The forgotten fire protection - Briab - Brand, Risk & Säkerhet


The forgotten fire protection

When you buy a new home, fire protection isn’t the first thing you think of. It’s taken for granted; it’s just supposed to be there. When we buy a car, we can read about safety tests, and companies like Volvo use safety as one of their key selling points. Safety in cars is important to consumers, and has a commercial value. But this isn’t the case for fire protection. For fire protection engineers and the fire protection industry, this could be our biggest failure. We simply haven’t been able to communicate the importance of fire protection, nor is the industry actively and consciously valuing it.

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A few weeks ago in Malmö, there was a fire in a turn-of-the-century building, damaging some 40 apartments. It will be a long time before the residents will be able to move back in. Huge values have been lost, and for the individuals it is a personal disaster. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the blaze. According to early information, it was caused by a lightning strike on the building’s roof. Whatever the cause, the consequences are far out of proportion.

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The fire at Fågelbacken in Malmö shows how quickly a fire can advance, once it gets started

Fire protection gradually weakened

Many buildings in Sweden have similar attic designs – rowhouses as well as apartment blocks. Sometimes there are no firewalls, or if there are, they have been penetrated by ventilation ducts, broadband cables, etc. Thus, the fire protection is weakened, and the residents are normally completely unaware of the heightened risks. In Sweden, the National Board of Housing has made several attempts since 2003 to inform the public that fire protection in attics is a weak point in thousands of buildings. At the local level, fire protection audits have been carried out; in Uppsala a review from 2012 to 2015 showed that in 55% of the buildings that were checked, there were substantial problems with the fire protection

A lack of knowledge and maintenance

In a 2017 Sifo survey, Swedes were asked if they know what type of insulation their building has. Almost two-thirds didn’t know. The insulation type and how it is shielded are important parts of a building’s fire protection. Sensitive insulation materials such as cellular plastic must be shielded and requires a tailored fire protection strategy for the building. After the 2009 fire in Rinkeby, Sweden, where seven died, it was found that the fire hatch in the stairwell was broken. Checks before and after the fire showed repeatedly that fire protection installations had not been maintained. Critical elements of the fire protection risk failing due to insufficient maintenance and management. Overall, people’s knowledge of their building’s fire protection is low. Not even the insurance companies are particularly familiar with it. Premiums are calculated based on a standard building, and it is almost impossible to negotiate an individualized premium. Neither insurers nor residents know much about their fire protection, and they have very few concrete reasons to learn more.

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Digitalization – The key to improvement

Finding the right level of fire protection is a balancing act. If the fire protection isn’t appropriate, it will be inefficient and costly. There are clear examples of this. Today the biggest problem is that it’s difficult to make conscious choices. Fire protection is not easy to understand. Here, digitalization is the key to improvement. What today ends up in a dusty report can tomorrow be communicated clearly to all the stakeholders who need the information, and can improve what is now often a dangerous situation.

Read more: Are we in the process of prohibiting our future?

Some of us have started to change our working methods; we take this issue seriously. We have new, innovative solutions under the way, which will fundamentally improve communication and increase awareness of the importance of fire protection in the design and building phases, as well as in the maintenance phase, which is as critical as it is difficult to manage. Using digital tools, we can facilitate and improve our ability to review fire protection, and we can gather and make use of the information in a structured manner, over time. We can design and build correctly; property owners and managers gain better control and can better plan maintenance. Residents can receive customized information and make well-informed decisions. Risks can be managed, accidents avoided and the consequences of a fire is minimized.

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