Fire Not Getting Recognition It Warrants In Building Sustainability

Fire Not Getting Recognition It Warrants In Building Sustainability

Graham Ellicott, CEO of the Fire Industry Association (FIA), has called for those involved in improving the sustainability of buildings to recognise the role that fire safety has to play in that process and to reflect this in the standards and best practice guides that are produced.

Graham was one of a number of fire safety professionals presenting at the 2010 Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) Annual General Meeting & Conference held at the Russell Hotel, London on 21 and 22 July.

Under the Conference theme of “Fire Engineering to Improve Sustainability of Communities” Graham spoke of “The Impact of Sustainability on Installed Fire Protection”. He started by outlining the significant part that fire safety systems have to play in the sustainability of buildings and the wider environment, citing not only the monetary but also the environmental costs of a serious fire in terms of pollution, the waste of water resources and the potential impact of having to partly or completely reconstruct a building. Despite this, fire has a relatively low or even non-existent profile in many regulations and best practice guides to sustainable methods of construction, from the 2007 White paper ‘Planning for a Sustainable Future’ where there is no mention of fire through to ‘Strategy for Sustainable Construction’ where there is a single reference.

Even in the Building Regulations, the focus tends to be on life safety, with no attention paid to property protection which has an obvious impact on sustainability, particularly in those buildings which are part of a community’s critical infrastructure – schools and hospitals being prime examples. Graham recognised that the insurers’ version of Approved Document B of the Building Regulations does indeed have extra comments, including “The fire protection systems shall be regularly maintained so that they are able to perform their intended function throughout the life of the building”. For the FIA, that means third party certification not only for products and systems but also for those who install and maintain them.

He also spoke of the concerns surrounding fire safety of timber frame buildings which has lead to insurers potentially refusing fire cover for such buildings. This highlighted the need to appreciate that those materials that are seen as contributing to a more sustainable approach to building have potential implications in fire safety terms which need to be addressed. Other materials advocated by organisations such as the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) include cedar roof shingles, UK-grown Douglas Fir wood for external cladding, linoleum, rubber and recycled carpet flooring, all of which would contribute to a building’s fire load.

At the outset of his presentation Graham had said that it would raise more questions than provide answers and amongst the questions that he finished with were “Why does the Government not consider fire in the sustainability debate?” and “Why there is no guidance on the amount of fire load that a new building may contain by type and/or size?”. He called on those involved in all areas of fire safety, from the manufacturers and installers to the fire and rescue service and insurers, to work together to ensure the fire safety voice is heard.
Graham commented –“The conference made it very clear that the passion from the fire community for their profession and its impact in driving down fire deaths and property losses is in no way dimmed. However, if I see a weakness within our profession I would say it’s our belief that this passion is shared by all and sundry and that in view of this that we do not need to overtly come out and communicate it as early as possible in national and international debates in which fire has an important part to play. This is clearly the case in sustainable buildings where there are some glaring omissions in the documents that seek to ensure that we are building in a sustainable way. We need to fight our corner to ensure that fire safety is brought to the fore and has the prominence and due consideration that it rightly deserves.”

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