Fire Safety Engineers in Europe coming together - Briab - Brand, Risk & Säkerhet


Fire Safety Engineers in Europe coming together

Europe has a long experience utilizing fire safety engineering (FSE) methods. Infrastructure projects and complex buildings are outside the limitations of traditional regulatory approaches and European countries early paved the way by adopting FSE and allowing the performance-based approach. However, while most European countries today allow FSE there is no unified approach. In this interview with Kees Both from january, Michael Strömgren discusses the way forward to a common approach.

Now several initiatives point to a new development for European FSE. SFPE, the global community for fire safety engineers, has hired a director for Europe, Jose Luis Fernandez. In 2014 SFPE Europe was formed and it now consists of 12 chapters, led by the SFPE Europe president. The winds for FSE in Europe are definitely strong in parallel with other initiatives, as we talked about with Daniel Joyeux in a previous interview

Kees Both

M: Kees Both you are the manager of fire standards and regulations with innovation and technology centre in the ETEX Group?

K: That’s correct.

M: And you are also the newly elected president of SFPE, congratulations.

K: Thank you. I feel obliged and honored of course.

M: With the recently appointed SFPE Europe director. SFPE, the Society of Fire Protection Engineers now has staff in Europe for the first time. And it’s also the first time SFPE has staff outside North America. The global fire safety engineering community clearly sees Europe as important – a region that should be prioritized. Why do you think Europe is prioritized by the SFPE?

K: The way you introduce it sounds like a deep dive for the Americans into the unknown but I would like to challenge that a bit. I think Europe is a cradle for Fire engineering. We have some top notch universities like Lund, Gent, Edinburgh, Zürich and several others. Europe has a very diverse and enriching culture of approaching fire safety. Some award fire brigades much more than others which makes the work of a fire engineer very exciting and challenging. Europe has a diversity of building codes reflecting in most cases the response to regional incidents and accidents that have happened. What you see now is that Europe has been working a lot on harmonization of foremost the standardization system. But for example the Eurocodes are more on the building code and safety level and there is perhaps an opportunity to further harmonize regulations in Europe. And the society of fire protection engineers is in a unique position to help that development. Perhaps not only help but also take ownership of such a development. That’s why Europe is very important.

In the US and globally it is viewed as Europe has its act together and the soil would be fertile and prosperous to establish an entity on. Europe has already started to establish several new chapters. They have worked in a more isolated fashion, rightfully so. But from within Europe there was a cry out to help and become more unified. And I think that help was given by SFPE globally. So ok guys if you want to get your act together – it’s a top down and bottom up approach. You in Europe ask for assistance and we in the US are happy to give that. But only if there is an interesting opportunity. The future of Europe is looking good. The economy is growing, there are challenges globally and Europe is no exception to that. High rise buildings and for underground  transport structures, a lot of new materials innovation, digitalization. These are no real exceptions to other regions, but the key thing is that Europe is ready to go to the next level for harmonization.

M: And I guess the European fire safety engineering community has shown it as well with all the new chapters and buzzling activity.

K: Exactly. Last but not least almost everywhere in Europe there is at least a small paragraph in the building codes to allow for more performance-based approaches. It’s up to us to get a foot in the door, and open that door to create more and better performance-based building codes. Now the time is right and the prospects are maybe better than anywhere else in the world. I would say that we are creating an entity that really shows how performance based engineering can, and should be done. But it’s not straightforward. We have our work cut out for us for many years I think.

M: But it’s a good place to start?

K: Absolutely.

M: Why do you think fire safety engineering is important to improve fire safety quality?

K: Quality for me rings bells like rationality, independence, and similar notions. What we do as fire protection engineers is to provide rationality and decision-making. So whether it’s the whole process to establish the fire safety of a building or it’s the selection of one material or solution, fire protection engineers can judge on rational and practical bases what good quality is. We need to ask these questions:

  • Is the quality good enough?
  • Do you need fire protection measures, yes or no?
  • It might improve the quality but at what cost?

And fire protection engineers can take out the heat of the discussion if you like, sometimes literally taking out the heat. And provide rational tools for people to decide how to come to the right level of quality that matches the level of ambition of the building owner or facility manager or user. And again, I would like to draw attention to this fact into to the entire process. So how to arrive at a safety level and reach certain decisions with both feet on the ground is crucial regarding the selection of a certain sprinkler system or smoke evacuation system or passive fire protection systems. On that level as well. So quality is rationality, I would like to translate that. It’s not a perfect synonym but the rationality is what we bring into the discussion.

M: Yeah, I agree how you put it as a rationality aspect. In your role as SFP president what do you see as your main focus for the coming years?

K: Thanks for asking, that is a daunting question. What is really the priority? I think first and foremost it is to align the European chapters and limit the numbers of topics on which we can really show significant impact in Europe and establish the authority of SFPE in Europe. To align on a limited number of topics on which we agree. We can do that internally in terms of governance and how we operate and exchange information internally. But predominantly also externally. So there are a number of hot topics in Europe like facades, smoke toxicity, construction products but also the fire model codes, these are examples. I realize by pronouncing this it sounds like my preference. To a degree it is but what I would like to do is to open up the platform of SFPE Europe for all the chapters to come forward with their ideas. This is what we struggle with internally in our country and local SFPE chapter so to speak. And if there is an overlap if there are a sufficient number of countries and SFPE chapters with similar issues and obstacles and opportunities that’s where SFPE Europe can come to the rescue and provide assistance.


M: So you would be able to find all the common denominators to find the need that is common and then proceed. Do I understand your right here?

K: Yes, and then get our act together and ask for commitment of SFPE Europe’s members, board members and say guys – this is what we commit to and after one or two years this is how you can measure our success and then we’ve made significant progress. And the key thing I think is to establish an authority in Europe that we are the natural partners for all stakeholders especially the European commission but maybe also other stakeholders. To say guys if we need input if we need a position on this if we need thoughts on how to progress on certain issues, whether it’s digitalization, new technology, stuff like that or for example the pressing façade fire questions – then SFPE Europe would be the place to go to and to ask us – do you have an opinion on this? Or could you help us organize an event? Or could you help us provide a key note speaker that provides the SFP Europe thoughts on this and this subject?

M: Sounds like you’re going to be busy the next few years.

K: Absolutely.

M: Thanks a lot Kees for your time. And good luck with the exciting journey ahead.

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