SFE

The Global Wildfire Challenge & Learning To Live With Fire

2019-04-05:  Let us imagine, for a moment, that we are in another dimension … The Twilight Zone …

… and that this is a Positive Energy Building, set in a sprawling, diverse, interconnected and flourishing Woodland … an idealized scene … the Sustainability Idyll

Colour photograph proposing, as the Sustainability Idyll, a Positive Energy Building in the midst of a diverse, interconnected and flourishing Woodland.  Climate change is increasing the risk of more frequent and intense Wildfires, threatening this idealized scene.  Click to enlarge.

But … is it … ??

What percentage of the world’s population would ever, ever have the opportunity to live this way ???

And … lurking all around this beautiful scene, is an inherent and growing threat to life, property, and those trees and shrubs … Wildfires !

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The Aim of Sustainable Fire Engineering (SFE) is to dramatically reduce direct and indirect fire losses in the Human Environment (including the social, built, economic, virtual, and institutional environments) … to protect the Natural Environment … and, within Buildings, to ensure that there is an effective level of Fire Safety for All Users/Occupants, not just for Some, during the full building life cycle.

[ Human Environment:  Anywhere there is, or has been, an intrusion by a human being in the Natural Environment.]

So … how do we reduce direct and indirect fire losses in the Human Environment … and improve its Resilience ?

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A recent publication provides a good platform to begin this serious conversation …

December 2018 … the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), which is based in Vienna, published Occasional Paper No. 32: ‘GLOBAL FIRE CHALLENGES IN A WARMING WORLD – Summary Note of a Global Expert Workshop on Fire and Climate Change’ …

IUFRO OC 32 – Cover Page. Click to enlarge.

GLOBAL FIRE CHALLENGES IN A WARMING WORLD – Summary Note of a Global Expert Workshop on Fire and Climate Change   (PDF File, 4.72MB)

Executive Summary

Today, catastrophic wildfires are increasingly common across the globe.  Recent disasters have attracted media attention and strengthened the perception of wildfires as ‘bad’ events, a plague worsened by climate change that has yet to be eradicated.  Although it is true that fire has a destructive potential, the reality of global fire activity depicts a much more complex picture in which fire can be a useful, if not necessary, tool for food security and the preservation of cultural landscapes, as well as a an integral element of many ecosystems and their biodiversity.

Global fire activity is shaped by diverse social, economic, and natural drivers influencing the fire environment.  The culminating complexity of these factors defines, in turn, the likelihood of a landscape to burn and the potential positive or negative outcomes for communities and ecosystems that can result from a blaze.  Although many regions remain understudied, the effects of ongoing climate change associated with other planetary changes are already visible, transforming fire activity in ways that are not well understood but are likely to be dramatic, with potential dire consequences for nature, and society in case of adaptation failure.

Based on the limited available statistics, there is a growing trend in the cost of wildfires.  In addition to human lives that are lost to flames or smoke and the billions of euros imputable to firefighting and insurance coverage, the growing interest in costs linked to healthcare, business stability, or the provision of ecosystem services such as drinking-water indicates negative economic consequences impacting countries’ GDP and social stability.  Attempts to evaluate the future costs of wildfire disasters point at a worsening situation, yet the list of possible social and economic effects is incomplete and the magnitude of envisaged impacts is conservative.

Notwithstanding the difficulties inherent to global climate modelling, there is a scientific consensus on the future increase in the frequency of fire-conducive weather associated with drier ecosystems, a mix that will eventually result in more frequent and intense fire activity.  When combined with an ever-growing world population and unsustainable land uses, the conditions leading to fire disaster will only be intensified.  Although fire governance has historically advocated for fire suppression, a No Fire motto is not an option anymore in the new fire reality.  Current policies aiming at total fire suppression have been shown to be detrimental and are therefore outdated.  The key to wildfire disaster risk reduction in a changing world now lies in learning to live with fire.

Investments in international co-operation, integrated management, local community involvement, cutting-edge technologies, and long-term data collection are critically needed to ensure the future of fire disaster risk mitigation.  Moreover, future land development policies must prioritize the protection and the restoration of natural and cultural landscapes that have been degraded by the inappropriate use of fire or, conversely, by historical fire exclusion; keeping a place for fire in forest resource management and landscape restoration has been shown to be a cost-effective and efficient solution to reduce fire hazard.

Overall, synthesis of globally available scientific evidence revealed the following key issues for landscape management and governance:

  • Climate change, with longer, hotter, and drier fire seasons, in combination with other environmental changes linked to population growth and unsustainable land-use practices, is contributing to extreme wildfire events that exceed existing fire management capacities. The world is entering a ‘new reality’ that demands new approaches to fire governance.
  • Fire is an inherent feature of the Earth System and many ecosystems, including their fauna, are dependent on it for their long-term survival; nevertheless, ongoing changes in global fire activity in terms of location, intensity, severity, and frequency will have immense costs for biodiversity, ecosystem services, human well-being and livelihoods, and national economies – to extents that have yet to be evaluated. Investment in social, economic, and environmental monitoring is therefore urgent, especially in under-studied regions.
  • Integrated fire risk reduction is key to adapting to ongoing changes in global fire risk. Future sustainable fire risk mitigation demands integrated region-specific approaches based on a clear understanding of fires in context, population awareness and preparedness, fire surveillance and early-warning systems, adaptive suppression strategies, fire-regime restoration, landscape-scale fuel management, changes to many land use practices, and active restoration of landscapes.
  • Engagement with local communities, land-owners, businesses and public stakeholders – via multiple tiers of governance – is crucial to restore and maintain landscapes that are biodiverse and functional, respectful of local cultures and identities, economically productive, and above all, fire-resilient.
  • People have historically achieved sustainable co-existence with flammable ecosystems and have often used fire as a land-management tool, thereby shaping many modern and long-standing landscapes around the world. Traditional fire knowledge is thus key to adapting to local changes in fire activity, using known techniques for the reduction of dangerous fuel loads, prescribed burning and sustainable landscape management practices.
  • Building adaptive capacity to confront fires must be based on knowledge of the natural and cultural roles of fire, how they have shaped our modern landscapes, and their importance in the long-term functioning of socio-ecological systems. Further developments in land-system science, geospatial technologies, and computer modelling will enhance our understanding of the long-term ecological and socio-economic drivers of fire through the widespread collection and distribution of harmonized fire data at the global level.  However, creating and sharing such knowledge requires national and international investments in scientific and operational fire science programmes.
  • Catastrophic fires are undeniably part of our future. Current scientific estimates are conservative, meaning that changes in fire activity might be worse than anticipated.  We have to act now to mitigate catastrophic fires and limit the occurrence of disastrous situations.  Given disparities but also similarities in the levels of fire risk around the world, and the capacities to manage it, knowledge and technology transfers through international cooperation will be a paramount factor in learning to live with fire.

This Occasional Paper is the result of a large collaborative effort by fire scientists and practitioners who believe that learning to co-exist with changing fire activity is not only possible but necessary if we, as a global society, are to adapt to climate change and keep our natural and cultural landscapes healthy, resilient, and safe for the next generations.  The work presented hereafter was developed during, and as follow-up to, the Global Expert Workshop on Fire and Climate Change hosted in Vienna, Austria, on 2-4 July 2018.  It stresses the diversity and the complexity of the global fire situation, a situation that is evolving, positively or negatively, in unknown proportions due to global environmental changes — with climate change being the most acknowledged manifestation.

Conclusion – Learning To Live With Fire

We live on a flammable planet; although not everything is meant to burn, fire cannot be eliminated.  Ongoing global climate change combined with other planetary changes is leading to more frequent and more extreme fires exposing vulnerable societies, economies, and ecosystems to disaster situations.  The recognition of fire activity as a worsening hazard threatening human security is the necessary first step towards international co-operation for the mitigation of disaster risk situations in fire-prone areas.

However, we are not defenceless.  Fire scientists in many regions of the world have been developing successful strategies and tools based on cutting-edge technologies for several years.  Those are now mature enough to be up-scaled and adapted to other geographic contexts as part of national fire management frameworks.  Additionally, integrating existing and future scientific knowledge on climate change and changing fire regimes, and systematically collecting long-term data on current and past fire uses will foster better informed decisions, models and enhanced efforts towards wildfire disaster risk reduction, as well as contribute to the development of sustainable Anthropocene fire regimes.

We hope this paper will be a catalyst for a paradigm shift, so fires are not seen as an enemy to fight but as natural and necessary phenomena, as well as a useful and necessary tool that can often help protect people and nature.  It is paramount to revise, fund, and fulfil future management, research, and governance needs if we are, as world citizens, to trigger a societal change that will help us better live with fires.

The information and insights contained in this Occasional Paper connect together to promote the use of several existing solutions to the problem: defining national fire risk reduction frameworks, collecting and analyzing relevant traditional knowledge and biophysical fire data, investing in fire detection and prediction technologies, involving and preparing stakeholders, and improving fire use and landscape management in ways that help control the fuel load and the spread of fire, while limiting GHG emissions and protecting the communities and the landscapes they live in and often depend on.

The Status Quo is no longer an option; it is time to make integrated fire management the rule rather than the exception.

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Sustainable Fire Engineering – Recent Dublin Presentations !

2019-03-19:  Two Conference & Exhibition Events were recently held in Dublin’s City West Convention Centre

2019 City West Summits, Dublin – Colour photograph showing the view over the Exhibition Hall.  Click to enlarge.

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I was very pleased to make a Presentation at both events, adapted to suit an Irish context, on … ‘Sustainable Fire Engineering – Necessary Professional Transformation For The 21st Century’ … which continues to evolve.

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

Sustainable Fire Engineering
Internet: www.sfe-fire.eu
Twitter: @sfe2016dublin

Presentation Abstract

Annual Fire Losses, both direct and indirect, amount to a very significant percentage of Gross Domestic Product (#GDP) in all economies, whether they are rich or poor … and result in enormous environmental devastation and social disruption.  Some losses have not yet been fully identified, e.g. environmental impact … while others are not yet capable of being fully quantified, e.g. business interruption, brand and reputation damage.  Globally, fire statistics still remain unreliable.  In all cases, however, the waste of valuable human and natural resources caused by preventable fires is unsustainable and no longer acceptable.

From an entirely different perspective … Sustainable Buildings are presenting every society with an innovative and exciting re-interpretation of how a building functions in response to critical energy, environmental, climate change and planetary capacity pressures … an approach which has left the International Fire Engineering and Firefighting Communities far behind in its wake, struggling to develop the necessary ‘creative’ and ‘sustainable’ fire safety strategies.

The Aim of Sustainable Fire Engineering (#SFE) is to dramatically reduce direct and indirect fire losses in the Human Environment (including the social, built, economic, virtual, and institutional environments) … to protect the Natural Environment … and, within buildings, to ensure that there is an effective level of Fire Safety for All Occupants, not just for Some, over the full building life cycle.

The following Priority Themes for SFE lie outside, or beyond, the constrained and limited fire safety objectives of current fire regulations, codes and standards – objectives which do not properly protect society, a fire engineer’s clients, or the facility manager’s organization:

  1. Fire Safety for ALL, not just for Some.  Nobody left behind !
  2. Firefighter Safety.  Everyone goes home !   It is easy to dramatically improve firefighter safety with building design.  So, why haven’t NIST’s 2005 and 2008 WTC 9-11 Critical Recommendations been properly implemented anywhere ?
  3. Property Protection.  Fire damage and post-fire reconstruction/refurbishment are a huge waste of resources.  On the other hand, protection of an organization’s image/brand/reputation is important … and business continuity is essential.  Heritage fire losses can never be replaced.
  4. Environmental Impact. Prevention of a fire is far better than any cure !   But prevention must also begin by specifying ‘clean’ technologies and products.  Low Pressure Water Mist Systems are not only person/environment-friendly and resource efficient … they are absolutely essential in airtight and hyper energy-efficient building types (e.g. LEED, PassivHaus, BREEAM) in order to achieve an effective level of fire safety for all occupants, and firefighters.    [ Note: Environmental Impact Assessment (#EIA) has been superseded by Sustainability Impact Assessment (#SIA).]
  5. Building Innovation, People and Their Interaction.  Fire engineers and firefighters must begin to understand today’s new design strategies.
  6. Sustainable Design and Engineering. Wake up and smell the coffee !   Legislation can only achieve so much.  Spatial planners, building designers and fire engineers must subscribe to a robust Code of Ethics * which is fit for purpose in the Human Environment of the 21st Century.

Sustainable Fire Engineering Solutions are …

  • Adapted to a local context, i.e. climate change/variability/extremes, social need, geography, economy, and culture, etc ;
  • Reliability-based – lessons from real extreme and hybrid events, e.g. 2001 WTC 9-11 Attack, 2008 Mumbai/2015 Paris/2016 Brussels Hive Attacks and the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Incident, are applied to frontline practice ;
  • Person-centred – real people are placed at the centre of creative endeavours and due consideration is given to their responsible needs, and their health, safety, welfare and security in the Human Environment ;
  • Resilient – functioning must be reliable during normal conditions, and include the ability to withstand, adapt to and absorb unusual disturbance, disruption or damage, and thereafter to quickly return to an enhanced state of function.

* Refer to the 2016 Dublin Code of Ethics: Design, Engineering, Construction & Operation of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for All (PDF File, 112 kb).

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Noel Manning – Innovative Fire Researcher !

2019-03-18:  Lest we forget him …

Long before the Rest of the World was introduced to the term Fire-Induced Progressive Damage, in the late afternoon of 11 September 2001 (WTC 9-11), with the collapse of World Trade Center Building No.7 in New York City …

(9-11) WTC Building No.7 – Fire-Induced Progressive Damage !

… decades earlier … Noel Manning had intuitively discovered the same Structural Fire Engineering Concept … and had developed and tested a suite of domestic-scale building systems to deal with this very dynamic aspect of fire behaviour …

Noel C Manning – 2017-11-05 RIP

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The International Fire Engineering Community is still shy about discussing this concept, never mind understanding it … and most importantly, solving it !   Which makes me seriously wonder … is there a deep-seated flaw in International Fire Research ?   Are mainstream Fire Researchers more interested in sourcing funding than in actually solving ‘real’ world fire engineering problems ???

And I also wonder … why have the 2005 and 2008 NIST (USA) WTC 9-11 Recommendations on the WTC Building Collapses still not been properly implemented within the USA … and why have they been ignored everywhere else ?????

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After Grenfell: Reliable Design, Supply & Construction Essential !

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

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

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

So where do we start again ?

Reality – Reliability – Redundancy – Resilience !

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

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

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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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