The Home Office in England has released the latest fire and rescue incident statistics, for the year April 2019 to March 2020. FRS’s (FRS = Fire Rescue Services) attended 557,299 incidents in this year, a 3% fall compared with the year before. 153,957 of these incidents were fires, a 16% decrease, and it is interesting to see that it has been a fall in all types of fires. The statistics also show that there were 243 fire related deaths in 2019/20, and the year before it was 253. The number of fire related death is the lowest number of fire-related deaths in the annual series. 28% of the incidents that the FRS came to prove to be false alarms.
For most of us, the Corona-virus crisis meant keeping distance and working from home. But, what impact has the crisis had on areas such as terrorism and cybercrime? See the Danish trends here.
The Corona-virus crisis has facilitated the ‘work’ of cybercriminals, who have been exploiting the current situation to create various scams.
– There have been numerous cyberattacks, particularly at the beginning of the crisis. Perpetrators analysed the context and adapted their language and wording to match the tone of the authorities. They tried to get people to log on to fake sites using e-mails that looked like they came from the authorities and were important and correct, says Anja Kivac, Project Manager at the security department of the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology (DBI).
Clever use of the right language combined with our hunger for news about the Corona-virus resulted in more people than usual clicking on false links. But working from home is also part of the explanation.
– Things are done in a particular way in the workplace, and at the dining table at home, you don’t feel as if you’re at work, so you drop your guard. When you’re in an unfamiliar situation, you’re more likely to make mistakes, e.g. click on links that you wouldn’t normally click on. At the same time, many people have had their children at home, which can also be distracting, says Anja Kivac.
The same applies to mobile phones where fraudulent text messages have become rampant. Lots of people have ordered more parcels than usual and have, therefore, been more susceptible to text messages about parcel collection. When the person clicks on the link, it turns out to be malicious.
– As many people have not been on the company’s network, but their own, it is primarily private individuals who have been affected, and not companies as a whole. In general, however, the authorities have been quick to detect and warn the public about threats from e-mails and text messages, says Anja Kivac.
It has not just been in the digital world that the Corona-virus has had an effect. Burglars also accepted the advice to stay at home, albeit probably less willingly than everyone else. In Denmark, burglary rates have fallen by a quarter compared to the same period last year. As someone known to the police said during questioning:
– It’s hard to find a house where there isn’t someone at home.
On 20 March, the Danish Security and Intelligence Service, PET, issued a new assessment of the threat from terror against Denmark, and this remains at a serious level.
– During a crisis like the Corona-virus, terrorists who may be planning attacks against our country are still out there. But society’s focus changes during a crisis. The intention of terrorism is to attract attention and hit symbolic target or populations. Many public places have been closed and gatherings have been limited, so one would imagine that they are saving their energy and will hold off carrying out terrorist attacks until the crisis has passed, says Jesper Florin, head of the security department at DBI.
However, there has been a slight increase in terrorist-related propaganda online, as many people have been at home and searched for information and knowledge. Various terrorist organisations have tried to exploit this by increasing the flow of information in their online forums.
The lithium-ion batteries in electric and hybrid cars present a challenge to the emergency services if the cars are involved in a traffic accident or burst into flames. Now, the emergency services in Denmark have developed their own solution.
Cars can burst into flames a long time after they have been damaged. They can be exceptionally difficult to extinguish. They can flare up again and again. They emit combustible and harmful gases. Water is contaminated and damaging to the environment due to chemicals. Yes, the batteries in electric and hybrid cars present numerous challenges when you look at it from the point of view of the emergency services. This is the conclusion of a new report from the Swedish organisation RISE, which has taken a closer look at lithium-ion batteries in vehicles.
The numerous factors specific to electric and hybrid cars present the emergency services with a number of challenges, which the emergency services in Copenhagen are now tackling. They have designed a container specifically for handling damaged electric and hybrid cars.
– We are seeing more and more electric and hybrid cars in the municipalities we cover. And, it would appear that there will be many more in the future. That is why we must be able to deal with the chemical fires they can cause, says Michael Kim Andersen, Deputy Director of Emergency Services in Copenhagen.
A well-equipped container
The individual cells in a lithium-ion batter can be damaged in the event of a traffic accident or if there is a fire in the car. This can result in the development of heat in the cell, which then spreads from cell to cell – also known as thermal runaway. A chemical fire in a lithium-ion battery can develop very quickly with shooting flames and harmful flammable gases. Heat can develop several hours after an accident has occurred, and if one cell has thermal runaway, the heat from that cell can cause the neighbouring cell to develop heat too. This way, a single cell can start a chain reaction which can cause the battery to burst into flames a long time after an accident has taken place. The effects of heat from, for example, a fire, can result in the same effect in a cell.
– Batteries are difficult to extinguish, and they can burst into flames again several hours later – in some cases, right up to a week later. We can’t close roads and motorways for several hours, so if it isn’t possible for us to extinguish the fire in the battery, we may have to remove the car. That’s why we have developed a container for that very purpose, says Michael Kim Andersen.
The container is constructed in such a way that you lift or tow an electric car into it, place the container on the bed of a tow truck and remove the car. The container has nozzles in the floor and on the walls which can be used to both extinguish any flames and cool the battery – which more often than not, is located under the car – to hamper the development of heat. The water for the nozzles flows round a circuit, which reduces water consumption significantly and makes it easier to collect the water later and send it for cleansing if it has been contaminated by chemicals from the battery. In addtion, there are installations with inert gas in the container.
– A fire in an electric car battery is a chemical fire and does not require oxygen. Therefore, inert gas has no effect on the battery but is intended for the other parts of the car. Indeed, the development of heat from the battery can potentially cause the cabin to burst into flames. And since it’s a confined space – at least until the windows burst – the water can’t get in there. Therefore, inert gas is required to smother the flames, explains Michael Kim Andersen.
Extended period of isolation required
With the container, the procedure in the event of an accident with an electric or hybrid car will be more or less the same as an accident involving conventional cars. It is cleared up quickly and the traffic can keep flowing. However, an electric car can’t be taken to a car breaker or a workshop where it is placed indoors next to other cars, which a fire could potentially spread to. Instead, it can now be left in the container until the risk of it flaring up has subsided.
– We are in dialogue with other authorities to determine where we can put the container when it contains a damaged electric or hybrid car. It must be kept in an isolated and closed area where it can remain undisturbed for a time, says Michael Kim Andersen.
Requires extra vigilance
The container is the only one of its kind in the Nordic region, and the interest in it is high from neighbouring emergency services, who can requisition it on an equal footing with other cars and from abroad. However, it doesn’t meet the challenges presented by electric and hybrid cars on its own. Poisonous gases from the batteries mean that special procedures are required when the fire brigade arrive at fires in electric cars.
– If there is a fire in an electric or hybrid car, we are acutely aware that the smoke may contain hydrogen fluoride, which is extremely harmful. Even small doses can result in water in the lungs. Therefore, we also take the precaution of using fresh air breathing apparatus from a greater distance than we would in a normal car fire, says Michael Kim Andersen.
It will be an online meeting and all members will get more information and documents in good time before the meeting.
The number of batteries is increasing, and so is the size of the batteries. At the same time, batteries are used in places that increase risks.
To meet today’s challenges, the fire department in Denmark has developed a container that can extinguish fires in electric cars involved in accidents. However, the container does not meet all the challenges generally presented by electric cars and lithium-ion batteries when they are indoors. When electric cars are parked side-by-side for charging in multi-storey or underground car parks, or when powerwalls or battery banks containing lithium-ion batteries are installed in buildings.
– In a fire in a multi-storey car park containing many cars, or in a battery bank or powerwall in a space in a building, there could potentially be so much hydrogen fluoride in the air that we can’t stay there for more than a few minutes at a time. It hampers effective fire fighting efforts. Also, the batteries expand all the time and accumulate more energy in a small space, and this can present a challenge to the structures of modern-day buildings as they are not build to withstand such a great fire load as the large lithium-ion batteries contain today, says Michael Kim Andersen from the emergency services in Copenhagen.
Therefore, he hopes that the legislators will introduce requirements to ensure that structures can withstand the fire load and prevent fires spreading and, at the same time, ensure that the emergency services have a sound opportunity to operate safely in the event of a fire.
– For example, this could be requirements for more space between electric cars in multi-storey and underground car parks near the exit so that the emergency services can tow electric and hybrid cars out quickly and easily. In the case of powerwalls and battery banks, it may be worth considering requirements for the placement of cars, active extinguishing equipment and adequate passive fire protection, so that a battery fires do not spread to the rest of the building and the poisonous gases can be dealt with safely, concludes Michael Kim Andersen.
VdS-FireSafety Cologne has been cancelled for the first time, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The eight expert conferences on topics of fire protection and safety, otherwise staged as accompanying events, will be held nevertheless.
Cologne, June 2020. For the first time in nine years, the popular VdS-FireSafety Cologne – the annual end-of-year gathering, which had been scheduled for 2nd and 3rd December this year – has been cancelled. The reason for this decision was the great uncertainty about the further course of the Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying measures, which affects the VdS Training Centre as the organizer just as much as the visitors and exhibitors.
Interested visitors do not have miss out on the entire programme, however, because the expert conferences that are normally staged on the occasion of VdS-FireSafety Cologne will be held nevertheless.
“The decision to cancel VdS-FireSafety Cologne was by no means easy for us,” emphasised Lars Braun, Deputy Divisional Director of the VdS Training Centre. “But protecting the health of our visitors and exhibitors has top priority for us. Added to this were fears that this major event and its accompanying program could not be carried out in the accustomed high quality if – as was to be expected – visitor restrictions, extensive safety measures and social distancing rules were to be observed. We have therefore decided to give our exhibitors and visitors a clear perspective with the greatest possible planning security as early as possible. We are now looking forward all the more to welcoming them again next year to the lively and varied VdS-FireSafety Cologne, which we all know and greatly value.”
The expert conferences will take place
The eight VdS expert conferences that had been planned as a part of VdS-FireSafety Cologne 2020 will be staged as live events this year too, with a high-quality up-to-date programme. The VdS Training Centre is attaching great importance to the safety of participants and speakers, and will of course observe all official regulations.
Note: In view of the possible travel restrictions, the VdS expert conference “Fire Extinguishing Systems” – normally staged every two years as a two-day international event – will be held by way of exception on only one day this year, without simultaneous translation.
The expert conferences in overview:
- Fire Extinguishing Systems
- Fire Detection and Alarm Systems
- Voice Alarm Systems
- Smoke and Heat Exhaust Ventilation Systems
- 48th Professional Development Seminar for Fire Protection Managers
- Structural Fire Protection
- Construction and Fire Protection In NRW
- Security and Alarm Management
Up-to-date information about the expert conferences can be found at vds.de/fire-safety
The VdS Training Centre is currently devising digital offers that will enable exhibitors to present themselves together with their solutions and innovations. You will soon find further information at vds.de/fire-safety
CFPA Europe would like to express its solidarity with all those affected by COVID-19. Being safe is the essence of our mission and determines all the decisions we make. The members of CFPA Europe are well prepared in looking after the interests of its employees, customers, and communities.
Whilst we continue to take steps to ensure the health and well-being of our own people, we also continue to keep in mind the needs of all our customers across Europe.
As an organisation we are working hard to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus, following various national arrangements where members have asked their employees to work remotely, cut down on travel, restrict face-to-face meetings and to minimize participation in events or non-essential gatherings.
Our members across Europe have cancelled or postponed training courses, seminars, etc. Even our yearly General Assembly and meetings of the working commissions have been postponed from late spring to the autumn.
However, even in this Covid-19 crisis, we continue to inform and contribute knowledge for a safer world. We do this through our websites, Newsletters, Magazines, webinars, and so on.
We know that the situation will continue to change and we will continue to adapt our processes and change as we need to, to help to make the world a safer place. All the contact information, our publications, members lists across Europe and general information is available on the website www.cfpa-e.eu
The International Exhibition of Safety, Security and Fire (SICUR) took place from February 24 to 27, in Madrid. CFPA Europe has joined Cepreven (our Spanish member, visit www.cepreven.com) at its booth. Both institutions were very active during the Exhibition.
Many visitors have been attracted to the stand and there has been much exchange of information and knowledge.
SICUR is the most important fair in the fire prevention and safety and security sectors in Spain, with 43,723 attendees, 1,344 participating companies, 651 exhibitors and 81 countries
Flammable facade cladding, incorrect fire ventilation, no sprinkler system, dubious evacuation strategy and fire doors which only held for 11 minutes. There were problems all round when Grenfell Tower caught fire in summer 2017 and 297 people were trapped inside. The latest information about the fire has been revealed at a recent conference hosted by DBI – The Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology.
Two and a half years after the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower in London, which claimed 72 lives, work on the final report is still ongoing. In the meantime, new information is constantly coming to light and contributing to an overall picture of how things could go so wrong. The latest information has been presented at a conference at DBI.
At the conference, it was once again established that the fire started in a fridge-freezer in a 4th floor flat. The fire services arrived after 6 minutes, quickly extinguished the fire and were on their way back when they noticed flames on the exterior of the building. Shortly afterwards, a resident on the 21st floor of the block reported signs of fire. A few minutes later, a resident on the 14th floor reported smoke inside their flat, and immediately afterwards the fire reached the roof of the 23 storey high residential block. It can thus be concluded that the fire leapt 19 storeys in just 30 minutes.
What had happened was that the fire had reached the facade via the kitchen window at the point where the fire originated and had travelled to the other side of the building and into a bedroom there. That the fire could spread so quickly was due to the fact that the kitchen window reveals were made of uPVC, which became soft and bent from the heat from the fire. This created an opening into the external wall and allowed flames and hot gases to enter the cavity between the building’s insulation and the facade panels, which were a sandwich construction with aluminium on the outside and a polyethylene core.
A chimney effect in the cavity caused the temperature to rise very rapidly. Fire stops mounted in the facade did not work, so the fire was able to move upwards. As the window sashes and frames were of flammable plastic materials, they melted and caught light, after which the fire was able to penetrate into more flats.
– No-one had imagined that a fire would enter the building from the outside. It was thought it would be the other way round, said John Briggs of Britain’s National Fire Protection Association (FPA), who has participated in the work on one of the Grenfell reports.
A string of problems
But this was not the end of the chain of unfortunate events. The ventilation system in the stairwell also failed to work as it should. Moreover, it was only designed for extracting smoke from one floor at a time, as the assumption was that a fire would only come from one flat. Subsequent testing of the fire doors in the building shows that they could only withstand a fire for 11 minutes.
– The evacuation strategy also had a role in the number of fatalities. In accordance with the so-called ‘stay-put’ policy, residents were instructed to stay in their own flats as long as they were not on fire. The flats were designed to prevent fire spread, and it was wished to avoid hundreds of residents heading down a narrow stairway while firefighters were on their way up, Briggs explained.
Only at 2:35 a.m. – one and a half hours after the fire services were called out – did the fire control centre change tactics and began to ask residents to leave the building when they rang the emergency services. At 8:00 a.m. the last surviving resident was evacuated.
Investigations have shown that at least the smoke alarm system worked as it should.
Would a sprinkler system have helped?
One of the subsequent questions has also been whether sprinkler systems would have made a difference. Here the experts behind the reports are somewhat in doubt.
– If a sprinkler system had been able to put out the fire before it reached the facade, this may possibly have been sufficient to control the fire. But, if all four sprinkler heads were triggered, there would only have been water for three minutes. In addition, to activate a sprinkler system, there would have to have been more flames and much higher temperatures than was the case, Briggs noted, observing that:
– As the fire services had already arrived after six minutes, sprinkling would have made no difference.
After the accident, sprinkler systems were installed in all high-rise buildings in England. This took nine months and cost 9 million pounds.
Government denies responsibility
The official report indicates that there is strong evidence that the building’s external wall construction did not meet the requirement for adequately preventing fire spread in relation to the height, use and location of the building. The British Government has thus commissioned a second report to define the regulatory changes needed to prevent similar accidents. However, the government denies any responsibility and refers to incompetence among those involved as the cause of the disaster. According to John Briggs and the FPA, however, the problem is that building legislation is out of date.
– We have not had a proper review of UK building regulations for more than 15 years. Modern building methods mean you can build pretty much what you want, because the building legislation does not compel you to do so in a specified safe way. No-one checks that the components for preventing fire spread are made properly, and the legislation does not touch on how to produce them, Briggs said, stressing that construction players will not change until they are forced to do so.
The final report with recommendations for changes is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.