This should never have happened - interview with Daniel Joyeaux - Briab - Brand, Risk & Säkerhet


This should never have happened - interview with Daniel Joyeaux

As president of Efectis and one of Europes leading fire safety experts, frenchman Daniel Joyeux is probably one of the most interesting persons in the world to talk with after the tragic Notre-Dame fire. Briabs public affairs manager and research expert Michael Strömgren managed to get a sit down yesterday.

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M: The Notre-Dame Fire is a terrible fire event, but it seems like much has been saved. What can you tell us at this moment of the event?

D: It is not possible to say what started the fire as the investigation has just begun. But there were renovation work  just a few hours before the fire started.  We do know that fire safety precautions were not enough and that fire spread on the roof was critical. Like in many European countries there is legislation in France for doing hot work, i.e. welding or other activities that may cause fire. There is some 1800 m2 with combustible timber framing without fire compartmentation. It is vulnerable to rely only on a strategy to prevent ignition without also relying on other passive and active measures.

It is fortunate that the Paris fire brigade has done a very good job, limiting the damage to the cathedral. It was impossible to prevent fire spread in the roof so they concentrated on two objectives; protecting the major art and protecting the two towers. It seems like the risk of fire propagation has not been taken seriously. The Notre-Dame relied on a fire alarm system and the fire brigade intervention but the volume of the cathedral is so big that it is virtually impossible to control such a big fire if a fire ignites and propagates.

M: Is there something particularly surprising with the event from what we know so far?

D: I’m very angry over what happened. This should never have happened. We cannot accept that a building that has been standing for 900 years suffers like this.

M: At a systematic level, what do you think we can learn from events like this?

D:  There is on one hand a large lack of education of the population that should have some general fire safety knowledge. On the other hand, there is a lack of knowledge among fire safety organizations regarding fire science and the real fire risk. Efectis is active with dissemination of knowledge, by participation and fire professional training. Nevertheless this shall again be reinforced.

M: There has been a number of fires in significant historic buildings, to name some:
The Glasgow School of Arts (UK, 2014 and 2018), the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (Russian Federation, 2015), Mzuzu University Library (Malawi, 2015), India’s National Museum of Natural History (2016), New York’s Saint Sava Cathedral (USA, 2016), Jakarta’s Maritime Museum (Indonesia, 2018), Brazil’s National Museum (2018), Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral (2019). 

The fire safety community is aware of these risks, but again and again they happen and often they may have been prevented. In this case, billions of euros have been donated after the fire and a fraction of this would likely have saved the building.

What can we do to better highlight and communicate these risks?

D: First, experience from international and at least European fires should be shared in order to understand the existing fire risk that is too often underestimated. The Fire Information Exchange Platform initiated by European Commission has defined five Project Teams. One is specifically dedicated to exchange of experience between Member States, like the Swedish work on fire safety of churches.

 M: You are leading the work within European standardization to create better standards for fire safety engineering, essentially leading to fire safer buildings. We interviewed you about this in a previous article in January. How does work within standardization relate to better fire safety in cultural heritage buildings?

D: Several years ago, this working group has reviewed a draft guide from the CEN TC 346 concerning the fire safety of heritage goods. I thank the TC 346 for this transversal request, because the consistency between rules, prescriptive rules and objectives is the basis of saving heritage goods. This aim of the WG8 is the development of guidelines and rules for the use of FSE, but shall also support many other works about fire safety rules developed by other TC’s that are not primarily focusing on fire safety.


And there we end our talk, as Swedish TV news calls for yet another interview. We say goodbye, thanks and agree on talking further as the investigation brings more light on what actually happened.

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