From invaluable to protected – Briab’s work with Swedish churches - Briab - Brand, Risk & Säkerhet


From invaluable to protected – Briab’s work with Swedish churches

The spiritual value of churches cannot be overestimated. But their material value has been and still is, in many ways, underestimated. And this is a considerable risk that we need to address. The fire at the Notre-Dame in Paris, which Michael Strömgren wrote about in a previous report, is a wakeup call for us to take our shared responsibility.

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There are some 3,700 churches in Sweden, of which 13 are cathedrals. It is important to systematically and actively evaluate the fire protection, to gain an overview and control. To get a better picture of the situation in Swedish churches, Briab, on a commission from Kyrkans Försäkring (the Church of Sweden’s insurance company), has worked to identify and prevent risk, so that the fire protection in Swedish churches may be improved.

Michael Strömgren, public affairs manager at Briab:
Notre-Dame is exceptional, and possibly the foremost example of Gothic architecture. But even though it’s a unique building, we can still learn from it in Sweden. It’s great that our experts at Briab can make an important contribution in these matters.”

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1990 fire in Stockholm church exposed shortcomings

It is highly probable that the investigation into the Notre-Dame fire will reveal similarities to the conclusions of the investigation into the disastrous fire at the Katarina Church in Stockholm in 1990. There, difficulties with the valuation of the church resulted in insufficient insurance cover. And insufficient knowledge of risks, fire development and the consequences of a church fire resulted in shortcomings in the preventive fire protection.

Henrik Strindberg is head of the insurance technical services at Briab:
“The insurance work of the Church of Sweden, systematically identifying risks, and improving fire protection, is very important. From Briab we’ve contributed to strengthening the fire protection in the Swedish cathedrals, and developed a methodology and tools. I’ve worked a lot with systematically learning from accidents, and we have to do more of that. There is also some good news: much of Notre-Dame has been saved, and we can learn a lot from that.”

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Society changes, and so does risks. So staying on top of developments is vital. Theory and practice must be both broad and in-depth, when it comes to protecting our churches and heritage buildings. But if disaster strikes in spite of everything, the insurance cover must be appropriate.

Johan Hanberger is a fire protection engineer, certified for heritage buildings:
“The fire protection for our heritage buildings is contradictory. The buildings we value most have the worst fire protection. Plus, we often fill them with irreplaceable art and artefacts. Fire protection must simply be prioritized higher.”

Unfortunately, there are many examples of similar incidents in buildings of great historical value – see the list below. It’s a list that we do not want to see grow. And even if the fire at Notre-Dame cathedral is sad, there is a constructive force in the light that the flames can spread over the issue, and the fire protection of the future.

• 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’ Notre-Dame Cathedral (2019).

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