Building Fires: Why Are We Making Assumptions About The Outcome?

Building Fires: Why Are We Making Assumptions About The Outcome?

29 Mar 2023

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This informal CPD article, ‘Building Fires: Why Are We Making Assumptions About The Outcome?’ was provided by Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA), established in 2010 as an alliance of fire safety professionals working to protect UK plc against fire.

Fire is indiscriminate and can affect all buildings regardless of function or size, some with devastating impacts. With over 1800 fires in industrial buildings in England in 2021/20221 many of these businesses are faced with major financial and property losses, and some struggle to recover following a major fire. Building owners need to ask the question: “what’s the outcome I want to realise if my property suffers from a fire?” With so many buildings vulnerable to such large fire events, what have we learnt from these fires and what is needed to achieve better fire safety outcomes in such events?

One of several fires in recent months, a major blaze at the Midland Chilled Foods warehouse and production plant in Willenhall on January 16th required 12 fire crews and over 50 firefighters to bring under control. Another fire in October 2022 destroyed the XPS foam factory in North Wales, with a worker injured in the blaze. Both fires generated huge plumes of thick black acrid smoke, giving rise to warnings to local residents over the potential for irritants from the fumes, and disruption to local businesses and communities. These two industrial buildings were totally lost with the local fire services only able to contain the fires. Their disposal will cause an adverse environmental impact, while the materials and resources required to rebuild them will incur significant financial costs.

Given the outcome, people are surprised by the scale of the fires and that such buildings do not have better protection, as well as the challenges these events give the fire service. However, under current building regulations guidance, the types of buildings that suffered the devastating fires were not subject to any guidance for active fire protection, like sprinklers. As an operating business, they are required to complete and maintain an up-to-date fire risk assessment but this too may not lead to active fire protection.

Active fire protection sprinklers

People are sometimes confused by this as they see the consequences of the fire in buildings that meet current regulations and wonder how this can be. Surely buildings of this scale that are completely damaged in a fire, in incidents that are beyond the intervention of the fire and rescue service, have fire loads within them that require forms of active fire protection like sprinklers?

Many would be surprised to hear the answer is no. Furthermore, when new industrial units are built by developers, they can be erected without the knowledge of what they are going to be used for and are built speculatively. The basic design of the building is fixed as a bare building envelope and the building can be completed on this basis. There is no incentive for them to develop a building that has anything more than the minimum fire protection for the safety of persons in and around these buildings.

We are building to a certain set of building regulations and guidance but did they set us on the right path to deliver good outcomes? We can build even bigger buildings with higher fire loads but ultimately when there is a fire and no protection from sprinklers, the fire service cannot be expected to deal with it. We must therefore question why we are building buildings we cannot protect. More critically for the occupier are they cognisant of the hazards in these buildings and the real outcome they will deliver?

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA), please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.



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Business Sprinkler Alliance

Business Sprinkler Alliance

For more information from Business Sprinkler Alliance, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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