Safety in Case of Fire

Upcoming CIB/NIST Workshop on Structural Reliability in Fire ?!?

2014-05-16:  Anybody with even the slightest interest in the Future Development of Fire Engineering Design, and Structural Fire Engineering in particular, should pay attention to the proceedings of an upcoming CIB/NIST Workshop, which will be held on 21-22 May 2014, at the NIST Campus in Maryland, USA …

CIB/NIST Fire Resistance/Resistant/Resisting/Resistive Structures Workshop

It is essential to read 3 White Papersproduced by three separate teams of experts, contracted by NIST, in advance of the Workshop … to get a ‘real’ flavour of how discussions may, or may not, develop next week.  All three papers are available to download from the NIST WebSite (and the links below).  I suggest that you get your hands on them … ASAP !

1.   Fire Behaviour of Steel Structures (March 2014).  20 Pages, 786 Kb.
2.   State-of-the-Art on Fire Resistance of Concrete Structures: Structure-Fire Model Validation (March 2014).  32 Pages, 1.26 Mb.
3.   Fire Resistance of Timber Structures (March 2014).  20 Pages, 998 Kb.

After reading these 3 NIST White Papers … I was not surprised by the large number of ‘unknowns’, or the enormous gaps in our ‘knowns’ …

Taken in whole and all together, however, the three documents are a public confirmation that today’s general practice of Fire Engineering is more akin to that of mid-19th Century Alchemy.  Blinkered practitioners are isolated from the building design process … because they have no understanding of that process, and have no means of effective communication with the many other design disciplines involved.  And minimal, i.e. ‘cost-effective'(?), compliance with the limited and inadequate fire safety objectives in current building codes/regulations is widely regarded as the one and only target for their efforts … a minor one compared to the fundamental, long-term target of realizing a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for All.  At the same time, frontline fire service personnel are forced to operate on shoestring budgets … and, when a fire emergency inevitably occurs, they are regarded as nothing more than an expendable resource.

!!  Structure … Does Not A Building Make  !!

Some comments on the 3 NIST White Papers …

A.  The Papers contain a number of important technical errors:

  • A similar Introduction in two of the Papers refers only to the 2005 NIST Report (NCSTAR 1) on the 9-11 Collapse of WTC Buildings 1 & 2 in New York City, which contained 30 Recommendations.  However, NIST published a later Report in 2008 (NCSTAR 1A) on the Collapse of WTC Building 7, which contained a further 13 Recommendations … 1 new, and 12 revised/updated from the earlier 2005 Report.
  • There is a reference in one of the Papers to a 1989 European Directive on Construction Products (89/106/EEC), and as later amended.  This Directive was repealed, in 2011, by Article 65 of the new European Union (EU) Regulation No.305/2011 on Construction Products.  Unlike a Directive, a Regulation is addressed directly to the EU Member States, and does not permit any flexibility with regard to national implementation. Annex I of Regulation 305/2011 sets out 7 Basic Requirements for Construction Works:

–  Mechanical resistance and stability ;
–  Safety in case of fire ;
–  Hygiene, health and the environment ;
–  Safety and accessibility in use ;
–  Protection against noise ;
–  Energy economy and heat retention ;
–  Sustainable use of natural resources.

Concerning fire safety in buildings … it is incorrect to state, or even suggest, that only the second Basic Requirement is relevant … a building must satisfy all of the Basic Requirements taken together, i.e. the 7 Basic Requirements are inter-dependent.

B.  Having carefully read the Papers … none of the expert teams appear to have paid any attention to any of the NIST Recommendations, in either the 2005 or the 2008 Reports !   Note well that two separate series of posts on both sets of NIST Recommendations have been carried here on this Technical Blog.

C.  If we have learned anything from the WTC 9-11 Building Collapses, it is that the Fire Engineer must be able to communicate effectively with other mainstream building design disciplines … especially ‘ambient’ structural engineers who speak the language of Structural Reliability, Limit State Design and Serviceability Limit States.  The Fire Engineer must also become an active participant in the creative, trans-disciplinary process of design.  These issues have not been seriously considered in any of the Papers.

D.  All of the Papers lack a common and precise starting point … relevant structural fire engineering concepts are either not defined or badly defined … and the ‘dynamic, complex architectural interaction between a building’s structure and fabric under conditions of fire’ requires immediate and urgent investigation …

Structural Reliability

The ability of a structural system to fulfil its design purpose, for a specified time,
under the actual environmental conditions encountered in a building.

Structural Fire Engineering

Those aspects of fire engineering concerned with structural design for fire …
and the dynamic, complex architectural interaction between a building’s structure and
fabric, i.e. non-structure … under conditions of fire and its immediate aftermath,
including but not confined to the ‘cooling phase’.

Fire-Induced Progressive Damage

The sequential growth and intensification of structural deformation
and displacement, beyond fire engineering design parameters*, and the eventual failure
of elements of construction in a building – during a fire and the ‘cooling phase’
afterwards – which, if unchecked, will result in disproportionate damage,
and may lead to total building collapse.

[ *fire serviceability limit states ]

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Disproportionate Damage

The failure of a building’s structural system:
(i) remote from the scene of an isolated overloading action ;
and (ii) to an extent which is not in reasonable proportion to that action.

[ Fire-Induced Progressive Damage and Disproportionate Damage are fundamental concepts in the Fire Engineering Design of All Buildings ! ]

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E.  It is not acknowledged in any of the Papers that the Fire Safety Objectives in Current Building Codes/Regulations are, of necessity, limited in scope … and entirely inadequate in the context of Annex I in EU Regulation 305/2011, and the long-term goal of realizing a Safe, Resilient and Sustainable Built Environment for All.  Refer to the updated Scope, Aims & Objectives of CIB Working Commission 14: ‘Fire Safety’.

F.  Once and for all … use of the term Fire Resistance (and any number of variations thereof, e.g. resistant, resisting, resistive, etc.) in connection with any aspect of structural performance in fire … is ridiculous !   It is roughly comparable to use of the term Fire Proof during the first half of the 20th Century.

G.  Finally, for now … the current unwise focus on Crude Pass/Fail Results from the ‘standard fire’ testing of single loadbearing structural elements must evolve … must be transformed into the more detailed and precise measurement of all aspects of ‘real’ structural system performance over the full duration of a ‘design’ fire (including the cooling phase afterwards) … using a much wider range of performance monitoring equipment, e.g. short wave infra-red thermography.

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It is no longer acceptable for Fire Engineering to exist in an isolated Twilight Zone … completely removed from the everyday realities of Mainstream Building & Construction.

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END

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Building Design Must Improve Firefighter Safety in Fire Incidents !

2011-07-05 … 
It has been a harsh experience to leave the last post undisturbed for a few weeks !   It was necessary … and I feel better as a result.
 

Back to the present … and in any jurisdiction, news of  Firefighter Fatalities and/or Injuries is very distressing.  It has been remarkable to note, however, how some countries, e.g. Japan, are expending significant time and resources on developing innovative ways to improve firefighter safety in buildings … while most countries are not.  Over many years, I have formed the clear impression that, generally, firefighters are regarded in much the same way as soldiers, i.e. they are a disposable asset … ‘Theirs not to reason why / Theirs but to do and die’ … etc., etc.  This situation is entirely unacceptable, and in need of urgent resolution !

On 6th & 7th July … in Cardiff, Wales … I have been invited by the International President of the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE), Mr. HG Tay, to make a presentation on ‘Sustainable Fire Engineering’ at the 2011 IFE International Fire Conference and Annual General Meeting.  I am greatly honoured by this invitation.

During the course of that presentation, I will be referring to Firefighter Safety … but much more needs to be said, beforehand, in relation to the untapped contribution of building design to greater levels of firefighter safety …

INTRODUCTION

It may be obvious for some (but, believe me, not for all !) that with regard to fighting fires in buildings … Firefighters have 2 Basic Functions :

  • to rescue people who are trapped in a Fire Building (i.e. a building which is on fire) … or people who, for some reason, cannot independently evacuate the building (e.g. people with activity limitations) ;   and
  • to fight those fires, and ensure that they are properly extinguished.

Note:  Extinction of a fire is confirmed only after a thorough visual inspection by a competent person.

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DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION

In a previous post, dated 13 December 2010 I said that it was no longer ethically acceptable to ignore the issue of Firefighter Safety in the design and construction of buildings … because design can make a major contribution to their safety.

Unfortunately, Firefighter Safety must continue to remain an ethical issue because Building Regulations in most countries rarely, if ever, refer to this important aspect of design and construction.  Safety at Work Legislation has a related, but different, intent.

Regrettably, most of the building design professions either have no Code of Ethics … or there is a Code which is ‘lite-lite-lite’, i.e. very weak on ethics … or, worse still, they have a Code … but it is called a Code of Professional Conduct, the principal intent of which is to preserve and protect the profession and its vested interests.

At European Level …

Essential Requirements 1 & 2 (of 6 … for the time being) … in Annex I of European Union (EU) Council Directive 89/106/EEC, of 21 December 1988, on the approximation of laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States relating to Construction Products … state the following …

1. Mechanical Resistance & Stability

The construction works must be designed and built in such a way that the loadings that are liable to act on it during its construction and use will not lead to any of the following:

(a) collapse of the whole or part of the works ;

(b) major deformations to an inadmissible degree ;

(c) damage to other parts of the works or to fittings or installed equipment as a result of major deformation of the load-bearing construction ;

(d) damage by an event to an extent disproportionate to the original cause.

2. Safety in Case of Fire

The construction works must be designed and built in such a way that in the event of an outbreak of fire:

– the load-bearing capacity of the construction can be assumed for a specific period of time ;

– the generation and spread of fire and smoke within the works are limited ;

– the spread of the fire to neighbouring construction works is limited ;

– occupants can leave the works or be rescued by other means ;

– the safety of rescue teams is taken into consideration.

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Sweden … has incorporated all 6 Essential Requirements of EU Construction Products Directive 89/106/EEC into its National Building Regulations … but has omitted the reference to the ‘safety of rescue teams’, i.e. Firefighter Safety.  Why is that ?

Ireland, along with England & Wales, has not incorporated the EU CPD Essential Requirements into its National Building Regulations.  There is no requirement, in Part B of the Building Regulations of either of these two separate jurisdictions, to consider Firefighter Safety in the design and construction of buildings.

In these three specific cases, taken as a simple example, this is a serious legal flaw … especially since the European Template, above, has existed since the late 1980’s !

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Let me illustrate how Building Design & Construction can make a major contribution to improved levels of Firefighter Safety …

     A.  Accessible Internal Staircases Having Sufficient Unobstructed Width

From a building user’s point of view … the success of a building depends, to a large extent, on the ‘quality’ of its circulation spaces.  During the design process, however, an architect is typically concerned with the relationship between different functions and spaces … while, at the same time, he/she is shaping and moulding the internal and external forms of the building.

The full range of tasks and activities in these circulation spaces is rarely, if ever, considered by the building designer.  The subject is not covered in Architectural Schools … and in later professional life, a reluctance to carry out Building Post-Occupation Evaluations (POE’s) reinforces this low level of awareness.

Some Tasks & Activities in Building Circulation Spaces …

  • Access to the building’s spaces and use of its services and facilities ;
  • Egress from the building during normal, everyday circumstances ;
  • Independent Evacuation, in the event of an emergency ;
  • Assisted Evacuation by others, or Rescue by Firefighters, for those building users who cannot independently evacuate the building, e.g. people with activity limitations ;
  • Firefighter Access & Reconnaissance, in the event of an emergency ;
  • Firefighter Attack, as they approach the proximity of the fire scene ;
  • Firefighter Removal from the building, by colleagues, in the event of injury, impairment, or a fire event induced health condition ;
  • Firefighter Withdrawal at the successful conclusion of firefighting operations.

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Colour photograph showing an injured, or impaired, firefighter being assisted by two colleagues in an upward staircase removal exercise. For reasons outlined in a previous post (2010-12-13) ... all three firefighters must continue to wear full Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) ... and use Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing an injured, or impaired, firefighter being assisted by two colleagues in an upward staircase removal exercise. For reasons outlined in a previous post (2010-12-13) ... all three firefighters must continue to wear full Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) ... and use Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). Click to enlarge.

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The photograph above was extracted from this  2010 Poster Presentation

Daniel DiRenzo, Cherry Hill Fire Department, New Jersey, USA

Building Fires – Personal Harness Use – Firefighter Removals

Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (1.73 Mb)

No matter what the jurisdiction … no matter what Building Regulations do or do not require … it is clear that, during a ‘real’ fire emergency, patterns of circulation are not simple … and they cannot easily be segregated into categories with simple titles.  They are complex … and, quite often, they overlap.

In the case of the firefighter removal on a staircase (shown above) … there is a necessity to consider another type of ‘Contraflow’ … where the injured, or impaired, firefighter with two of his/her colleagues rendering assistance are together moving away from the scene of the fire … while other firefighters are moving in the opposite direction, towards the fire.

In all but the most simple and smallest building types, this is what a Fire Evacuation Staircase should look like below … having a clear unobstructed staircase width, between handrails, of 1500 mm … with a stair going/tread of 300 mm, and a stair riser of 150 mm.  Proper attention by the designer to Accessibility Design Criteria will also make the staircase far, far easier … and safer … for Firefighter Movement …

Colour drawing taken from International Standard ISO FDIS 21542, and associated inset photographs ... showing a Fire Evacuation Staircase suitable for All Building Types, which is designed for Firefighter Safety. The staircase is also designed to accommodate Building User Evacuation/Firefighter Contraflow, illustrated with an inset colour photograph ... the Rescue/Assisted Evacuation of People with Activity Limitations, also illustrated with an inset colour photograph ... and the Use of a Stretcher. The staircase design is based on the work of CJ Walsh. Click to enlarge.

Colour drawing taken from International Standard ISO FDIS 21542, and associated inset photographs ... showing a Fire Evacuation Staircase suitable for All Building Types, which is designed for Firefighter Safety. The staircase is also designed to accommodate Building User Evacuation/Firefighter Contraflow, illustrated with an inset colour photograph ... the Rescue/Assisted Evacuation of People with Activity Limitations, also illustrated with an inset colour photograph ... and the Use of a Stretcher. The staircase design is based on the work of CJ Walsh. Click to enlarge.

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     B.  Accessible Façade Walkways in High-Rise Buildings

With today’s powerful drivers of greater energy conservation and efficiency in buildings, adaptation to climate change, and a paradigm shift in thinking on the reduction of adverse environmental impact by buildings … External Façade Design is rapidly evolving … becoming far more complex and, in many cases, comprising multiple ‘skins’.

Just check out this architectural feature, below, in an Osaka (Japan) High-Rise Hotel … which not only serves as an accessible route for evacuation and/or rescue in the event of a fire incident … but also permits much easier access for maintenance and window cleaning.

This architectural feature should be mandatory in the case of high-rise buildings with a single, central core …

Colour photograph showing the High-Rise Swissôtel Nankai in Osaka, Japan. Photograph by CJ Walsh. 2010-04-20. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing the High-Rise Swissôtel Nankai in Osaka, Japan. Photograph by CJ Walsh. 2010-04-20. Click to enlarge.

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Colour photograph showing the External Walkway on the Building Façade of the High-Rise Swissôtel Nankai in Osaka, Japan. Photograph by CJ Walsh. 2010-04-19. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing the External Walkway on the Building Façade of the High-Rise Swissôtel Nankai in Osaka, Japan. Photograph by CJ Walsh. 2010-04-19. Click to enlarge.

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Colour photograph showing the Hotel Room Evacuation Panel to the External Façade Walkway, which can also facilitate rescue by firefighters during a fire incident. Photograph by CJ Walsh. 2010-04-19. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing the Hotel Room Evacuation Panel to the External Façade Walkway, which can also facilitate rescue by firefighters during a fire incident. Photograph by CJ Walsh. 2010-04-19. Click to enlarge.

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Building Design can make a substantial contribution to greater Firefighter Safety !!

BUT … who is raising the awareness of building designers about this issue ???

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END

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