In this opinion piece, René de Feijter (Efectis Nederland) reflects upon fire safety failures in buildings and calls upon us to ponder human responsibilities in such failures and potential solutions.
Fire safety in buildings is all about constructions, installations and use of the building. When there's a fire, we conclude that installation may have failed or a firewall failed. It's easy to conclude a building has failed after a fire but did it really fail? Or did the designer fail in designing a fire-safe building? Did the construction company fail in constructing the building? Did the users fail in maintaining and using the building in a safe way?
To increase fire safety, it is time to stop blaming the building for failing and look at ourselves. If we design a large building without an automatic extinguishing system, we should expect the building to burn down in case of a fire. The potential implications of the choices made at the design stage should be communicated to the building’s future owner. Can the owner or user overcome a total loss by fire?
And if during construction, we decide to use a different material than stated in the design, and hereby impact the final building, we should know the reaction to fire of that material or the fire resistance of that specific construction.
How do we know the materials or the resulting constructions, we are using are fire-safe according to the building code? Do we trust an expert opinion, or do we want proof by testing?
When we design a fire-safe building and construct it according to the design, all we have to do is to maintain the safety level. But do we inform the owner or user of what is the current safety level and of how he should maintain it? Is fire safety a priority for a building owner or user?
Fire safety in buildings starts with education. Everybody needs to be aware of fire risks. Every engineer and builder should have some basic knowledge about fire safety and fire risks.
In my daily work, I see penetration seals being destroyed three days after installation. I see Court reports of people who build fireplaces and chimneys without knowledge about building codes and fire safety standards. I see roofers working without a fire extinguisher. I see designers drawing up the cheapest solution for fire safety in buildings. I see builders making facades with a combination of materials that has a classification less than D according to EN13501-1.
A lot can be improved on fire safety in buildings by educating people and raising awareness. Educating people and raising awareness can have a great side effect. People will be more aware of fire safety in their own homes as well. And that is where we can reduce the number of fire victims.
René de Feijter B.Be IAAI-CFI