firefighters

2015 Dublin Declaration on ‘Fire Safety for All’ in Buildings – A Call to Action and Successful Implementation !

2020-07-15 …

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2015 Dublin Declaration on ‘Fire Safety for All’ in BuildingsA Call to Action and Successful Implementation !   (Download PDF File, 106 Kb)

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Within the professional discipline of Fire Engineering … either a building is Fire Safe, or it is not ;  the design philosophy of the Fire Engineer is irrelevant.  Similarly, building designers must now begin to think and act in the simple terms of a building being either Accessible, or not.  Too many pointless discussions, and too much petty squabbling, about constrained and constraining accessibility philosophies have wasted valuable time, energy and resources.

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Colour photograph showing a typical, everyday scene in countries all over the world … a young person in a manual wheelchair, independently attempting to mount an external flight of steps in front of a building entrance.
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Reality Check: A Universal, Dismally Inaccessible Built Environment !
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Click image to enlarge.

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Building Accessibility encompasses the complete cycle of Independent Use, in a dignified manner and on an equal basis with others … and includes the approach, entry and use of a building, its facilities and information systems … Egress during normal / ambient conditions and removal from the vicinity of the building … and most importantly, safe Evacuation during a fire emergency to a Place of Safety which is remote from the building and reached by way of an accessible route.

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Colour image illustrating the difference between Equality and Equity.  Everybody is equal, and must be treated equally … but the measures necessary to achieve this in real life must, in many cases, be equitable.
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Human Ability and Behaviour is a continuum … a gentle gradient on which every person functions and acts at different levels due to Environmental and Personal Factors.
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Click image to enlarge.

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To be Accessible, a building must meet a long and complex list of inter-related Accessibility & Usability Design Criteria sufficiently well, i.e. the building must work properly for building occupants and users.  The design target is Effective Accessibility … not half-baked accessibility, partial accessibility, the minimal accessibility required by building codes, or token accessibility.

On the other hand, and taking additional account of the current CoronaVirus / CoVID-19 Pandemic … the construction and operation target must be Successful Implementation, i.e. the finished building design, as constructed and operated, must provide a consistently high degree of safety, convenience and comfort for potential occupants and users during the lifetime of the building.

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Colour photograph showing the post-fire scene of a devastated Lift Lobby with an abandoned Manual Wheelchair.  25 people died and 123 were injured in a Jazan Hospital Fire, Saudi Arabia, which occurred on 24 December 2015.  The fire broke out in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit and Maternity Ward.  Click photograph to enlarge.

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People with Activity Limitations … those people, of all ages, who are unable to perform, independently and without assistance, basic human activities or tasks – because of a health condition or physical / mental / cognitive / psychological impairment of a permanent or temporary nature … are a significant vulnerable group in every community, in every society, and include people with disabilities, children under the age of 5 years, frail older people, women in the later stages of pregnancy, and people with health conditions, etc.

Fire Safety Codes and Standards for healthy, able-bodied, agile adults using buildings exist in almost every country ;  these people can take for granted that buildings are fire safe for them !

However, guidelines concerning Fire Safety for People with Activity Limitations / Fire Safety for ALL (if those guidelines exist at all) are usually technically inadequate, entirely tokenistic and/or blatantly discriminatory ;  these people must assume that there is a serious risk to their safety every time they enter a building.  For them, this is a very significant barrier to their personal development, participation and social inclusion ;  it is a clear and present violation of their human rights !

Forcefully mandated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted on 13 December 2006 … the UN CRPD’s Principal Aim is to ensure that the Human Environment (social, built, economic, virtual, and institutional) is sufficiently accessible to facilitate the safe exercise and enjoyment of those rights, protections and freedoms set down in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and subsequent International Rights Instruments, by a vulnerable and major section of the population in all of our communities.

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Colour photograph showing the scene of a raging fire in London, on 14 June 2017.  72 people died and many more were injured in this 24 Storey, 120 Apartment Residential Building.  Vulnerable People, including people with activity limitations, refugees, and immigrants with a poor grasp of the English language lived at various heights throughout the Tower.
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A serious design flaw in this building (among many, many others), i.e. a lack of Effective Accessibility … only one narrow, atrociously detailed staircase serving the entire building, lifts/elevators which were useless in a fire emergency, and no areas of rescue assistance adjoining the staircase … had a profoundly negative impact on Firefighter Operations and Safety on the night of 14 June and the following day.
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Click photograph to enlarge.

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It is time to Entirely Eradicate current obsolete, professionally negligent, incompetent and ridiculous approaches to Building Design which result in …

Fire Safety for SOME but not for ALL

Accessibility for SOME but not for ALL

Intricately inter-related … ‘Fire Safety for All’ is a vital component of ‘Accessibility for All’.

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Colour image / Presentation overhead showing how building designers face a critical choice in everyday practice … Legal or Ethical … Beyond Codes ?!?!?
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Legal Compliance is Never Enough.
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Click image to enlarge.

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Fire Safety for All – Nobody Left Behind !

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#Twitter … @firesafety4all …

#Sustainability #SocialInclusion #FireEngineering #FireSafety4ALL #PwAL #PeopleWithActivityLimitations #HumanRights #UN #UDHR #unCRPD #Ethics #Design #Buildings #Construction #Accessibility4ALL #ParticipationBarrier #FireSafety #Firefighters #FFsafety #GrenfellTowerFire #JazanHospitalFire #Resilience #LifeCycle #whoICF #CoronaVirus #CoVID19 #NobodyLeftBehind #2015DublinDeclaration

CoronaVirus / CoVID-19 Emergency – Frontline Information

2020-03-29 …

Essential Considerations for National Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s):  This Planet is Our Common Home – Be a Good Neighbour to Other Countries (Cuba is a Good Example, USA is a Bad Example) … Global Solidarity & Multilateral Collaboration in Co-Operation with the World Health Organization (WHO) … Act Fast … Perfection is the Enemy of the Good … The Precautionary Principle … Test-Test-Test … Return Test Results within 24 Hours … Trace Contacts within the Next 24 Hours … Collect, Collate and Openly Share Reliable Data & Statistics … Vulnerable People Require Equitable Safety Measures … Uphold and Protect Human & Social Rights.

[ Vulnerable People: Those people – in a community, society or culture – who are most at risk of being physically, psychologically or sociologically wounded, hurt, damaged, injured, or killed … and include, for example, People with Disabilities, Young Children, People with Health Conditions, Frail Older People, Women in Late Pregnancy, Refugees, Migrants, Prisoners, the Poor, and Homeless. ]

Essential Considerations for Each Person in a Community:  Wash Hands Often and Properly (see Video below) … Wear a Mask in Outdoor and Indoor Public Spaces (see WHO Guidance below) … Social Separation / Physical Distancing … Be Careful, Always … Pay Attention to Your Mental Health (see UN Policy Brief below).

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First Affiliated Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, China

2020 Handbook of CoVID-19 Prevention & Treatment   (Download PDF File, 23.56 MB)

The First Affiliated Hospital has treated 104 patients who tested positive for CoVID-19 in 50 days.  It has achieved zero deaths in patients diagnosed, zero patients misdiagnosed, and zero infections in medical staff.  Its experts documented real treatment experience when combating the virus, 24 hours a day, and quickly published this Handbook.

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CoronaVirus / CoVID-19 World Map – John Hopkins University, USA

A global view of Cases from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at the University.

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World Health Organization (WHO)

Human Rights – Key to the International CoronaVirus / CoVID-19 Response   (Download PDF File, 271 Kb )

Public Health Emergencies often lead to Stigma, Discrimination and Abuse towards certain communities and social groups, or affected people.  Within the context of CoVID-19, this has already happened … with the disease being recklessly and maliciously associated with a specific population or nationality.

Independent Oversight & Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme

WHO-IOAC Interim Report on WHO’s Response to CoVID-19 ~ January-April 2020   (Download PDF File, 133 Kb)

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Global MediXchange For Combating CoVID-19 (GMCC)

Established to facilitate on-line communication and collaboration internationally, as well as to provide Frontline Medical Teams around the world with the necessary communication channels to share practical experience about fighting, controlling and overcoming the pandemic.

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European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC)

An Agency of the European Union (EU) … ECDC is closely monitoring the CoVID-19 Outbreak, providing Public Health Guidance and advice on Response Activities to EU Member States and the EU Commission.

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European Union (EU) CoVID-19 Data Portal

The European Commission, together with several Partners, launched this Platform on 20 April 2020 … to enable the rapid collection and sharing of available Research Data.  The Platform, part of the ERAvsCorona Action Plan (download PDF File, 153 Kb), is a significant effort to support Researchers in Europe and around the World in the fight against the CoronaVirus pandemic.

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World Health Organization (WHO)

2020 Disability Considerations During The CoVID-19 Outbreak   (Download PDF File, 127 Kb)

Vulnerable People, such as Those with Activity Limitations (#PwAL) or Disabilities (#PwD), are more impacted by #CoronaVirus/#CoVID19.  These impacts can be mitigated if simple Self-Protection Measures are taken.

[ Support Information: a) People with Activity Limitations / Personnes à Performance Réduites ;  b) U.N. 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has now been ratified by most countries in the world but, generally, implementation still ranges from poor to non-existent. ]

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U.S. International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)

2020 Fire Service/EMS Guide For CoronaVirus/CoVID-19 Planning & Response   (Download PDF File, 324 Kb)

As Fire Departments and local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) continue planning to respond to CoronaVirus/CoVID-19 occurrences in their communities, the IAFC Coronavirus Task Force has developed a guide to identify best practices … and key recommendations which are based largely on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDChttps://www.cdc.gov/) and the World Health Organization (WHOhttps://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019).  When planning for CoVID-19, Fire Chiefs must also be sure to collaborate with local Stakeholders, both individuals and organizations !

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World Health Organization (WHO) – 5 June 2020

Advice on the Use of Masks in the Context of CoronaVirus / CoVID-19   (Download PDF File, 519 Kb)

Colour image showing the Protection Efficiency of various Mask Types.  FOR A GENERAL INDICATION ONLY.  Click to enlarge.  For more information about N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks (Face Masks), go to the U.S. Food & Drugs Administrationhttps://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/n95-respirators-and-surgical-masks-face-masks

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How To Properly Wash Your Hands !   (Video / MP4 File)

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United Nations Policy Brief – 13 May 2020

CoronaVirus / CoVID-19 and the Need for Action on Mental Health   (Download PDF File, 499 Kb)

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#CoronaVirus #CoVid19 #MedicalTeams #Firefighters #FireChiefs #ChiefFireOfficers #EMS #FFsafety #FFhealth #FFwelfare #WHO #CDC #RealTreatmentExperience #IAFC #GMCC #ZhejiangUniversity #PRC #China #USA #FirstAffiliatedHospital #Pandemic #Stakeholders #GlobalSolidarity #SFE #SIA #SocialResilience #Sustainability #MaskProtection #FDA #JohnHopkinsUniversity #WorldMap #Disability #PrecautionaryPrinciple #unCRPD #HumanRights #VulnerablePeople #NobodyLeftBehind #Stigma #Discrimination #Abuse #HumanDignity #AHJ #MentalHealth

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 !

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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 …

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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. ]

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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 photograph 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 !

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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 image 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 image to enlarge.

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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.  Click image to enlarge.

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.

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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.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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#SFE #GrenfellTowerFire #FireSafety4ALL #NobodyLeftBehind #VulnerableBuildingUsers #PwAL #PwD #NeverStayPut #VulnerablePeople #Firefighters #FFsafety #FFhealth #2019GrenfellRecommendations #SFE #GrenfellTowerFireInquiry #London #FireResistingDoorsets #FireCompartmentation #FireProtection #FireEvacuation #MooreBick #FireEngineering #FireEngineers #IFE #England #RIBA #Design #Management #Construction #HighRiseResidentialBuildings #UDHR #HumanRights #unCRPD #Discrimination #AusterityKills #Justice4Grenfell #Contraflow #LocalFireServices #Skill4Evacuation #Resilience #CoronaVirus #CoVID19 #Panic #SIA

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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Fire Safety in Buildings – Reliable Design, Supply & Construction

2019-07-31:  A very serious problem in modern buildings (post 1950’s), and in many countries around the world … which can lie dormant and hidden from any and all Surface Inspections … until there is an outbreak of #Fire !

Passive/Active Fire Protection Measures, and Building Management Systems (i.e. any combination of human and smart systems), are never 100% Reliable.  However, Poor Workmanship on Building Sites and Unauthorized Product / System Substitution are reducing this #Reliability to far below the threshold of legal (or any other) ‘acceptability’.

Colour photograph showing a person at work on a construction site.  Is he/she Competent to do this particular work ?  For the task, is he/she using the Correct Tools and Proper Materials (i.e. products/systems which are ‘fit for purpose’) ??  Who is monitoring his/her performance ???  The important objective is a Fire Safe Building for ALL Occupants/Users.  Click photograph to enlarge.

As a result, Fire Evacuation Routes can quickly become full of dense toxic smoke, impairing/incapacitating people trying to evacuate … the integrity of Fire Compartments can very rapidly be compromised, leading to uncontrolled internal fire spread … and Partial Structural Collapse will be a definite probability.

Most in danger and at high risk in ‘real’ building fires are Vulnerable Building Users and #Firefighters !

[ Vulnerable People: Those people – in a community, society or culture – who are most at risk of being physically, psychologically or sociologically wounded, hurt, damaged, injured, or killed … and include, for example, People with Disabilities, Young Children, People with Health Conditions, Frail Older People, Women in Late Pregnancy, Refugees, Migrants, and the Poor. ]

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‘Building Materials and Workmanship’ Must Be Relentlessly Monitored PRIOR TO AND DURING Construction – Afterwards Is TOO LATE !

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In these days of #Architects staring at computer screens all day, not being very ‘smart’ in and around actual construction sites … and with Fire Engineering Design Information still merely a #BIM add-on … there are 5 Fundamental Principles of Reliable Building Design, Product Supply and Construction for Fire Safety :

  1. Design of the works must be exercised by an independent, appropriately qualified and experienced architect/engineer/fire engineer, with design competence relating to the fire protection of buildings ;
  1. The Supply of ‘fit for purpose’ fire safety related construction products/systems to the works must be undertaken by reputable organizations with construction competence, particularly in relation to the fire protection of buildings … and all product/system substitution must be pre-authorized ;
  1. Installation/Fitting of fire safety related construction products/systems must be exercised by appropriately qualified and experienced personnel, with construction competence relating to the fire protection of buildings ;
  1. Supervision of the works must be 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, must be carried out to verify that the works are being executed in accordance with the design.

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Self-Regulation / Self-Monitoring Is NO Regulation / NO Monitoring !!

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Colour photograph showing a larger, more complex construction project … with more complicated working relationships between the Building Design Team, the Principal Construction Organization, Sub-Contractors, and Trades Men/Women.  In this context, the monitoring of Building Materials and Workmanship must be both unrelenting and stringent !  The important objective remains the same: a Fire Safe Building for ALL Occupants/Users.  Click photograph to enlarge.

Incomplete / inaccurate information about the number of People, particularly Vulnerable Building Users, still remaining in a Fire Building, and/or the number of Occupants waiting in Areas of Rescue Assistance and Lift/Elevator Lobbies … all resulting from poor Building Management … will greatly increase the Hazards and Risks involved in Firefighter Search and Rescue Operations, and will result in Building Occupant Injuries and Deaths !

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Mainstream Fire Codes & Standards DO NOT Protect Vulnerable Building Users and Firefighters !!!

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#SFE #Design #ProductSupply #Construction #FireSafety4ALL #FireEngineering #FireProtection #FireCompartment #FireEvacuation #Buildings #FacilityManagement #Resilience #Sustainability #PoorWorkmanship #ProductSubstitution #ProperMaterials #VulnerablePeople #Firefighters

Successful Elaboration of ‘Fire Safety for All’ in China’s Bay Area ~ Hong Kong & Macau !

2019-07-26:  This time last month, in June … I was visiting a hot and humid Hong Kong and Macau, only 1 hour apart on a sea ferry, in China’s Bay Area … to make a Keynote CPD Presentation on Fire Safety for All – Nobody Left Behind ! in the Hong Kong Institute of Architects … and following that up with a full morning Workshop and an afternoon Plenary Presentation at the large 2019 Rehabilitation International Asia-Pacific Region Conference, in Macau, later in the week.

2019 Rehabilitation International Asia-Pacific Conference (Macau) – 26 to 28 June

The Theme of this 3-Day Conference, in #Macau, was Together, Leaving No One Behind, In Disability-Inclusive & Rights-Based Progress.  Attended by 1,500 delegates from 30 different countries, the event also gathered together more than 250 international experts, practitioners, academics and researchers from all over the world.

Two Exhibitions, visited by 6,000 people, were organized alongside the Conference: 1) ‘Facilitation and Mobility Aids + Assistive Technologies’ … and 2) ‘Art’.

It is worthwhile noting  that #China ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (#CRPD) on 1 August 2008 … but has not yet signed, never mind ratified, the Convention’s Optional Protocol … a clear signal of current political intent which, hopefully, will change in the not-too-distant future.  Every year, Hong Kong and Macau submit reports to Beijing regarding CRPD compliance status and implementation.

Colour photograph showing CJ Walsh, as he addresses a Plenary Session on Fire Safety for All – Nobody Left Behind ! at the 2019 Rehabilitation International Asia-Pacific Region Conference, in Macau.  Click to enlarge.

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Colour image showing the Matrix of ‘Fire Safety for All’ … a Priority Theme of Sustainable Fire Engineering … which is particularly concerned with the fire safety of #PwAL’s (People with Activity Limitations), but also with #PwD’s (People with Disabilities).  After the 2017 Grenfell Tower Fire, in London, it is important that these concerns stretch to include the #Poor, #Refugees and #Migrants.  Click to enlarge.

Without being able to use a #Lift/#Elevator for Fire Evacuation in a building … there is No Fire Safety for All !

In a developing fire incident, People with Activity Limitations must be provided with a safe, alternative evacuation route – just like all other building users – which is a Fundamental Principle of all Fire Engineering.  However … just one #User/#Occupant Fire Evacuation Lift/Elevator in a building is an empty, meaningless, Token Gesture !

Colour photograph showing the participants from 30 different countries who attended the 2019 Rehabilitation International Asia-Pacific Region Conference.  The venue was The Venetian Macau Hotel.  Click to enlarge.

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Fire Safety for All must be considered at the start of the Design Process.  Colour image explaining how #Buildings must remain #Serviceable, not merely Structurally Stable, for a minimum Required Period of Time.  Click to enlarge.

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‘Fire Safety for All’ on Macau TV News … Friday night, 28 June 2019 … my friend and colleague, Ar Joseph Kwan (Architect & Accessibility Consultant based in Hong Kong), is the person being interviewed …

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Hong Kong Institute of Architects CPD Seminar – 24 June 2019

Continuing Professional Development (#CPD) is an important aspect of Ethical Architectural Practice.  Arriving drenched in a heavy rain downpour on the Monday evening … I was not surprised, therefore, to find that this Seminar was well attended by local architects.  Representatives of HK Authorities Having Jurisdiction (#AHJ’s), and Local Fire Services, as well as senior personnel involved in the development of the HK Code of Practice for Fire Safety in Buildings and the HK Barrier Free Design Manual were active participants in the panel discussion afterwards.

Colour image showing the Title Page of CJ Walsh’s Keynote CPD Presentation on ‘Fire Safety for All – Nobody Left Behind !’.  This Page also signals how ‘Fire Safety for All’ is integrated into the wider context of Sustainable Design.  Click to enlarge.

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Colour photograph showing CJ Walsh, as he makes a Keynote CPD Presentation on ‘Fire Safety for All – Nobody Left Behind !’ in the offices of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects.  Click to enlarge.

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SFE Work Programme 2017 – Want To Get Involved & Help ??

2017-01-05:  Happy New Year to All and One !

SUSTAINABLE FIRE ENGINEERING (SFE)

The creative, person-centred and ethical fire engineering response – in resilient built or wrought form, and using smart systems – to the intricate, open, dynamic and continually evolving concept of Sustainable Human & Social Development … the many aspects of which must receive balanced and synchronous consideration.

SFE PRIORITY THEMES

 1.  Fire Safety for ALL – Not Just for SOME People.  Nobody Left Behind !

Do Building Designers and Fire Engineers have any understanding of what it feels like to be left behind in a fire emergency … perhaps to die ?

Do Building Designers and Fire Engineers have any understanding of the ‘real’ people who use their buildings … or their ‘real’ needs ?

2.  Firefighter Safety – It’s So Easy to Dramatically Improve Their Safety At A Fire Scene !   A Firefighter’s Protective Clothing and Equipment are not enough !

Conscious awareness of this issue by Building Designers and Fire Engineers is required … and appropriate education/training.

3.  Property Protection – A Minor Code Fire Safety Objective, Insofar As It Is Necessary to Protect the Safety of Building Users … Only !

Fire damage and post-fire reconstruction/refurbishment are a huge waste of resources.  On the other hand, protection of an organization’s image/brand is important … and business continuity is essential.

Heritage Fire Losses cannot be replaced !

To properly protect Society and the interests of a Client/Client Organization … Building Designers and Fire Engineers are ethically bound to clearly explain the limitations of Code and Standard Fire Safety Objectives to their Client/Client Organization.

4.  Environmental Impact – Prevention Is Far, Far Better Than Cure.  Instead of resisting, and erecting ‘professional’ barriers … Spatial Planners, Building Designers and Fire Engineers must begin to properly understand this concept … and act ethically to defend and protect the environment !

Environmental Impact:  Any effect caused by a given activity on the environment, including human health, safety and welfare, flora, fauna, soil, air, water, and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, climate, landscape and historical monuments or other physical structures, or the interactions among these factors ; it also includes effects on accessibility, cultural heritage or socio-economic conditions resulting from alterations to those factors.

This Planet – Our Common Home – can no longer suffer the scale and extent of total devastation seen after the 2015 Tianjin (China) Regional Fire Disaster !

5.  Building Innovation, People and Their Interaction – Fire Engineers and Firefighters must understand current approaches to more sustainable building design, the ‘real’ people who use the built environment, and the complex interactions between both.

People with Activity Limitations (E) / Personnes à Performances Réduites (F):  Those people, of all ages, who are unable to perform, independently and without aid, basic human activities or tasks – because of a health condition or physical/mental/cognitive/psychological impairment of a permanent or temporary nature.

The above Term, in English and French, includes …

  • people who experience difficulty in walking, with or without a facilitation aid, e.g. stick, crutch, calliper or walking frame ;
  • wheelchair users ;
  • the very young (people under 5 years of age), frail older people, and women in the later stages of pregnancy ;
  • people who are visually and/or hearing impaired ;
  • people who suffer from arthritis, asthma, or a heart condition … or any partial or complete loss of language related abilities, i.e. aphasia … or who have a cognitive impairment disorder, including dementia, amnesia, brain injury, or delirium ;
  • people impaired after the use of alcohol, other ‘social’ drugs e.g. cocaine and heroin, and some medicines … or following exposure to environmental pollution and/or other irresponsible human activity, e.g. war or terrorism ;
  • people who experience a panic attack in a real fire situation or other emergency ;
  • people, including firefighters, who suffer incapacitation as a result of exposure, during a real fire, to smoke and poisonous/toxic substances and/or elevated temperatures.

6.  Sustainable Design & Engineering – Get With The Programme !   The extensive United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Framework Agenda was overwhelmingly agreed and adopted in 2015.

Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA):  A continual evaluation and optimization process – informing initial decision-making, design, shaping activity/product/service realization, useful life, and termination or final disposal – of the interrelated positive and negative social, environmental, economic, institutional, political and legal impacts on balanced and equitable implementation of Sustainable Human & Social Development.

‘Carrots and Sticks’ can only achieve so much.  Spatial Planners, Building Designers and Fire Engineers must – individually and as a group – subscribe to a robust Code of Ethics which is fit for purpose in today’s Human Environment.

2016 Dublin-Code-of-Ethics: Design, Engineering, Construction & Operation of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for All  (PDF File, 112Kb)

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SUSTAINABLE FIRE ENGINEERING (2017)

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.

Would you like to get involved, and help with this work ?

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PRIORITY THEME 1 – FIRE SAFETY FOR ALL (2017)

The Fire Safety Task Group, chaired by CJ Walsh, of ISO Technical Committee 59, Sub-Committee 16, Working Group 1, has already commenced the revision and further development of the fire safety texts in International Standard ISO 21542 (2011): ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’.

The main effort, initially, has been focused on developing a coherent Fire Safety for All approach … token consideration, or a post-design graft-on, of the fire safety needs of people with activity limitations do not work, and are unacceptable.

Progress with this work can be followed here: http://www.fire-safety-for-all.sustainable-design.ie/iso-21542/

The next ISO Meeting will take place in Madrid, Spain … towards the end of March 2017.

Would you like to get involved ?

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AND … Would you like to discuss any of the above issues ?   Well … Why not join the LinkedIn SFE Group at: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8390667 ??

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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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9-11 WTC Attacks in New York – ‘Reflections in a Cold Eye’ !

2013-09-13 …

Two days ago, on the 12th Anniversary of the 9-11 World Trade Center Attacks in New York City … I couldn’t help recalling a period of time 20 years earlier, and the still vivid memories of institutional ‘after-shocks’ following the 1981 Dublin Stardust Discotheque Fire in February of that year.  For a very long time afterwards, the Irish Fire Establishment disappeared from public view and hearing … without any trace !   As a young architect, at the time, just starting out in private practice … it was a critical lesson on the importance of ‘reality’ … and the malignancy of ‘realpolitik’.

As the years rolled by, and more and more information was revealed by troubled ‘insiders’ and uncovered by brave journalists … it was clear to me that the Dublin Fire had spawned two entirely separate and unconnected realities:

  1. The Frontline Tragedy … of the fire victims (those who were killed or injured on the night, and those who survived), their families and (to this day) their mournful pleas for justice and truthful answers, the local communities, the first responders, e.g. firefighters, ambulance personnel, and Garda/police and (to this day) their continuing struggle for adequate resources, the staff of the Dublin hospitals … and a shocked public.
  2. Defensive Institutions … senior policy and decision makers in national and local authorities, or agencies, having jurisdiction and/or responsibility for blatantly inadequate building codes and standards, poorly resourced technical control systems over building design and construction, and a dysfunctional emergency response infrastructure … senior politicians, on both sides of the political spectrum, who ‘fixed’ the format and major outcomes from the post-incident investigation (they ensured that minor outcomes were either implemented in a ham-fisted bureaucratic manner, or were ignored) … the various building design disciplines directly involved and their respective professional organizations … etc., etc.

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These Same Realities have been re-born … and have evolved in scale … out of the savage destruction on that Tuesday, 11 September 2001.

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