Monthly Archives: July 2019

Wild fires in the USA mobilise the fire brigade’s elite troops

Skovbrande-i-USA

Every year, wild fires cause havoc in the USA. They cause people to flee, cost billions and can continue for weeks. When such a fire needs to be brought under control, the authorities enlist the help of the elite firemen – also known as ‘hotshot crews’.

In the USA they have a season we don’t have in Europe: Fire season. This is the time of year when  cause havoc, particularly in the western part of the USA. In 2015, they had the worst season ever, when more than 40,400 km2 went up in smoke. And in 2018 it was even more disastrous, with the fires in California resulting in many fatalities.

More frequent droughts and increasing temperatures as a result of climate change only make the problem much worse. Therefore, combating wild fires in the USA requires a massive effort. And that massive effort in particular is what the so-called ‘hotshots’ provide. They are the fire brigade’s elite troops who specialise in wild fires and are called on to fight the worst and biggest wild fires all over the USA. In the wilderness they create ‘fire lines’ – i.e. Fire belts in the terrain, the purpose of which is to limit the spread of the fires. This is done by hand – using power saws and axes – or by means of controlled burning, when the direction of the wind is favourable.

The most dangerous tasks
There are around 100 hotshot crews in the USA, each of which comprises 20 firemen. They undergo intensive training in all forms of fire fighting tactics, and the physical requirements are rigorous.  Normally, they are sent out into the wilderness without logistical support in order to create fire lines in shifts lasting up to 48-64 hours for several weeks in a row.

The firemen in every hotshot crew each have their own roles to play. Some of them are trained in first aid, while others are highly specialised lumberjacks who are able to cut down dead or burning trees. Others create fire lines by cutting down vegetation bordering the fire and moving the cut down trees into the fire.

They risk their lives
It is dangerous work, so even if you are one of the best, every now and again it costs human lives. Therefore, all hotshots carry a ‘fire shelter’ which they can use if the fire encircles them. It is designed to withstand flames and radiant heat and contains sufficient breathable air so that the fireman, in an emergency situation, can roll out the fire cover, crawl into it and survive.

However, there are no guarantees. In 1994, nine hotshot member perished in the flames in Oregon when a rapidly moving fire engulfed them. And in 2013, a particularly rapidly moving and violent fire cut a hotshot crew off from their escape route in the wilderness in Arizona. The fire spread more quickly than the crew were able to run and the violent wind created 70 metre high flames and temperatures of approximately 1,100 degrees. The crew were encircled and all of them perished.

If hotshots are the elite troops, smokejumpers are the parachute troops. They jump out of an aeroplane instead of driving or trekking to the fires. The rapid mobilisation means that they can often contain the fire before it grows too big and gets out of control.

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The EU Fire Safety Guide

Over the past decades, Europe has achieved substantial improvements in fire safety thanks to the continuous adjustment and implementation of fire safety strategies. As a result of comprehensive approaches, fire fatalities have fallen by 65% in Europe over the last 30 years.

However, more needs to be done as fire safety in buildings remains a major societal issue. According to statistics, it is estimated that, in Europe, around 5000 people a year are killed due to building fires.

All actors involved should intensify their efforts in finding and implementing effective solutions.

According to the subsidiarity principle, fire safety is a national competence, but the European Union also has a role to play.Most of the fatalities from fire happen in residential fires that are preventable .

To achieve this, fire safety in buildings requires a holistic approach from preventing the start of any fire to containing and extinguishing it.

In this guide, we present the seven layers of fire safety that must be considered to protect citizens and buildings, and how each of these can be improved.

 

To read the full article click on the following link:

http://www.modernbuildingalliance.eu/EU-fire-safety-guide

 

Extinguishers-Are-Effective-in-Stopping-Fires-from-Developing

Extinguishers Are Effective in Stopping Fires from Developing

Automatic water extinguishers protect life and property reliably. They play an especially important role in improving the safety of living. The Fire Prevention Technology Development Group emphasises that water mist extinguishers and sprinkler systems are the most effective way to prevent fire fatalities for disabled people, especially.

Automatic extinguishers are designed to put out or limit a fire until the rescue personnel arrive. The equipment activates in response to a higher heat level within the space. According to an American study, in buildings that had a sprinkler system installed sprinkler heads activated in 92 per cent of the fires.

The equipment is very reliable and false activations are extremely rare. Moreover, all of the sprinkler heads do not activate simultaneously. Rather, only the ones that are affected by elevated temperatures do.

Automatic extinguishers are designed to spray water in a real situation until they are turned off. It is likely that the subsequent water damage will be smaller than fire losses and smoke damage resulting from a freely advancing fire. In Finland, on average, it takes approximately 17 minutes from an alarm for firefighters to begin their action. An uncontrolled fire will developradically in that time frame and may also endanger human life.

– The activation of sprinklers does not increase the total sum of the fire losses, sums up Esko Rantanen, Chief Fire Inspector, Helsinki City Rescue Department.

It is possible to significantly improve fire safety, especially for older and disabled people, by installing automatic extinguishing equipment.

The rapidly increasing number of elderly people is yet another challenge from the viewpoint of safety of living. Portable extinguishers are one solution to improve the situation.

Different extinguishing systems are mutually complementary.

Fire safety is best achieved when risk situations are identified early on so that the situation does not develop into a full-blown fire.
Fire prevention must always be considered in its entirety and, therefore, in addition to the protection that extinguishers provide, smoke alarms (Automatic Detection Systems), likewise, improve safety.
With a smoke alarm information of an emerging fire is the most reliably and most likely the soonest alarm the Emergency Response Centre receives. Automatic Detection Systems provides the time to react to a situation as soon as possible, and the extinguishing equipment enables safe evacuation and rescue during a fire.

Automatic extinguishing system does not render the other firefighting action unnecessary.

– When a sprinkler has activated and slowed down a fire the rescue personnel can more rapidly gain control of the situation. At the same time, the extinguishing equipment improves the occupational safety of firefighters, says Esko Rantanen.

According to an American study non-functioning extinguishers are often the result of human action. In 59 per cent of the cases where the equipment failed, it had been switched off. Other key mistakes included turning off the system too soon during a fire as well as poor maintenance. In only seven per cent of the cases where the system failed could the reason be attributed to a technical fault.

The role of the human is especially highlighted in system maintenance. It is essential to properly maintain the extinguishing equipment so that they properly function when needed. Failing to maintain them may endanger the people in the building, and result in major financial loss.

– A sprinkler is the first line of defence at the scene of a fire, but it only works if it has been maintained professionally and responsibly, points out Arja Rantala, Finnish Sprinkler Engineers Association.

The Fire Prevention Technology Development Group emphasises the importance of planning fire safety in its entirety. Proper maintenance and wellserviced equipment ensure business continuity at the site.

– No technical implementation at the site eliminates the need for human action, underscores Lauri Lehto, Safety and Security Expert, Finnish National Rescue Association.

What is the Fire Prevention Technology Development Group?

The Fire Prevention Technology Development Group is a group of experts whose shared goal is to advance safety and to develop the service and maintenance, qualityand technical prospects of fire prevention technology. The environment is constantly developing and fire prevention must stay up-to-date to meet the new challenges.
Lauri Lehto
Safety and Security Expert
The Finnish National Rescue Association SPEK

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