In this article, we look at what a fire safety report says and explain why a good fire safety report is absolutely necessary. In fact, it is indispensable as part of a building plan. Architects and contractors base their decisions on it, and as the owner or user of a building, you obviously want to be sure that fire safety is in order.
Fire safety is usually ensured by integral coordination between structural engineering, installation engineering and organisational fire safety measures. The responsibility for complying with laws, regulations and the Buildings Decree lies with the building owner and the building user. Both parties have a pioneering role in this.
The current Building Decree (Building Act 2012) stipulates that a building must have such facilities that a fire is detected in time and can be extinguished within a reasonable time. There are also requirements for structural measures that delay and impede (compartmentalise) the fire. Not only laws and regulations but also current events are driving the focus on fire safety and fuelling discussions on how to combine it with contemporary building.
We take a brief look at various aspects that recur in a fire safety plan.
Fire Safety Engineer Raymond Vink: “Fire safety goes much further than just meeting the lower limit set by laws and regulations. Current events show how important this is, it can be a matter of life and death”.
Structural measures aimed at fire safety delay (fire propagation) and impede (compartmentation and burn-in speed) fire. This can be done, for example, by creating fire compartments and smoke compartments, installing fire doors, using non-combustible insulation material and fireproofing wood and wood products.
In our advice, we also pay attention to the detailing of façade structures and fire-resistant partitioning structures. We also have expertise in the choice of materials and (certified) products that can make the difference in terms of fire safety in a high-risk situation.
A fire alarm system is needed for rapid detection of fire and for alarms in a building or complex. The fire alarm system automatically controls other fire safety installations, such as fire screens, adhesive magnets, electric overrides, smoke and heat extraction systems. In addition, to lifts and air handling systems.
The function of a fire alarm system is, of course, to detect, locate and signal a fire at an early stage. Within an organisation, this timeliness allows the designated persons (FAFS) to take action quickly; they are responsible for alerting the fire brigade and for coordinating the safety of the people present. The necessary fire safety devices, as mentioned above, are automatically activated by the fire alarm system. An evacuation system is almost always integrated into this.
Fire alarm systems and evacuation alarm systems are prescribed for a number of building uses and must comply with strict quality standards. These are described in NEN 2535 (fire alarm systems) and NEN 2575 (evacuation alarm systems). The building user and the building manager are responsible for management and maintenance of these installations. NEN 2535 and NEN 2575 describe what design, implementation, compatibility and quality must comply with.
“A fire safety plan does not just contain standard solutions. These are not always the best. Customisation is often required”
Our fire safety advisers look beyond standard solutions or measures. These solutions or the requirements set out in the Building Decree may not always be the best choices. In that specific situation, ‘equivalence’ is considered. These are ‘customised’ solutions.
The equivalence principle in the 2012 Building Decree means that alternative measures can be taken under specific laws and regulations. Among other things, it offers opportunities to respond to new and/or sustainable building methods. This is an important fact for our fire safety advisers, as construction innovates faster than laws and regulations can keep up. An important question, for example, is how to combine bio-based and circular materials with fire safety requirements.
In practice, no building or building plan is standard and therefore the regulations in the Building Code are not always the best, also from the perspective of cost or user-friendliness, for example. In general, the requirements and provisions in the Building Decree are the lower limit with regard to fire safety. Our fire safety expert will always take ‘generally accepted equivalences’ as described in NEN6060, NEN6068 and NEN6079 into consideration.
Naturally, this equivalence is tested using calculations and simulations and discussed with the competent authority. If necessary, we make additional fire spread calculations to demonstrate equivalence.
Why a fire safety plan is absolutely necessary is proven time and again by practice. It is hard to overstate the importance of fire-safe buildings. The Grenfell Tower fire (London 2017) is still on everyone’s mind. More recently, there were major fires in a residential tower in Milan (August 2021) and in an office building in the Chinese city of Changsha (September 2022).
The Grenfell Tower fire killed at least 72 people and injured 77. The building had been renovated in 2016, which included new facade cladding. Façade construction and these cladding panels were most likely the cause of the rapid spread of the fire.
At the burnt-down residential tower in Milan, the facade was entirely clad with highly flammable panels. According to an eyewitness, these cladding sheets melted and ‘drops’ of insulation came down. The fire in Changsa raged in a 218-metre-high skyscraper. Presumably, the air-conditioning system here was the culprit. ‘
These events, particularly the Grenfell Tower, have already had a significant impact on the way fire safety is looked at in construction projects. They underline the importance of a solid plan and sufficient measures.
There are more challenges in current affairs facing fire safety experts. For instance, applying sustainability measures affects fire safety and vice versa. To what level are fire safety risks allowed to increase for a building to still be called ‘sustainable’? After all, a maximally sustainable building will last throughout its life, without any loss of resources. Moreover, many harmful substances are released during fires.
Furthermore, choosing sustainable materials such as wood generally means greater fire safety risks requiring measures. How can it then be determined whether these specific measures do not (partially) cancel out the effects of bio-based building? It is important to include these questions at an early stage in order to arrive at a well-founded fire safety report that works best for a sustainable project.
The fire safety plan or fire safety report drawn up by our consultant addresses constructional, installation-technical and organisational measures integrally, based on the specific performance requirements with regard to the fire safety level for a current project. All current questions and considerations of the client and user are taken into account.
A good fire safety report is a complete plan, where ‘complete’ means that all fire safety measures to be taken are analysed and addressed and all management measures are named. It includes various findings and advice to minimise the impact of a potential fire. Environmental factors such as mirror symmetry and possible fire spread, fire brigade accessibility and emplacement, fire entrances and the position of fire hydrants are always considered.
While drawing up our fire safety report, we liaise with the fire prevention committee and the fire brigade if the situation requires. We look beyond the prescribed standard. Where ‘beyond’ means ‘safer’ than the minimum requirements stated in the Building Decree 2012 and the well-known NEN standards.
Finally, we like to think along with you when it comes to paths that have not yet been trodden, such as considerations in finding the most sustainable and fire-safe solutions (or materials).
We have briefly outlined above what a good fire safety plan contains and why drawing it up is absolutely necessary. Do you have any questions or are you curious what we can do for you in this area? Our Fire Safety Engineer Raymond Vink would be happy to discuss this with you!