meaningful consultation

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

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

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

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

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

1.   An Immediate Challenge 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.1  BS 8300:2009

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

2.2  BS 9999:2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

but, more importantly …

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

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

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

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

and again in Annex G.2.2 on Page 367 …

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

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

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

These Plans are flawed and discriminatory because they are:

   –  person specific ;  and

   –  location specific ;

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

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

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

1)     the fire floor ;

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

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

4)     all remaining floors.’

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

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3.   Comments:  i) Clear Width of Door Openings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5.   Comments:  ii) Turning Circles for Occupied Wheelchairs

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

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

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6.   Comments:  iv) Fire Safety Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buildings shall remain structurally stable and serviceable …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Postscript

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

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

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

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

The contents of the e-mail were ignored.

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END

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‘Areas of Rescue Assistance’ in Buildings – More Bytes ?

2009-03-17:  Pull closer to the screen … we can lower the sound level, and be honest with ourselves for a few minutes …

 

We have enabling legislation spewing out of our ears in the European Union on the subject of ‘fire safety, protection and evacuation for all’ … there is absolutely no shortage whatsoever !

 

The problem is that far too many fire officers (prevention and operations) and building control officers in local authorities, architects, engineers and quantity surveyors do not know and/or do not care about this issue.

 

Rates of compliance with legislation are very low.  Proper compliance is such a rare thing … that you would almost feel like holding a party, in celebration, right there on the spot when it’s discovered !   This applies not only to Ireland and Great Britain … but to the rest of Europe as well.

 

And while many countries have already signed and ratified the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which became an International Legal Instrument on 3rd May 2008 … and many more will do likewise during the course of the next year or two, including the United States of America (according to the Whitehouse WebSite !) … I am sure that few individuals in those countries have any understanding of Article 11 (text quoted in an earlier post).

 

 

Accessible Fire Engineering:

On that fateful morning of 11th September, 2001 … at the World Trade Center Complex in Lower Manhattan, New York City … we witnessed a catastrophic failure in common practices and procedures … at all levels …

         Architectural / Conventional (‘Ambient’) Engineering / Fire Engineering ;

         Building Management ;

         Emergency Responders / Firefighters / Rescue Teams ;

         Control Organizations Having Authority (AHJ’s) or Jurisdiction ;

         Fire Safety Objectives in Building Legislation, Codes & Standards.

 

This was a ‘real’ fire incident.  It has been very, very closely examined in the intervening years.  Disability was a major issue at the heart of the tragedy … 6% of WTC building occupants were people with mobility impairments … approximately 8%, in total, were people with disabilities.  The overall number of People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF), however, was higher.

 

It is for this reason that three vital WTC Components have neatly dovetailed and fused … to realize an essential rational and empirical basis for a transformed fire engineering approach which can deal effectively with ‘fire safety, protection and evacuation for all’ of the people who use buildings … Accessible Fire Engineering … a subset of Sustainable Fire Engineering …

 

1.  2005 NIST(USA) NCSTAR 1 Final Report on 9-11 WTC 1 & 2 Tower Collapses. 

 

2.  2008 NIST NCSTAR 1A Final Report on 9-11 WTC 7 Collapse.

 

3.  Ongoing NYC-ATSDR World Trade Center Health Registry (established 2002).

 

 

Further Information about ‘fire safety, protection and evacuation for all’, the NIST 9-11 Reports and the WTC Health Registry … is available at the FireOx International WebSite

 

www.fireox-international.eu

 

 

 

Picking up, therefore, where I left off a few days ago …

 

 

An ‘Area of Rescue Assistance’ in a Building should:

         adjoin every fire evacuation staircase in a building ;

         be located on every floor (note: fire evacuation routes at ground level should lead directly to the exterior) ;

         include adequate space for the people in wheelchairs, and their assistants, people using crutches, people with visual impairments, etc., who may be expected to use the area of rescue assistance during a fire emergency ;

         have good lighting at all times (note: lighting activation/de-activation by motion detection, for reasons of energy efficiency, should not be used in an area of rescue assistance) ;

         be clearly indicated with good signage ;

         be fitted with an accessible and reliable communication system placed at a height of 900 – 1 200 mm above finished floor level, facilitating direct contact with a person in the main fire and security control centre for the building ;

         be of sufficient size for the storage of a sufficient number of (powered) evacuation chairs, portable fire extinguishers, a fire hose reel and a manual fire alarm call point, a fire evacuation supply kit containing, for example, smoke hoods, suitable gloves to protect a person’s hands from debris when pushing his/her manual wheelchair, patch kits to repair flat tyres, and extra batteries for powered wheelchairs, etc.

 

 

The Size of an Area of Rescue Assistance should:

         relate to expected local usage during a fire emergency.  When the number of people using/occupying/working in/visiting a specific building is considered … calculate how many may have to wait there, if the lifts/elevators cannot be used for evacuation and/or fire safety management procedures fail.

 

For example, if there are only two fire evacuation staircases on a floor in a building (on opposite sides of the building, of course), each area of rescue assistance should be designed to cater for the expected needs of the full floor.

 

Please also see the end of my Post: ‘U.S. Disability Statistics – EU Practical Application ?’, dated 2009-02-25.

 

 

Evacuation Chairs should be capable of:

         being safely and easily handled ;

         carrying people of large weight (up to 150 kg) ;

         going down staircases, which may be narrow and of unusual shape, particularly in existing buildings ;

         travelling long distances horizontally and externally, perhaps over rough ground, in order to reach a ‘place of safety’.

 

When it is necessary to go up an evacuation staircase to reach ground level … for example, from a basement or underground shopping centre … Powered Fire Evacuation Chairs should always be provided.

 

 

A ‘Reliable’ Buddy System:

In buildings with a reasonably stable user profile, e.g. workplaces, a Buddy System should be introduced throughout the building user population.  For reliability and flexibility, e.g. to accommodate absence or holiday leave, a buddy system should always comprise at least 3 or 4 people.

 

In the case of a person using a wheelchair, his/her Buddy Unit should never be less than 4 people …

 

Black and white photograph showing the correct technique for assisting the evacuation of a person who uses a wheelchair. U.S. Fire Administration 'Orientation Manual for First Responders on the Evacuation of People with Disabilities'. FA-235/August 2002.
Black and white photograph showing the correct technique for assisting the evacuation of a person who uses a wheelchair. U.S. Fire Administration ‘Orientation Manual for First Responders on the Evacuation of People with Disabilities’. FA-235/August 2002.

 

Fire Safety Management Procedures:

Prior to putting any Management Procedures into operation … and certainly before carving any of these procedures in stone … meaningful consultation should take place with building users and local fire authorities … which, particularly in the case of people with activity limitations, will produce the desired outcome of informed consent.

 

Informed Consent …

Consent freely obtained – without threats or improper inducements – after appropriate disclosure to a person of relevant, adequate and easily assimilated information in a form (e.g. oral, written, braille) and language understood by that person.

 

Personal Representative …

A person charged, under European Union or EU Member State national law, with the duty of representing another person’s interests in any specified respect, or of exercising specified rights on that person’s behalf – and including the parent or legal guardian of a child, i.e. a person under the age of 18 years, unless otherwise provided for by European Union or EU Member State national law.

 

 

Without wishing to be obscure, or to avoid the issue … Fire Safety Management Procedures need to be developed to suit each specific building, with its own building user population.

 

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END

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