who is in charge … not using a building’s fire evacuation route(s), particularly staircases, during practices … or having no information about where to assemble after evacuating … or, once at a place of safety, not having any head count or identification process ;
  2. Delaying Activities Inside The Fire Building: Once building occupants/users decide to evacuate, but before moving to evacuate, they gather personal effects … seek out friends/co-workers … search for others … make phone calls/send tweets … finish tasks/turn off computers … wait around for instructions … change shoes … and try to obtain permission to leave ;
  3. Delaying Activities Outside The Fire Building: Once outside the building’s final fire exit, but before moving directly to a place of safety, building occupants/users stop to see what is happening … look for friends/co-workers … look for a phone … do not know where to go … or, within the ‘danger zone’ of the fire building, stop to receive medical attention.

It may seem obvious that Fire Evacuation Routes must also be Accessible (for People with Activity Limitations), which also makes routes much safer for every other building user … and sufficiently wide to accommodate Contraflow (emergency access by firefighters or rescue teams into a building and towards a real fire, while building users are still moving away from the fire and evacuating the building) … a harsh lesson learned from the 2001 WTC 9-11 Attacks and the 2017 Grenfell Tower Fire. Since they are new, strange and unusual for many building designers, and most fire engineers … these aspects of building performance are overlooked in nearly every building.

Practice Evacuations should include exercise of the buddy system ; fire safety fittings, e.g. portable fire extinguishers ; and fire evacuation devices intended for use by people with activity limitations which will require more intensive training.

Colour image showing a range of personal Facilitation / Mobility Aids.  People with Activity Limitations must be allowed, and positively encouraged, to keep these Aids during practice and real fire evacuations.  Prior meaningful consultation (see below) is essential.  Click to enlarge.

Important Note:  During fire emergencies, People with Activity Limitations must be permitted to keep possession of their own personal Facilitation / Mobility Aids.

SOME HUMAN FIRE EVACUATION ISSUES

The actual people who use and occupy buildings are individuals.  They are different from each other, and they each have a different range of abilities (in relation to self-protection, independent evacuation to an external place of safety remote from a fire building, and active participation in a building’s fire emergency management plan), behaviour and manner of perceiving their surroundings.  Two apparently similar people will also show variations in how they react to and behave in any specific situation, particularly a fire emergency.

Ability / Disability is a Continuum – a gentle gradient on which every person functions and acts at different levels due to personal and environmental, i.e. external, factors.

In situations of severe stress, e.g. during a fire emergency in a building, where there is a lack of preparedness for such an event, a lack of familiarity with evacuation routes, lack of reliable evacuation information, lack of competent leadership and clear direction, and the presence of smoke, user/occupant confusion, disorientation and panic will occur.  Standard evacuation movement times will also be non-existent.  In addition, people with activity limitations must then deal with many physical barriers which routinely impede their evacuation from buildings, e.g. fire resisting doorsets which are difficult to open, steps along evacuation routes and at final fire exits.

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 evacuation a real fire incident.

People with respiratory health conditions will not be able to enter or pass through smoke.  People with visual impairments will require continuous, linked tactile and/or voice information during the whole process of fire evacuation.  People with psychological impairments, i.e. vertigo and agoraphobia, will be unable to use fire evacuation staircases with glass walls in high-rise buildings.  Because of the stigma still associated with disability in many countries, some users/occupants who will need assistance during a fire emergency will be reluctant to self-identify beforehand.  Other people may not even be able to recognize that they have an activity limitation or a health condition.

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

Building Designers, Fire Engineers and Firefighters should be aware of the following human conditions:

Agoraphobia: A fear of open spaces.

Commentary: Agoraphobia is one of the most commonly cited phobic disorders of people seeking psychiatric or psychological treatment. It has a variety of manifestations, e.g. a deep fear of leaving a building, or of being caught alone in some public place. When placed in threatening situations, agoraphobics may experience a panic attack.

Anosognosia: A neurological disorder marked by the inability of a person to recognize that he/she has an activity limitation or a health condition.

Dementia: Any degenerative loss of intellectual capacity, to the extent that normal and occupational activities can no longer be carried out.

Panic: A sudden overwhelming feeling of anxiety, which may be of momentary or prolonged duration.

Panic Attack: A momentary period of intense fear or discomfort, accompanied by various symptoms which may include shortness of breath, dizziness, palpitations, trembling, sweating, nausea, and often a fear by a person that he/she is going mad.

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END

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Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (2) – Fire Emergency Plans !

Previous Posts In This Series …

2019-10-31:  Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Report – Information

2019-11-11:  Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (1) – Vulnerable People ?

2019-12-21:  Recapping with regard to Vulnerable Building Users … the Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 Recommendations are pathetically and disgracefully inadequate !  At a later stage and in order to make amends for this serious error … Inquiry Chairperson, Sir Martin Moore-Bick must direct that Proper Consideration – not just Token Consideration – be given, in Law, to the Fire Safety of Vulnerable Building Users, who include 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 … OR, to put it another way and to remove any ambiguity … any person who may be vulnerable in a fire emergency, 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.

Do you care that Vulnerable People also use Your Building ?
People with Activity Limitations.  Click to enlarge.

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Now, Over 2.5 Years After The Grenfell Tower Fire … London Fire Brigade Commissioner (#LFB), Dany Cotton, has recently stated that she will retire at the end of December 2019.

On 17 December 2019 … The National Inspectorate in Britain for Police and Fire Services (#HMICFRS … www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs) published a report into the performance of London Fire Brigade.  Some extracts from that document …

‘ We have concluded there is a long way to go before London Fire Brigade is as efficient as it could be.  We have criticised both the way it uses resources and makes its services affordable now and in future.  In some areas it is wasteful.  While it has made savings, these are not of the level made in other services.

Worryingly, the Brigade is inadequate at getting the right people with the right skills.  It also needs to improve how it promotes the right values and culture, ensuring fairness and promoting diversity as well as managing performance and developing leaders.

The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 was one of the biggest challenges London Fire Brigade has ever had to face.  The incident has had a profound effect on how the Brigade now performs.  Although our findings are broadly consistent with those of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, it must be emphasised that this was an inspection of the Brigade in 2019.  We found that while the Brigade has learned lessons from Grenfell, it has been slow to implement the changes needed.  This is unfortunately typical of the Brigade’s approach to organisational change.’

Title Page of GB’s National Inspectorate (HMICFRS) Report, published on 17 December 2019.

HMICFRS Report on the Performance of London Fire Brigade  (PDF File, 768 Kb)

If Dany Cotton is the only person to go at the end of December 2019, this is very obviously political scapegoating !

Very Quickly … the entire Culture and Value System of London Fire Brigade must change for the better.  And to ensure that this transformation is Immediate and Fully Effective … ALL of Dany Cotton’s Senior Commanders must also go, or be fired … including Dany’s intended replacement, Andy Roe !

In addition … because it is still attempting to defend the criminal ‘Stay Put’ Policy … the National Fire Chiefs Council (#NFCC … www.nationalfirechiefs.org.uk/) in Britain must be held accountable.  Its Chair, Vice Chairs and those Lead Officers with responsibility for fire safety in buildings must ALL be replaced NOW !

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FIRE  EMERGENCY  MANAGEMENT  PLANNING

The Grenfell Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Recommendations were published on 30 October 2019.  Under the initial topics covered … they are far from being comprehensive … they are fragmentary, lack depth and any sort of coherence …

[ Paragraph #33.10 ]  I therefore recommend:

a. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to provide their local fire and rescue service with information about the design of its external walls together with details of the materials of which they are constructed and to inform the fire and rescue service of any material changes made to them ;

[ Paragraph #33.12 ]  I therefore recommend that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law:

a. to provide their local fire and rescue services with up-to-date plans in both paper and electronic form of every floor of the building identifying the location of key fire safety systems ;

b. to ensure that the building contains a premises information box, the contents of which must include a copy of the up-to-date floor plans and information about the nature of any lift intended for use by the fire and rescue services.

I also recommend, insofar as it is not already the case, that all fire and rescue services be equipped to receive and store electronic plans and to make them available to incident commanders and control room managers.

[ Paragraph #33.13 ]  I therefore recommend:

a. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to carry out regular inspections of any lifts that are designed to be used by firefighters in an emergency and to report the results of such inspections to their local fire and rescue service at monthly intervals ;

b. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to carry out regular tests of the mechanism which allows firefighters to take control of the lifts and to inform their local fire and rescue service at monthly intervals that they have done so.

[ Paragraph #33.22 ]  I therefore recommend:

a. that the government develop national guidelines for carrying out partial or total evacuations of high-rise residential buildings, such guidelines to include the means of protecting fire exit routes and procedures for evacuating persons who are unable to use the stairs in an emergency, or who may require assistance (such as disabled people, older people and young children) ;

b. that fire and rescue services develop policies for partial and total evacuation of high-rise residential buildings and training to support them ;

c. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to draw up and keep under regular review evacuation plans, copies of which are to be provided in electronic and paper form to their local fire and rescue service and placed in an information box on the premises ;

d. that all high-rise residential buildings (both those already in existence and those built in the future) be equipped with facilities for use by the fire and rescue services enabling them to send an evacuation signal to the whole or a selected part of the building by means of sounders or similar devices ;

e. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEP’s) for all residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised (such as persons with reduced mobility or cognition) ;

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 ;

g. that all fire and rescue services be equipped with smoke hoods to assist in the evacuation of occupants through smoke-filled exit routes.

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Residents in High-Rise Buildings, whether public or private, must no longer wait in vain for a saviour, or to be saved by the ‘system’.  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 beyond the Recommendations in Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Report.

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Fire Emergency Management Planning begins very early in the long life cycle of a building.  The following framework should be scaled up or down, depending on the size and extent of a project …

Fire Defence Plan (FDP)

A Fire Defence Plan (#FDP) elaborates the particular fire engineering strategy which has been developed for a specific building at design stage.  It is usually in electronic format and/or hard copy … and comprises fire engineering drawings, descriptive text (including a clear statement of the project’s fire engineering design objectives), a full construction specification (including façade cladding systems), fire safety related product/system information, with supporting calculations and the fire test/approval data which demonstrates their ‘fitness for intended use’.

A Fire Defence Plan must demonstrate a proper consideration for the fire safety, protection and evacuation of all building occupants/users, with a particular and integrated focus on vulnerable building users, especially people with activity limitations.  Refer to Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP’s) in my previous post.

In ‘real’ everyday practice, as opposed to academic theorizing … effective fire compartmentation is very difficult to achieve.  Passive/active fire protection measures are never 100% reliable … sometimes nowhere near 100%.  Building management systems are very far from being reliable.  For these reasons, ‘Stay Put’ Policies must be completely avoided !

[ In the specific case of Health Care Facilities, e.g. hospitals, it is highly hazardous to patients and unacceptable with regard to their welfare that they be evacuated during a fire emergency to a place of safety which is remote from the building.  Instead, the optimal fire engineering strategy here is to ‘protect in place’ … which requires a very high level of independently monitored competence, quality and reliability in design, construction, management, operation, and servicing. ]

Fire Defence Plans become ‘live’ during Construction.

A hard copy of the Fire Defence Plan for a building must always be available for inspection on-site.  A copy of the fire defence plan must also be retained at a remote, safe and secure location off-site.

Fire Emergency Planning Committee (FEPC)

Immediately after the completion of construction and occupation of a building, a Fire Emergency Planning Committee (#FEPC) must be established by the building owner(s), in consultation with building occupants/users.  Membership of the FEPC must comprise representatives of the building owner(s), building occupants, and regular users of the building.  The Committee’s task must be to develop, implement and maintain a Fire Emergency Management Plan, consisting of the emergency response procedures and related training and regular practices, which are essential for the effective and efficient management of any fire emergency in the building.  Sufficient resources must be allocated to the FEPC, by the building owner(s), to ensure that it can satisfactorily complete this task.

Fire Emergency Control Room.  Click to enlarge.

The FEPC must ensure that all relevant legislative requirements are met and must examine, if necessary, the need for the appointment of competent, specialist advisors and support.  Special attention must be paid by the FEPC to the fire safety of vulnerable building occupants/users.  The FEPC must establish a Fire Emergency Control Room (#FECR), which must be fitted-out and competently operated – 24/7/365 – in accordance with the Fire Emergency Management Plan.  The FEPC must also appoint a competent Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager.

Fire Emergency Management Plan (FEMP)

The Fire Defence Plan is the basis for, and main component of, a building’s Fire Emergency Management Plan (#FEMP).  This document elaborates the fire emergency response procedures for an occupied building and is produced by the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager, in liaison with the Local Fire Service.  It contains relevant information about the fire safety preparedness and prevention/protection/recovery measures in the building, and includes the pre-emergency, emergency and post-emergency roles, duties and responsibilities assigned to individuals and, in the case of their absence, nominated deputies.

The Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager liaising with the Local Fire Service.

The objective of a Fire Emergency Management Plan is to ensure that, in the event of a fire emergency, the health and safety of every building occupant/user is protected, including visitors to the building, contractors, and product/service suppliers … and access for, and the safety of, firefighters is assured.  Particular attention must be paid to those occupants with activity limitations.  All Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (#PEEP’s) must be fully integrated into the overall Fire Emergency Management Plan for the building.  Documented procedures must accurately reflect reality, and real behaviour, in the building.

The Fire Emergency Management Plan must include the procedures, chosen methods of warning to be used during a fire emergency, management control and co-ordination during the fire emergency, communications between each member of the Fire Emergency Control Unit and the building’s occupants/users and with the Fire Service Incident Commander at the scene, emergency response equipment in the building, evacuation actions, arrangements for occupants/users with activity limitations, first-aid personnel, evacuation by lift/elevator fire evacuation assemblies, escalators, travellators and staircases, use and fitting-out of areas of rescue assistance (including visual monitoring and the provision of smoke hoods), lift/elevator lobbies (including visual monitoring and provision of smoke hoods) and floors of temporary refuge, up-to-date emergency contact details, etc.

The Fire Emergency Management Plan must always be available for inspection, in hard copy format, at a convenient location in the building.  A copy must be provided to all building occupants, as they request, in hard copy, electronic and/or alternative formats.  A further copy of the Fire Emergency Management Plan must be provided to the Local Fire Service, as they request, in hard copy and/or electronic formats.

To ensure its effectiveness, the Fire Emergency Management Plan must be regularly practiced at least every three months, tested and reviewed.  If necessary, e.g. in the case of large/complex building types or existing buildings having suspect levels of fire safety, the establishment of an on-site, permanent, competent/specialist Fire Emergency First Response Team (#FEFRT) must be considered.

Fire Emergency Control Unit (FECU)

The Fire Emergency Control Unit (#FECU) must be established by the Fire Emergency Planning Committee to implement, manage, and recommend improvements to the Fire Emergency Management Plan.

In the event of a Fire Emergency, instructions given by the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager, or his/her Deputy, must take precedence over normal management structures and procedures in the building; and it shall be his/her duty to inform the Local Fire Service, immediately upon their arrival at the scene, about the number/locations of people still in the building, and the number/locations of vulnerable people who may need to be rescued.

Other members of the Fire Emergency Control Unit must accompany occupants/users as they evacuate to place(s) of safety, remote from the building.  Once there, a head count must immediately be taken by those members – now the Person in Charge at a place of safety – to establish the following:

  • That everybody is present, and that nobody has been left behind ;
  • That everybody is uninjured … or if anybody is injured, what appropriate Medical Aid is rendered and/or summoned.

Communications during a fire emergency between all of the interested parties involved can be fraught with difficulty … lack of discipline will cause misunderstandings and confusion … signal strengths may suffer interference because of the building’s construction.  If necessary, Repeater Units must be installed in the building at any signal ‘drop-zones’ … and the development of a Fire Emergency Management Communications ‘App’, for use on FECU/occupant/user smartphones, must also be considered.

The Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager must prepare for the swift and orderly transfer of the Fire Emergency Control Room and its personnel to a safe location off-site, in the unlikely event of a severe fire emergency in the building.

Fire Safety Training & Regular Practice Evacuations

The objective of fire safety training and regular practice evacuations, which are held at least every 3 months, is to ensure that everybody in the building is skilled for evacuation during a fire incident, using safe accessible routes to an external place/places of safety which is/are remote from the building.

Place(s) of Safety.  Click to enlarge.

Fire safety training and regular practice evacuations must be conducted by the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager for all building occupants and regular visitors to the building, including FECU personnel.  Fire safety training material used, e.g. brochures, hand0outs and fact sheets, must be site-specific, appropriate to an individual’s role and responsibilities, and easily assimilated, i.e. can be comprehended by everyone, including people with activity limitations and those who are illiterate or may use different languages.

A programme of site-specific practice fire evacuations must be developed, in collaboration with the Local Fire Service, by the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager.

Skill:  The ability of a person – resulting from proper training and sufficient regular practice – to carry out complex, well-organized patterns of behaviour efficiently and adaptively, in order to achieve some end or goal.

Routine Fire Safety/Evacuation Inspections & Maintenance

The Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager must ensure that all fire safety and evacuation related aspects of the Fire Emergency Management Plan, including systems, products and fittings, are routinely inspected, tested and maintained/serviced.  Any deficiencies must be reported to the Fire Emergency Planning Committee at the completion of an inspection and/or test, and must be rectified as soon as it is reasonably practicable.  Records of all activities must be regularly updated and safely/securely stored in the building, with a duplicate copy provided to the Local Fire Service.

Fire Evacuation Performance Indicators (Metrics)

Performance indicators/metrics must be formulated by the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the fire emergency response procedures in the building.  During practice evacuations, the time between warning communications and first occupant/user movement, the time taken for evacuation to an external place/places of safety remote from the building, the evacuation routes chosen by occupants/users, and the time required to identify everyone who participated in the practice evacuation at the place/places of safety, including those occupants/users who did not participate, must all be recorded.

The Local Fire Service has two functions: a) to suppress and control a fire in the building, and to confirm extinguishment ;  and b) to rescue people in the building who are injured, trapped, or otherwise unable to independently evacuate, e.g. people waiting in areas of rescue assistance and lift/elevator lobbies.  In addition, therefore, the time taken for the first fire service vehicle to arrive on-site and, more importantly, the time taken for the fire services to arrive in sufficient strength to deal effectively with a fire emergency in the building must be recorded.  In the event that either or both of these times are inordinately long, an on-site specialist Fire Emergency First Response Team (FEFRT) must be established by the Fire Emergency Planning Committee.  The FEFRT must work under the control of, and report directly to, the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager.

‘Contraflow’ movement in Building Circulation Routes.  Click to enlarge.

During the process of evaluation, generous allowance must be made for contraflow circulation during a real fire incident, i.e. emergency access by firefighters into a building and towards a fire, while building occupants/users are still moving away from the fire and evacuating the building.

The Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager must report, in full, the recorded performance and his/her evaluation of practice evacuations to the Fire Emergency Planning Committee.

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Addendum 2020-04-14:  For business application … the National Fire Protection Association (#NFPA) issued a very useful Emergency Preparedness Checklist in September 2018 …… which also covers Business Continuity and Recovery

NFPA Emergency Preparedness Checklist  (English, Download PDF File, 153 Kb)

NFPA Lista De Verificación De Preparación Para La Emergencia  (Spanish, Download PDF File, 158 Kb)

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#GrenfellTowerFire #FireSafety4ALL #NobodyLeftBehind #VulnerableBuildingUsers #PwAL #PwD #NeverStayPut #VulnerablePeople #Firefighters #FFsafety #FFhealth #2019GrenfellRecommendations #SFE #GrenfellTowerFireInquiry #LondonFireBrigade #DanyCotton #AndyRoe #FireResistingDoorsets #FireCompartmentation #FireProtection #FireEvacuation #MooreBick #FireEngineering #FireEngineers #IFE #England #Design #Management #Construction #HighRiseResidentialBuildings #UDHR #HumanRights #Discrimination #AusterityKills #Justice4Grenfell #Contraflow #LocalFireService #Skill4Evacuation

Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Report – Information

2019-10-31:  Wednesday, 30 October 2019 … the Full Phase 1 Report from the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry was published on-line … https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/phase-1-report … in 4 Volumes.

Colour photograph showing the Grenfell Tower Fire, in London, which broke out on 14 June 2017.  Click to enlarge.

Please have the patience to view the Chairperson’s Statement (12 minutes) from Sir Martin Moore-Bick on the same webpage.

Colour photograph showing the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry’s Chairperson, Sir Martin Moore-Bick.  Click to enlarge.

The following is the 2019 Phase 1 Executive Summary & Recommendations, available here to download in 9 different languages (my selection):

My technical views on the 2019 Grenfell Tower Recommendations will appear shortly.

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#GrenfellTowerFire #FireSafety4ALL #NobodyLeftBehind #VulnerableBuildingUsers #PwAL #PwD #NeverStayPut #Firefighters #FFsafety #2019GrenfellRecommendations #SFE #GrenfellTowerFireInquiry #LondonFireBrigade #DanyCotton #FireResistingDoorsets #FireCompartmentation #FireEvacuation

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After Grenfell: Reliable Design, Supply & Construction Essential !

2017-10-10:  After the Grenfell Tower Fire Tragedy in London, on 14 June 2017, the integrity of the English Regulatory and Technical/Building Control Systems is now so compromised that a complete Systems Transformation is immediately required !   Closer to home, here in Ireland … what nobody is daring to say, even our tame media, is that Our Regulatory System is based very closely on the English System.  And Our Technical/Building Control System is purposefully under-resourced … so it is weak and ineffective.

Let there be no confusion … Priory Hall and Longboat Quay, both in Dublin, are just the tip of an enormous iceberg …

Colour photograph showing the Grenfell Tower Fire, in London … early in the morning, after dawn, on Wednesday, 14 June 2017.  Harsh, tragic Reality !  Click to enlarge.

So where do we start again ?

Reality – Reliability – Redundancy – Resilience !

With regard to Reliable Fire Engineering Related Design, Supply and Construction … this is how we must proceed …

  1. Design of the works is exercised by an independent, appropriately qualified and experienced architect/engineer/fire engineer, with design competence relating to the fire protection of buildings ;
  1. Supply of fire safety related construction products/systems to the works is undertaken by reputable organizations with construction competence, particularly in relation to the fire protection of buildings ;
  1. Installation/fitting of fire safety related construction products/systems is exercised by appropriately qualified and experienced personnel, with construction competence relating to the fire protection of buildings ;
  1. Supervision of the works is exercised by appropriately qualified and experienced personnel from the principal construction organization ;
  1. Regular inspections, by appropriately qualified and experienced personnel familiar with the design, and independent of both the design and construction organizations, are carried out to verify that the works are being executed in accordance with the design.

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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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Firefighter Safety & Solar Photovoltaic Panels On Buildings ??

2016-09-14:  Only now are we really catching up with the extremely serious matter of Fire Safety in Sustainable Buildings … serious for building occupants … and firefighters !

‘ In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection and energy efficiency/conservation shall constitute integral parts of the development process, and shall not be considered in isolation.’

2016 Dublin Code of Ethics: Design, Engineering, Construction & Operation of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for All   ( www.sfe-fire.eu )

The Performance Target for New Construction must be Positive Energy Buildings.

So … we will see more and more Solar Photovoltaic Panels installed on more and more buildings … in every country.  Certainly not less !   And, let’s face it, many will not be properly approved, i.e. shown to be ‘fit for their intended use’ …

Colour photograph showing a house fire caused by Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels.
Colour photograph showing a house fire caused by Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels.

At the beginning of this decade, a Fire Research Project was carried out by the Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Research Institute in the USA … and it addressed the issue of firefighter vulnerability to electrical hazards, and serious injury, when fighting a fire involving Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Modules and Support Systems installed on buildings.

Colour photograph showing two firefighters on a roof, one with cutting equipment. Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels restrict firefighter access to building interior roof spaces.
Colour photograph showing two firefighters on a roof, one with cutting equipment. Solar Photovoltaic Roof Panels restrict firefighter access to building interior roof spaces.

The Total Global Solar Energy Capacity averaged 40 % annual growth from 2000 to 2010 (source: International Energy Agency).  In the USA, Grid-Connected Solar Photovoltaic Capacity grew 50 % per year for much of that time (source: US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).  These trends increase the potential of a Fire Service Response to a building having a Photovoltaic Installation, irrespective of the PV being involved with the initiation of the fire event.  As a result, conventional firefighter tactics for suppression, ventilation and overhaul have been complicated, leaving firefighters vulnerable to potentially unrecognized exposure.  Though the electrical and fire hazards associated with electrical generation and distribution systems are well known, PV Systems present unique safety concerns.  A limited body of knowledge and insufficient data exist to understand these risks … to the extent that Fire Services have been unable to develop safety solutions and respond in a safe manner.

This Fire Research Project developed the empirical data needed to quantify the hazards associated with PV Installations … and provided the foundation to modify current or develop new firefighting practices to reduce firefighter deaths and injury.

Colour photograph showing a large array of Solar Photovoltaic Panels on a roof. Extra loading on roof structures must be considered, as well as possible interference with roof fire evacuation routes for able-bodied occupants.
Colour photograph showing a large array of Solar Photovoltaic Panels on a roof. Extra loading on roof structures must be considered, as well as possible interference with roof fire evacuation routes for able-bodied occupants.

The Tactical Considerations addressed during the Project include:

  • Shock hazard due to the presence of water and PV power during fire suppression activities ;
  • Shock hazard due to the direct contact with energized components during firefighting operations ;
  • Emergency disconnect and disruption techniques ;
  • Severing of conductors ;
  • Assessment of PV power during low ambient light, artificial light and light from a fire ;
  • Assessment of potential shock hazard from damaged PV Modules and Systems.

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Office of California’s State Fire Marshal – November 2010

Fire Operations for Photovoltaic Emergencies (CAL FIRE – 2010)  (PDF File, 1.99MB)

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UL Report (2011):  The Following Summarizes the Findings of This Fire Research Project:

  1. The electric shock hazard due to the application of water is dependent on voltage, water conductivity, distance and spray pattern.  A slight adjustment from a solid fire hose stream towards a fog pattern (10 degree cone angle) reduced measured current below perception level.  Salt water should not be used on live electrical equipment.  A distance of 6 m has been determined to reduce potential shock hazard from a 1000 VDC source to a level below 2 mA, considered as safe.  It should be noted that pooled water or foam may become energized due to damage in the PV System.
  1. Outdoor weather exposure-rated electrical enclosures are not resistant to water penetration by fire hose streams.  A typical enclosure will collect water and present an electrical hazard.
  1. Firefighters’ gloves and boots afford limited protection against electrical shock provided the insulating surface is intact and dry.  They should not be considered equivalent to Electrical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
  1. Turning off an array is not as simple as opening a disconnect switch.  Depending on the individual system, there may be multiple circuits wired together to a common point such as a combiner box.  All circuits supplying power to this point must be interrupted to partially de-energize the system.  As long as the array is illuminated, parts of the system will remain energized.  Unlike a typical electrical or gas utility … on a PV Array, there is no single point of disconnect.
  1. Tarps offer varying degrees of effectiveness to interrupt the generation of power from a PV Array, independent of cost.  Heavy, densely woven fabric and dark plastic films reduce the power from PV to nearly zero.  As a general guide, if light can be seen through a tarp, it should not be used.  Caution should be exercised during the deployment of tarps on damaged equipment, as a wet tarp may become energized and conduct hazardous current if it contacts live equipment.  Also, firefighting foam should not be relied upon to block light.
  1. When illuminated by artificial light sources, such as Fire Department light trucks or an exposure fire, PV Systems are capable of producing electrical power sufficient to cause a lock-on hazard.
  1. Severely damaged PV Arrays are capable of producing hazardous conditions ranging from perception to electrocution.  Damage to the array may result in the creation of new and unexpected circuit paths.  These paths may include both array components (module frame, mounting racks, conduits, etc) and building components (metal roofs, flashings and gutters).  Care must be exercised during all operations, both interior and exterior.  Contacting a local professional PV Installation Company should be considered to mitigate potential hazards.
  1. Damage to modules from tools may result in both electrical and fire hazards.  The hazard may occur at the point of damage or at other locations depending on the electrical path. Metal roofs present unique challenges in that the surface is conductive unlike other types such as shingle, ballasted or single ply.
  1. Severing of conductors in both metal and plastic conduit results in electrical and fire hazards.  Care must be exercised during ventilation and overhaul.
  1. Responding personnel must stay away from the roofline in the event of modules or sections of an array sliding off the roof.
  1. Fires under an array but above the roof may breach roofing materials and decking … allowing fire to propagate into the attic space of the building.

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Fire Evacuation Use of Lifts/Elevators, Escalators & Travellators !!

2016-05-16:  Media coverage of the Brussels Hive Attack, on 22 March 2016 … and, more recently, my own experience travelling in the Rome Metro, where the lines have been constructed deep in the ground to avoid the city’s vast and rich archaeological heritage … made me seriously wonder about how vulnerable users of the built environment can possibly cope in emergencies.

Escalators (moving stairs) and Travellators (horizontal moving walkways) are very common in public buildings.  They greatly facilitate convenient and comfortable circulation for everybody … especially in large, extensive and complex building types.  Escalators are absolutely essential in metro environments, both for access and egress.

Escalators which are static … which don’t move, for one reason or another … are dangerous.  The rise of steps in the main part of the escalator is usually very high, too high for any type of public building … and at the top and bottom of the escalator, the step rise varies dramatically … which is a recipe for trips and falls, particularly in any sort of emergency.

AND … we know that during a fire emergency in a building, many people will attempt to evacuate that building by re-tracing their route of entry … whatever the hazard and wherever it is located.

Too many Standards and Guideline Documents take the easy option … and recommend that lifts/elevators, escalators and travellators should all be shut down during emergencies, and their use prevented.  For the moment, I am thinking of just two examples:

  • European Standard EN 115: Safety of Escalators and Moving Walks – Part 1: Construction and Installation.  2008-05-29, including Amendment 1 2010-02-23.
  • Guidelines for the Safe Operation of Escalators and Moving Walks, published by the Safety Assessment Federation (GB), in consultation with the British Health & Safety Executive.  Issue 1, 2011-05-24.

These Recommendations … this Guidance, or Advice, or Whatever … show absolutely no consideration for the Safe Evacuation of People With Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF) in an Emergency.

These Recommendations … this Guidance, or Advice, or Whatever … are WRONG !

Subject to some simple requirements, e.g. a separate fire-protected electrical supply in each case, and appropriate management and fire service control, etc … Lifts/Elevators, Escalators and Travellators should all be available for use by people evacuating a building/facility during an emergency … and for use by firefighters accessing that same building/facility.

Building Designers, Fire Services & Standards Organizations … please take careful note !!

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U.S. Implementation of NIST’s 9-11 WTC Recommendations ?!?!

2016-05-05:  A Mickey Mouse Effort would be a polite way of describing the long drawn-out and tortuous process of implementing NIST’s Recommendations in the United States.  A better description might be … FUBAR !

15 Years After the 2001 WTC 9-11 Attacks in New York City … absolutely nothing has been done concerning the implementation of a significant number of Recommendations … other Recommendations have been only partially implemented, with many being limited to application in buildings over 128m high (420 feet in ye olde silly imperial units of measure), or else buildings over 22.86m high (75 feet) which have an occupant load exceeding 5,000 people or are essential facilities, e.g. hospitals.  And believe it or not, some implementing measures are still being challenged and they may yet be reversed in the years ahead.  Forget about discussing the already narrow Fire Safety Objectives in building codes/regulations, or Protecting Society, etc., etc.  In essence, it has all come down to that ‘durty’ four letter word: COST !

But read this 2011 Status Report for yourselves.  I have kept in touch with the current situation over there.

NIST’s WTC 9-11 Recommendations Status Report (2011-08-08) – PDF File, 330 Kb

Why should this matter ?

In 2005 & 2008, the U.S. National Institute of Standards & Technology issued a series of very important [ critical ] Recommendations on badly needed revisions to the Design – Construction – Management – Firefighting Procedures for Very High/Tall Buildings, High-Risk Buildings, Iconic Buildings, and Innovatively Designed Buildings.  Many, if not all, of these Recommendations were, and remain, just as valid and just as necessary in the case of other building types … whatever their height.

A lot of effort was expended here, a few years ago, on a detailed examination of the NIST Recommendations.  In one respect, the Recommendations have become dated and obsolete.  The recent 2016 Brussels and 2015 Paris Hive Attacks have altered how we must categorize and deal with buildings of ‘high-risk’.  From the start, however, the disability-related Recommendations only concerned mobility impaired building occupants … a serious flaw.

NIST does not have the legal authority to implement its own Recommendations within the United States.  However, implementation by the Model Code (e.g. IBC & NFPA) Organizations has been brutally slow and entirely inadequate.

And … it is very noticeable how so many other countries around the world are continuing  to completely ignore NIST’s Recommendations.  9-11 never happened !

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