Fire safety in the EU

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A lot can be done for fire safety in the EU. Member states must therefore learn from each other and focus on this issue in the EU’s coming ‘renovation wave’. So argues Pernille Weiss, member of the European Parliament for Denmark’s Conservative People’s Party.

As part of the EU 2019 budget, proposals were put forward to improve fire statistics in Europe. What happened with the proposal?
- The Commission allocated money to a pilot project. This means that statistics are now being collected in this area and we can therefore identify what we need to do better. Since then, I have followed up, among other things, by hosting events in the European Parliament, where we have focused on fire safety.

What are the possibilities of joint European cooperation to enhance fire safety?
- Fire safety is basically a national matter. However, it is extremely important that we learn from each other across Europe. We are far from being equally good at protecting our citizens from fire, and we need to learn from those who do it well. Furthermore, it is important, of course, to have high standards of fire safety in the products we produce in the EU and in those we import.

What can be done to reduce the number of people who perish in care home fires?
- It’s up to member states to a great extent. It’s clear that we need national rules on how to protect not only newly built, but also older care homes against fire. A lot has happened from a purely technological standpoint and it’s important that our buildings keep apace. At the EU level, it’s very much about ensuring that the products we allow in the internal market are fire-safe.

What is happening on the subject of fire in the EU?
- The study on fire safety across the EU is a major step. In addition, the Commission has proposed a ‘renovation wave’. The purpose is to reduce energy consumption in buildings, but it’s clear that there are many of us who want to fight for fire safety to be incorporated when plans for this ‘renovation wave’ are presented.

In what direction do you see the work in this area going?
- It’s still too early to say. However, I see that there are several of us in the European Parliament who focus on fire safety, and this is a good sign. I’ve made an effort to draw attention to the issue by organising several events where politicians and industry people have met each other – because it’s important that we politicians talk to the experts.

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Automatic water extinguishing systems can save residents and staff at care facilities in the event of fire

Water mist and sprinkler systems are the most effective ways of preventing fire fatalities, especially among disabled people. This was the conclusion of Tapio Stén’s report.

When a fire breaks out, care facility personnel do not have the time to carry out first extinguishing or evacuate all of the residents who are unable to escape on their own. The number of staff is simply insufficient, and it may be challenging to physically move some residents. Automatic water extinguishing systems either put out the fire or limit it to such an extent that the staff at the site or the fire department can completely extinguish it. This was the case in every single fire from 2012–2019 at care facilities or similar institutions where automatic water extinguishing systems were activated.

In each fire examined in the report the automatic water extinguishing system worked as designed, preventing life-threatening conditions.

Fires are also extremely dangerous to personnel. Automatic water extinguishing systems markedly improve the health and safety of staff during fires. No staff members were injured in any of the cases studied in the report.

Rising temperatures as well as toxic smoke and gases are the most dangerous features to humans in a fire. Extinguishing systems provide extra time for safe evacuation and support the structural integrity of buildings.

Personnel at care facilities need to know how to act

When the Fire Detection System sounds, the building’s own fire protection technology, rather than the rescue department, is the first line of defence. The systems report the danger at the earliest possible stage, provide more time to act during the first critical minutes and put a stop to the threatening situation as soon as possible.

People in buildings must be able to act independently. First extinguishing skills and regular exercises are essential. Moreover, personnel should be familiar with the building’s fire protection technology. In addition, on top of technical systems, all sites should have a fire response plan. What is more, just having a plan is not enough – the staff must also be familiar with it.

– Fire safety is an entirety in which, in addition to technical systems, the aim is to support the possibilities of action people, especially the staff at the site, have. Fire protection is all about anticipation in which human action cannot be ignored. A well-trained staff and an appropriate safety culture play key roles, says Lauri Lehto, Safety and Security Advisor at the Finnish National Rescue Association.

Myths persist about the equipment

While fire protection systems are primarily intended to save lives, they also protect property and secure business continuity.

Fires are always dangerous. It is everyone’s desire to detect and extinguish a fire as early as possible so as to limit losses as much as possible. Without automatic extinguishing systems fire losses can result in temporary or even permanent closures.

Extinguishing systems are often criticised for water damage, and they are feared to cause more damage from water than from the fire itself.

When fire breaks out the extinguishing system’s nozzles open one at a time when the direct influence of the fire reaches the nozzle. In most fires only one nozzle is activated, which is sufficient to extinguish or at least limit the fire.

The water damage caused by extinguishing systems is probably smaller than what the fire and smoke damage would be of a freely spreading fire. It is also important to keep in mind that extinguishing systems only use a fraction of the amount of water that the fire department would have to use to put out fires at unprotected sites.

Reliability of extinguishing systems demonstrated by countless studies

This report corroborates the results of previous studies. Automatic extinguishing systems have proved to be extremely reliable in fires.

Extinguishing systems are very reliable, and they rarely malfunction. According to American statistics (FM Global) the leak risk caused by equipment failure amounts to one case per 16 million nozzles each year. Furthermore, the risk of water damage caused by the system itself is exceedingly small. Also, when the system activates, all of the nozzles do not simultaneously discharge water. Rather, only the nozzles whose thermal elements have broken due to high temperature will be activated.

In the USA the National Fire Protection Association’s study (NFPA, U.S. Experience with Sprinklers, 2017) came to the conclusion that the best results in fire loss limitation were achieved at sites having an automatic extinguishing system and a Fire Detection System Nordic studies also support this view. According to a Master’s thesis (Nieminen, 2018) presented at Tampere University, extinguishing systems were 98.1 per cent reliable. The study compared building fire statistics from 1996–2016. In a report (Markus Melin, 2018) of the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap), extinguishing systems were found to be more than 99 per cent reliable.

VdS-UAE

United Arab Emirates expand VdS Listing

The “Command of Civil Defense” of the seven Emirates extends its acceptance of products approved by Europe´s largest institute for safety and now also lists gas extinguishing systems certified in accordance with the Guidelines VdS 2454.

Cologne/Germany, October 1st 2020. The VdS certification body bundles 112 years of loss prevention experience and German engineering skills in comprehensive practical testing. Approved components and systems are fully compatible with NFPA installation standards and are accepted by authorities around the world. The “General Headquarter Command of Civil Defense” of the United Arab Emirates has now extended its listing of VdS-approved products to also include gas extinguishing technology.

“The VdS Quality Seal proves highest effectiveness and reliability directly at first sight”, emphasizes Gunnar Bellingen, head of the VdS fire protection laboratories. “We are delighted about this renewed appreciation by the UAE ministries, which underlines the fully reliable services of both our test engineers and the approved manufacturers in the entire world”.

The Emirates are among the wealthiest countries on the globe. The already strong construction activity in this booming region is expected to even increase due to the upcoming World Expo to be held in Dubai in 2021.

Caption UAE: VdS-approved products are accepted by authorities on all continents. The booming United Arab Emirates have now extended their listing and also added gas extinguishing systems (pictured a test in the German VdS laboratories).

About VdS:

VdS is one of the world’s most renowned institutions for corporate safety and security. 500 experts offer a unique range of services for fire protection, security, cyber-security and natural hazard prevention.

Services include risk assessments, testing and certification, inspections, information systems for natural hazards and an extensive training program. In addition, the independent institute sets international safety and security standards with the publication of a comprehensive set of Guidelines.

The optimal protection of our partners is based on a worldwide unique protection concept whose reliability builds on more than 110 years of VdS-experience, combining all core aspects of loss prevention. Decision-makers around the world rely on VdS-approved reliability and certainty.

More information at vds-global.com

Rely on Europe´s No.1 for Corporate Safety and Security

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An extinguishing Agent Specifically developed for Lithium-ion battery fires

In recent times Lithium-ion battery fires have become no stranger to news headlines with serious incidents now being reported on an almost daily basis. In particular the transition to electric-powered vehicles has created a growing problem for fire and rescue services worldwide as electric car fires pose an increased fire threat. This threat is not only the degree of difficulty in extinguishing the fire quickly and safely but also the potential for spontaneous re-ignition several hours after the initial fire has been extinguished.

In order to fully understand this, one must first understand the process of “Thermal Runaway” which leads to the propagation of a fire throughout the whole of a Lithium ion battery pack or, in this case, potentially the whole of the vehicle.

In large scale batteries there are many individual cells which are linked together and fires normally propagate from cell to cell via the passage of heat from the external walls of the cells and from the electrical connection points which form the individual battery cells into multi cell modules and packs. As the cells reach high temperatures they eventually go into a state known as thermal runaway and this is achieved as a result of a chemical and physical process which at a cell level is not reversible since the resulting chemical reaction is exothermic.

In short it is essential to tackle a multi cell battery fire by extinguishing the fire which has been generated by the individual exploding cell and also by cooling the adjacent cells which will have been heated during the initial fire. It is frequently the case that one cell will heat several others each of which will in turn heat a number of others and the fire spreads on an exponential basis. It is therefore imperative to cool as many cells as possible in order to prevent the propagation of thermal runaway.

Vermiculite Dispersion extinguishing agent

A new eco-friendly water based extinguishing agent made and developed from the natural mineral Vermiculite (Aqueous Vermiculite Dispersion) is now available in the fire protection market specifically developed for protection against Lithium-ion battery fires. When applied directly to the cells of a battery in a thermal event AVD quickly extinguishes the flames, the water cools the system, the high surface area mineral platelets interrupt the free radical chain reaction and a refractory film forms which impedes oxygen diffusion to the fuel source. The relatively high viscosity AVD coats the battery; as the water evaporates, the viscosity of the AVD rises quickly further reducing the flow away from the fire source. The AVD quickly forms in to a gel-like structure with water trapped in macroscopic pores. Initially it is the pore water that continues to cool the system and the AVD can be seen to ‘boil’. It is this ability of AVD to trap water close to the source of the fire that enhances its cooling effect.

Another advantage of AVD is that as it dries it forms a thermally insulating film which reduces the risk of thermal runaway propagation to adjacent cells. The non-combustible vermiculite film also coats the packaging of adjacent cells reducing the combustible loading of the system.

Environmentally friendly

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that is exempt from REACH regulations. It is chemically and physically inert, only releasing steam when exposed to raised temperatures. It is also non-toxic to humans, plant life and animals so there is no concerns that with the clean-up process needing to be managed under regulated processes

Lithium Battery Fire Classification and chemistries

Lithium-ion battery fires have no fire classification of their own and they cross the boundaries of several existing categories from A to C. The Lith-Ex portable extinguisher range (containing AVD) has been tested and certified to EN3-7 Class A in order to meet European regulations. The extinguishing agent, AVD can also be applied via fixed systems for large scale industrial applications such as energy storage facilities. The agent is equally effective on varying different battery types and chemistries making it an extremely versatile agent considering the primacies of the natural mineral the cooling effects remain the same

For more information www.avdfire.com

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A case study that cost many lives

The Grenfell Insulation was sold at a discount for refurbishment, and the discount was worth almost £ 41,500. In April 2015 the manufacturer had discussed using Grenfell as a “case study”. However, the insulation material was not in the original architects’ specification for the refurbishment and the project manager for the refurbishment did not know that Celotex insulation was flammable.

The Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June 2017 caused 72 deaths and 70 others were injured.

Read more: https://www.thefpa.co.uk/news/grenfell-insulation-sold-at-discount-for-refurbishment

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Slovenian Fire Protection Association and EU Projects

European projects of Slovenian FPA Slovenian Fire Protection Association (SZPV) is working on European projects in scope of Interreg and ERASMUS+ programmes since 2017. SZPV gained first experience in project FIRESKILLS (project no. 2017-1-TR01-KA202-045607) with partners from Turkey, Denmark and Italy, working on education of firefighters on preventive precautions and emergency procedures on fires in historic buildings.

In 2018, work on project FIREEXPERT started, in scope of programme Interreg Slovenia-Austria, and is stil going on. Due to COVID-19 pandemic situation the project is prolonged and will end in January 2021. The focus of the FIREEXPERT project is to create an industrial research expert and innovation center (livinglab) for the construction and building material industry – supporting research and development in the field of fire engineering.

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Photo: Testing of Ultra-High Fibre Reinforced Concrete (UHPFRC), Fire Laboratory ZAG, Ljubljana, June 2019.

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Cooperation in project Fireskills lead to an invitation to another ERASMUS+ project. The Danish firebrigade from Frideriksborg envited SZPV to work in project INCLUSIVE EMERGENCY. Four fire brigades from Denmark, Spain, Finland and Slovenia (from Frederiksborg, Alcalá de Guadaíra, Turku and Kranj) and four other organisations from these countries (Spanish Fundatión Marcelino Champagnat, Danish national association for autism Landsforeningen Autisme, Turku University of Applied Sciences and non-governmental organization Slovenian Fire Protection Association) are developing the first open and multilingual e-learning platform for firefighters on emergency planning and response when involving individuals with disabilities.

Photo: Visit of historic underground flour watermill, Alcalá de Guadaíra, Spain, December 2019.

Photo: Visit of historic underground flour watermill, Alcalá de Guadaíra, Spain, December 2019.

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The latest news from Slovenian agency of ERASMUS+ projects is that new project in which SZPV will work together with other five partners from Slovenia, Croatia and Czech Republic, was granted. The project title is SKILLED TO BE A FIRE EXPERT. Three universities (from Ljubljana, Zagreb and Ostrava), one specialized Croatian company, providing fire protecting engineering services and two non-governmental organizations – Majaczech from Bile Policany and SZPV from Ljubljana, both members of CFPA-E, will prepare an online learning platform for fire expert trainers. More information will be available after kick-off meeting of the project in October 2020.

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Link to CFPA-E guidelines from Slovenian authorities.

Slovenian government, Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief (URSZR) published a link to our Fire Protection Guidelines. Our member SZPV from Slovenia is actively participating in each year national project about the fire safety prevention activities month in Slovenia together with URSZR and Slovenian Association of Firefighters (GZS). This year topic of Fire safety month is dedicated to fire safety during vacations and holidays. There are number of CFPA-E guidelines to follow to prevent fire and stay well during that time of the year. It is gratifying that governments are paying attention to the source of knowledge that can be found on our website, www.cfpa-e.eu.

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Fire Statistics in England

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.

Security in a Corona-virus crisis

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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. 

Cybercrime
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.

Burglaries
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.

Terrorist threat
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.