Monthly Archives: September 2019

Delayed alert cost Notre Dame dearly

notre-dame-cfpa

During the fire at Notre Dame in Paris, alerting the fire department was delayed by approx. 25 minutes. This time-lapse may have meant that the fire went from being a problem to a catastrophe.

A complex technical fire safety system, no direct connection to the fire department, human error and a delay of approx. 25 minutes seem to be the reasons why the fire which ravaged Notre Dame in Paris in April had such grave consequences. Now that the smoke had dissipated, the task of identifying what happened has commenced, and several interesting things have emerged from the ashes and been reported in the newspapers Le Monde, Le Canard Enchaîné and the New York Times.

As a national treasure, Notre Dame had its own fire alarm system. It was a rather advanced system which had been developed and designed specifically for the church over a period of six years. Among other things, it consisted of an aspiration system which was installed in 2013 with detectors on the ceiling of the church where the fire broke out. And the system was functional. Because when the fire began to develop, presumably as a smouldering fire, it gave off an alarm.

The fire department was alerted after 30 minutes
But unlike automatic fire alarm systems in some other countries, it was not connected directly to the fire department. Instead, the alarm went directly to the church’s own fire-detection unit. And it was not just any alarm. The complex system sent an equally complex alarm: “Attic Nave Sacristy ZDA-110-3-15-1 aspirating framework”. This referred to a zone in the church and a specific detector which had gone off in a system of more than 160 detectors and manual alarms.

The employee who manned the system and received the alarm had been on the job for three days and was on his second consecutive eight-hour shift. He misinterpreted the alarm and sent a guard to the loft of the small sacristy, which is next to the church itself. He also called his manager who did not pick up the phone. It took 25 minutes after the first alarm went off before the manager called back, the error was discovered and the guard was sent to the ceiling of the actual church. He then quickly instructed the church’s own fire-detection unit to call the fire department. By this time, 30 minutes had passed since the first alarm had gone off, and 25 of them had been wasted by searching for a fire in the wrong place. In the meantime, the fire had begun to spread undisturbed in a loft which was constructed from oak beams which were several hundred years old.

A fatal delay
This is a critical time delay in relation to what emergency services can do in the event of a fire.

– In a building of this age, the difference is whether a fire can be extinguished or merely controlled, says Tim Ole Simonsen, who is Director of Operations and Fire Chief of the Greater Copenhagen Fire Department.

He emphasises that he is not familiar with the exact details of the sequence of events of the fire in Notre Dame, but adds:

– A delay of this calibre will typically mean that there is a lot of smoke which makes it difficult to get to the fire, and there may be the danger of the structure collapsing. If you arrive quickly, you can sometimes extinguish the fire at an early stage. If more time passes, putting the fire out can take 12-24 hours. A delay of 25 minutes is fatal in this respect.

Few false alarms from modern systems
When automatic fire alarm systems in France do not automatically alert the fire department, it is because they do not want to respond to false alarms. Therefore, an alarm must be investigated and confirmed before the fire department is alerted.

– When the systems were introduced many years ago, it is likely that it was taken into consideration whether they should be connected directly to the fire department. But modern automatic fire alarm systems can actually be calibrated so that they never give false alarms in practise. The system in Notre Dame was modern, and for this reason, false alarms should not have been expected from it. It may seem strange that the fire department was not alerted immediately. Roof fires develop in seconds, and a delay of 20-30 minutes is a long time in this context, says Tim Ole Simonsen.

Internet-of-things

IoT (Internet-of-Things) – Utilising IoT technology in developing fire safety in buildings and in a smart environment Tuomas Pylkkänen – Abstract of a master’s thesis at Lappeenranta University of Technology

New possibilities in fire protection

When it comes to emerging technologies and human behaviour, the built environment in Finland is facing new challenges. Accidents and hazardous situations happen to citizens in all age groups.

The challenges of the evolving technological environment impact every level of the population in various ways. Changes in the demographic and the environment significantly impact the safety environment as well. Fire protection technology must correspondingly keep abreast of the development.

Moreover, it must be possible to improve fire protection. It is important to study new trends that may impact the development of fire safety in Finland.

The utilisation of smart and IoT (Internet of Things) technology provides good opportunities for improvements in safe living. One must always remember that, when new technology is developed and introduced, we must also monitor and observe ourselves as well as things in our surroundings. It is important to understand the ecosystem within which we operate, the information we process or the information we replicate over networks.

The history of the IoT is still fairly short even from a global perspective. While the first individual web management solutions were in use as early as the 1990s, the real development in the IoT sphere has taken place during this century. This has been made possible by, among other things, the rapid development of web-based solutions and data transmission.

The IoT, system integration and other proactive action play key roles within the transformation of fire protection. It is all about new possibilities.

Many old-fashioned attitudes regarding fire protection can be seen in the domestic construction business.

The master’s thesis of Tuomas Pylkkänen brings forward the fact that, while new possibilities are regarded as enablers in the construction business, new technology is simultaneously shunned. Obstacles to introducing new modes of implementation are often justified with old, recurring arguments. They point the finger at the functional unreliability of new technology and the lack of harmonised practices. Fears alsoinclude unnecessary extra costs in implementation and maintenability, and the realisation of otheradditional business risks.

Pragmatic thinking about building sites is often fairly short-sighted. Hence, it becomes impossible to realistically take into account the economic potential and lifecycle effects of fire protection technology.

For a long time already, the prevailing attitude has been that installed fire protection technology only returns value for money when it extinguishes or limits an actual fire. However, financial savings, both indirect and direct, are quite significant when the devices operate as planned.
In reality, automatic smoke detection and fire extinguishing systems are in constant readiness, safeguarding business continuity and personal security at the site. Then, the equipment acts as a supporting pillar for business continuity.

Furthermore, it has been observed that end users and occupants are interested in improving their safety, so long as information is available and when the prospects for making a difference can be identified. Now, and in the near future, it must be possible to increasingly evaluate how to get relevant information to those that need it.

Technology’s advancement will not wait and the need for uniform statutes and practices has been identified. Smart buildings and homes will proliferate and develop, regardless of the outdated attitudes within the construction field.

One can only hope that this sector of business, at large, will soon realise that finally, along with the development of other technology, new practices have created the implementations of building automation that are also suitable for fire safety.

Therefore, expert inputs must be conveyed in order to disseminate information and change attitudes. Now is the perfect time to find out how much our present technology meets our perception of the future.

Technologies already in use can offer new possibilities for solving challenges in the near future. Even though uniform standards are desired, and common practices in the new networked environments are still being worked out, this has not hindered the introduction of new IoT solutions, globally.

The risks associated with introducing new innovations are continually diminishing along with the new, developing technologies. The solutions which, in firefighting, pop up as new alternatives may not necessarily constitute new inventions in other automation, only the applications for which they are used have changed.

For this reason, development must in any case be monitored so that experts can continue to meet future challenges. Charting the present situation and also comparing it with what is going on abroad will set the proper base for the needed development and information-gathering. This is how we can provide up-to-date responses to the needs that arise at home.

Change is opportunity

The new Strategy of the Finnish National Rescue Association, which was adopted in the spring of 2018, presents similar questions about the need for experts’ action as does Tuomas Pylkkänen’s master’s thesis.

It is important to evaluate the developing environment and anticipate its challenges. The only permanent thing is change, and change is also an opportunity.

New technologies and web connectivity with automated systems open up new prospects for the development of cost-effective everyday living. New technological solutions can also improve fire safety in dwellings as well as proactive fire prevention. Everyone encounters accidents and hazards. Also the challenges of the technological environment impact everyone in different ways.

Changes in the demographic and the built environment significantly impact the safety environment as well. How will it be possible to utilise new technologies in developing the fire safety of buildings, now and in the future?

The information compiled by the master’s thesis will help experts create a comprehensive picture of the evolving safety environment and utilise the information in advancing the vision of the Strategy. Safe living must be increasingly taken into consideration when decisions are taken on a person’s living conditions; this often applies to the elderly. Safety must be supported in novel, alternative ways, which the what new technological solutions offer.

Human–technology interaction will also continue in the future, which is why the basic premises will not substantially change. The focus will remain on the human.

This being the case, fire protection must be viewed from a wider perspective, one in which the assessment of human behaviour and other technological solutions may develop proactive fire safety. System control is already web-based and remote when it comes to fire safety systems.
System control is already web-based and remote when it comes to fire safety systems. As the processing power of systems increases personal data and devices must remain safe and easy to access in the future as well.

New environments also create the opportunity for making the implementation of fire protection technology more cost-effective. Even today there are strong opinions and attitudes which are no longer relevant to modern fire protection technologies.

One of the findings of the master’s thesis which can be highlighted is the fact that the construction business is old-fashioned and that there is plenty of room for modernisation.
Of course, at the same time it must be noted that the only problem is not simply that consultants and designers, in addition to property developers, noteably need more information about the rapidly advancing system technology.

Increasing attention must be paid to advancing the field of experts . Answers should be sought early on to the following questions: what are the sectors of competency that experts must influence, and how should communications and education be developed. Information must be offered to all who need it in the area of fire protection.

It is particularly important to provide it to the end users, i.e. occupants, so that they will properly understand the importance of networked devices and the issue itself.
Whereas possibilities for also improving attitudes within the ongoing development do exist, the experts must focus more on the future to raise the new technological alternatives and proactive fire safety to the forefront.

As said before, it is very important to improve the international exchange of information and to also search for comparisons from different countries’ implementation cultures. The basic material from the Nordic countries that the master’s thesis compiles will set a good foundation for follow-on reports. The world will always be changing, and this is also evident in fire protection. New technological options such as the IoT can be categorised as opportunities at this stage.

In order for this to be properly understood, more research is needed so as to influence attitudes and to prevent our own approaches from becoming obstacles to progress.
It is also important to establish the solutions which will bring the needed benefits to occupants and property developers so that fire safety will be seen as important. More importantly, these views must coincide.

Lauri Lehto

Safety and Security Advisor

The Finnish National Rescue Association, SPEK

Full abstract in English

Link to original