Monthly Archives: May 2015

Futurologist: New materials may lead to improved fire safety

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The technological development of new materials, components and systems in the construction sector will likely make the future more fireproof.  Such is the outlook of futurologist Klaus Mogensen of the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies.

The development of materials will lead to new building components and construction principles, says futurologist Klaus Mogensen, who has conducted several studies in the area.

But what impact will this development have on fire safety? According to Mogensen, this is a difficult question to answer, but most signs indicate that the technological development of new materials will make the world more fireproof in the future.

– Let me give you an example: The future will bring window panes that will make interiors darker or lighter either upon direct sunlight or at the turn of a knob. This will obviate the need for curtains and thereby reduce the risk of fire, because home fires can begin with the curtains catching fire, says Mogensen, whose research results are included in a report entitled ‘Future Materials and Fire Safety’, which was conducted by the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies and commissioned by DBI.

Another example, however, may point to an opposite trend. The future will bring more robots that perform everyday tasks such as vacuuming and babysitting.

– In general, electronic equipment with rechargeable batteries, such as those used in a robotic vacuum cleaner, can be seen to increase the risk of fire, regardless of how well the appliance is designed. And there’s no doubt that we will continue to see many more electronic appliances in our homes and offices. What will it mean for fire safety if the pictures and posters we hang on our walls are replaced by integrated screens? Or what effects will there be if books and newspapers disappear because more and more people read content on their tablets and smartphones?, Mogensen ponders.

Only a mild interest in safety
Mogensen is convinced that new technological possibilities are what drive the development of new materials and components in the construction sector – and not the wish for greater fire safety, which is a lower overall priority.

In fact, most people who live and work in Danish buildings are not very interested at all in fire safety, the futurologist points out. A majority of them simply assume that their buildings are safe – and that surely a fire will never break out in their homes or businesses.

– It’s just like with cars. Fuel consumption, design, top speed and extra gadgets mean much more. Safety comes in relatively far down on the list, says Mogensen, who calls this means of prioritisation a ‘human characteristic’, because we generally don’t wish to worry too much.

That is why so many cyclists ride around without helmets, even though everyone knows that a helmet would increase one’s personal safety.

Uncertainty about new materials
Two exciting technological trends in the area of new materials are tailored composite materials that are both lightweight and durable, and the use of phase-alternating materials in walls and other constructions that can reduce a building’s energy consumption.

However, it is difficult to say what actual significance these trends will have for fire safety. The new materials will typically be flammable to a certain degree, unlike concrete, brick and other materials commonly used today. That said, wood is also flammable, and yet we have learned to use the material effectively in terms of fire safety, such as by treating it with fire-retardant impregnation.

– The question is whether the existing testing methods and regulations for fire safety work optimally when it comes to fundamentally different materials, such as composites, carbon nanotubes or nanocrystalline cellulose, Mogensen wonders aloud.

– It’s also necessary to consider the effect of the increasing number of active systems we have in our buildings. Temperature-controlled oven light windows or window panes can reduce the need for mechanical ventilation and cooling, and this, in turn, will bring down the risk of fire. But what is the impact of having such solutions if a fire actually breaks out? What is the impact of having more intelligent types of sprinkler and alarm systems? Can nanomaterials generate poisonous gases? What is the risk posed by the many chargers we have for our electronic equipment? Should we really have a low-voltage power supply in all buildings, instead of the current 230-volt standard? I don’t think we’re thinking enough about fire safety in relation to new technology and new materials, responds Mogensen to his list of questions.

History was made at CFPA-E’s super week in Helsinki

Training and Guidelines Commissions held their first ever joint meeting in Helsinki on April 16th.

Training and Guidelines Commissions held their first ever joint meeting in Helsinki on April 16th.

CFPA-E had a real super week in Finland as four of its Commissions (Marketing and Information Commission, Guideline Commission, Training Commission and Security Commission) held their meetings in Helsinki from April 13th to 17th, 2015. Hosted by the Finnish National Rescue Association SPEK, the week culminated in a historical joint meeting between Training and Guidelines Commissions on April 16th. A first of its kind – but not the last.

The aim of the joint meeting was to increase the collaboration between the two Commissions. Through joint work, it is possible to integrate guidelines better into the training material done in the Training Commission and on the other hand it is important for the Training Commission to be able to express what sort of guidelines would be useful from the Guideline Commission for their needs.

In the meeting the two Commissions decided to gather guidelines into different packages which would also include complementary CFPA-E training courses. Another topic for discussion was adapting guidelines and courses for national requirements. The Commissions also decided to establish a joint working group to design a common European training package for fire engineers.

Vice chair of the Training Commission, Tobias Plantin from The Swedish Fire Protection Association SFPA sees the co-operation as a positive thing.

  • Guidelines and training courses often go hand in hand. The creation of packages is also a very good idea, especially from a client’s point of view. This is a very good start for the joint work of the Commissions, stated Plantin.

Miguel Vidueira from Spanish CEPREVEN and who is the chairman of the Guideline Commission agrees with Plantin. For Vidueira, the meeting was a success.

  • Up until today we have done our separate work, but it is obvious that these two Commissions have joint areas of interests which we can improve. The end result of the joint meeting was even a bit of a positive surprise as we were able to achieve concrete decisions and weren’t stuck in a level of theory and ideas, says Vidueira.

The two Commissions want to continue this fruitful co-operation also in the future but there needs to be a careful selection of joint topics in order to make the most of the available resources.

  • The main goal is that everyone in Europe recognizes CFPA-E as the number one brand for fire safety. We are heading this way but we are not there yet. Member countries in CFPA-E have started to see the added value of networking and co-operation which is a really positive thing. Our goal is to serve our customers the best way we can, and this common cause is achieved only through joint effort by the member states, concludes Vidueira.

Text & image: Taina Hanhikoski, The Finnish National Rescue Association SPEK