Tag Archives: fire safety

Mobile detectors to prevent construction site fires


Expensive fires at construction sites may become a thing of the past with mobile, wireless detectors.  The technology is already on the British market and is now on its way to the Danish market, too.   

When renovating a building such as an old mansion, one of the first steps is to remove all of the fire safety installations. Next, a group of workers comes in and maybe alters the old electrical installations and often performs hot work. It is almost as if one is actively seeking to start a fire.

In the future, however, it will be possible to protect renovation and construction work with a fire-safety system that uses mobile detectors to pick up heat, smoke or gas to protect a building from fire while the project is underway. In Denmark, several companies have introduced new solutions to the market, and GearTeam is one of them.

– The product comes from England, where, just like Denmark, they have had problems with fires and accidents at construction sites, says Jesper Løvbo, the CEO of GearTeam.

A simple and effective solution
The solution was developed in a collaboration between an English construction company and an electronics producer, and it was therefore designed to address the challenges found at construction sites.

– The system consists of a call point and detectors that are connected wirelessly and can be mounted with two screws. This means that they are easy to use and move around at the construction site, which is always expanding and transforming. The design is simple and is focused on user-friendliness, so that the people at the building site can set them up on their own and connect them to the basic unit located in the foreman’s office. The units run on batteries that have a lifetime of three years, explains Jesper Løvbo.

The call point and detectors can be separated and connected by the hundreds. The basic unit controls the various secondary units, sends messages to the foreman and developer in the event of the alarm, and it can also indicate exactly where in the building an alarm is triggered so that the fire department knows where to go. The individual units detect both smoke and heat.

– In this way, they are better than the fire guards that are required the day after hot work, because the guards cannot see a smouldering fire in the underlying construction. By pressing a button on the detectors, the people at the site can also issue an evacuation alarm, Jesper Løvbo says.

Furthermore, the detectors are able to function with other systems. For example, when building out or on, they can communicate with the ABA system in the existing building so that people inside can also be evacuated in the event of a fire. The system can also communicate with access-control systems at the building site so that barriers automatically go down in the event of an evacuation.

Huge potential in the technology
The hope is that the new solutions are able to improve safety at Denmark’s construction sites, which have traditionally been plagued by fire and accidents.

– We have had big fires at construction and renovation sites here in Denmark. Not only do they delay the project, but they also result in huge damage costs that we naturally would like to avoid. We believe the mobile detectors may be able to prevent some of the damage, says Peter Dræbye, a risk engineer for the Danish insurance company, Codan Forsikring.

London Fire Statement from the CFPA-I


The Confederation of Fire Associations-International (CFPA-I) extends its deepest sympathies to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and expresses high praise for the work of the emergency services who have been working extremely hard and tirelessly to manage this terrible situation.

This was a devastating fire. As details emerge, we understand there was a refurbishment including exterior cladding and a communal heating system. We are hopeful that the pending investigation will reveal all of the factors that led to this tragic and avoidable loss of life.

The quick fire spread seen in the Grenfell Tower fire is eerily similar to that seen in other similar high-rise fires that have occurred throughout the world, including Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Although the details of the construction of the building are not yet known, reports have indicated that a composite metal cladding with foam insulation was used in the recent refurbishment. At this time, it is not known whether the external cladding had been tested and approved in accordance with the most current fire safety standards.

CFPA-I remains deeply concerned that there are many high-rise buildings around the world that have flammable materials installed with the potential for external fire spread.

It is the view of CFPA-I that building regulations and associated guidance in many locations have not always included safeguards to prevent the use of materials and methods that have poor fire performance capabilities. Even in the absence of strong governmental oversight, architects, engineers, contractors and building owners must embrace fire protection as a fundamental and essential consideration. This includes the proper balance of active and passive fire protection measures, and the on-going inspection, testing and maintenance of all fire and life safety systems.

Many insulating materials are available for use in building construction and their fire performance characteristics can range from being non-combustible to very flammable – it is a matter of choice, and clearly some choices are safer than others.

While we must wait for a full investigation into the cause of the fire and the reasons for such rapid fire spread in this tragic incident, CFPA-I and its member organisations will continue to campaign for improvements in fire safety legislation and in ensuring the safety of the public and our built environment.

This includes:

  • Appropriate alarms, training and evacuation procedures
  • Smoke detection and alarm systems in all residential buildings
  • Controls on the use of flammable façades
  • Proper design, installation and maintenance of fire doors
  • Proper design, installation and maintenance of fire and smoke barriers and the protection of structural components
  • Fire sprinkler protection for all residential and high risk buildings
  • Regular updates of building regulations
  • Initiatives to ensure full compliance with fire and life safety regulations
  • Robust programs for the inspection, testing and maintenance of fire protection systems.

For further information, contact:
Steven Ooi, Chairman:  stevenooi@jayasarana.com
Hatem Kheir, Vice-Chairman: kheir@link.net

Denmark’s most fireproof battery

Lüders - Credit By & Havn / Peter Sørensen

Batteries in buildings ­– the so-called powerpacks – have arrived in Denmark. In 2017, a 460 kWh battery will be installed in the ground floor of Lüders multi-storey car park at Nordhavn in Copenhagen. Here, it will be encased in its own fire cell and secured by means of inert gas and sprinkler system and an automatic fire alarm system.

Battery technology is part of the solution to the energy issues of the future. These issues, which include how we are going to get more sustainable energy from the sun and wind into our electrical grids, and, at the same time, have energy when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Better and more cost-effective battery technology means that, in the USA and some places in Europe are already well underway with installing batteries in buildings that charge when the price of electricity is low and contribute to the building’s electricity consumption when the price is high.

And, the same technology is now coming to Denmark. Initially, it won’t provide electricity to buildings but provide it to the local electrical grid instead. Specifically, Lüders multi-storey car park in Copenhagen’s Nordhavn area, electricity network operator Radius is installing a 460 kWh battery – the equivalent of the daily electricity consumption of 32 average families.

– When the energy requirement is greatest, the battery will slice the top off the strain on the electrical grid. The grid is dimensioned to handle the peak loads that only arise a few times a year. If the battery can help ensure a power supply when the load is at its highest, we can reduce our plant and operating costs in the electrical grid, explains Ole Pedersen, Technical Asset Analyst with Radius.

The battery is one of several trials in an overall project entitled EnergyLab Nordhavn, which is testing the interplay between a number of energy solutions in the new neighbourhood in the capital.

– We anticipate that the battery, which is a lithium-ion battery supplied by ABB, will be operational in February 2017. The EnergyLab Nordhavn project will finish in 2019, but the battery’s service life is 10-12 years, Ole Pedersen explains.

Prepared for the worst
Battery technology of this type and size in a building is new and is associated with various other fire technical challenges. For example, lithium-ion batteries can overheat and burst into flames or emit explosive gases and oxygen, even though the battery’s BMS (Battery Management System) minimizes the risk.

Also, knowledge of how the batteries react to fire, extinguishing and whether or not they constitute a risk in the event of a fire, is limited. The fire safety properties of the battery have to be taken into account.

– The building’s electrical installations and the battery are kept separate from each other. The five racks of battery cells, which together make up the actual battery, are located in their own battery cell constructed with a minimum of 150 mm of reinforced concrete. In each rack there are sensors which constantly monitor each cell and register heat and fire, Ole Pedersen tells us.

If there are problems with the generation of heat, the system automatically sends an alarm to the fire brigade. In addition, an inert gas device, connected to each individual rack, has been installed. That way, the system can reduce the oxygen content in the specific rack in which the heat is being generated, thus preventing it from bursting into flames.

– There is also a sprinkler system with no water installed in the room with a sprinkler head located above each rack. When the fire brigade arrive, they will make an assessment as to whether they will go into the room containing the battery to take a closer look at it. If they don’t want to do that, they can attach a fire hose to the sprinkler system from the outside and inundate the room, explains Ole Pedersen, adding:

– We hope that it never comes to that, because the water would destroy everything in the room. But we need to have a plan for the worst case scenario.

A good place to start
The fire technical solution has come to fruition through a collaboration with ABB (who have previously installed similar batteries abroad) and DBI. The Copenhagen Fire Brigade was also involved. But, how do you actually assess fire safety when the technology is brand new and there are no rules governing it.

– There is nothing in Denmark we could compare it with. Instead, we looked to the USA, where the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has also been considering the same issue. Previously, we were used to dealing with acid and lead batteries whereby, according to NFPA’s rules, you could have up to 600 kWh in the same room. We have only just started looking at lithium batteries and whether they behave differently to the other batteries, says René Ruusunen, who is Senior Fire Engineer with Copenhagen Fire Brigade. He continues:

– On the basis of the NFPA’s 600 kWh rule, we came to the conclusion that the battery was adequately protected and that we would not have to lay down any specific requirements with regard to their installation in order to ensure safe extinguishing and rescue conditions. However, it doesn’t mean that you will be able to freely install all batteries under 600 kWh in future. The things that require approval will change as we learn more about the fire properties of the batteries. If you want to install a battery, you must contact the local fire authorities in all cases.

– At the same time, the battery has been installed in a multi-storey car park where the footfall is low and there is direct access from the open air so that we can get to it easily in the event of a fire. In that sense, it is a good place to install the first battery of its type, says Morten Valkvist, fire engineer with Copenhagen Fire Brigade.

More electricity for your money
If the technology lives up to expectations, the battery in Nordhavn could quickly become the first of many.

– We expect that it will make good economic sense. They can help us reduce construction costs and get the optimal return from the money we invest. In future, with less expensive batteries they could become an alternative to the traditional ways of supplying the electrical grid in peripheral areas. At the same time, the batteries can be used for spectrum regulation of the electrical grid, which will become more pertinent as energy production becomes less centralized due to solar cells and wind turbines, says Ole Pedersen.

Even though the level of fire safety is high, it won’t be the related costs that stand in the way of the technology. The fact is that fire safety only accounts for 3-5% of the total cost of the battery.

DBI investigates the fire safety of batteries in ferry project


Batteries are not only making their way into our buildings. They are also making inroads into the transport sector.

They can be found in, for example, hybrid cars and also in ferries, which use battery packs as a supplement to their diesel engines. And now, the first all-electric ferry is on its way to Denmark. It is being planned for the so-called E-Ferry Project, which is an EU project. The project is still in embryo and, more specifically, work is being carried out on the routes between the Danish islands of Ærø and Funen and between Ærø and Als.

It is hoped that the electric ferries will be put into operation in 2017. DBI is involved in the project and is focusing on fire safety with regard to batteries as well as the lightweight plastic components the owners would like to use in the construction of the ferry to reduce its weight.

– There are EU standards for batteries in which fire safety in relation to operational situations has been incorporated, but they do not deal with fire safety in the event of an accident occurring. For example, there is a big difference between handling a single battery in a safe way and handling a large bank of batteries that are involved in a fire. Battery systems have slipped under the radar slightly in relation to fire safety since batteries come under the standardisation organisation CENELEC, which normally doesn’t work with determining the impact on fire parameters such as heat and smoke generation. However, these parameters should be determined in order to assess the fire risk in the case of an accident, says Martin Pauner, who is a civil engineer with DBI, and involved in the E-Ferry Project.

Just as on land, batteries entail a lot of unknown factors in relation to fire safety at sea: How do different types of battery react to saltwater, when they get damaged during a sailing or if a fire breaks out elsewhere on the ferry. And, how good are the different batteries’ cells at preventing the spread of the fire in the event of ‘thermal runaway’ in an individual cell?

These are just some of the questions that DBI will attempt to find an answer to in relation to the project.

Permanent oxygen reduction provides effective fire protection


A standard is on the way which will make permanent oxygen reduction an effective alternative to sprinkling in Denmark. The Danish Working Environment Authority has no objections in principle.

In future, it may be easier to fireproof, for example, high bay warehouses and storerooms in museums – and, at the same time, reduce the risk of damage caused by sprinkling. This is because plans for a forthcoming European standard for the design of systems for permanent oxygen reduction are due to be passed in 2016 and issued in 2017.

The forthcoming standard is called EN 16750 Fixed firefighting systems — Oxygen reduction systems — Design, installation, planning and maintenance. It has been drawn up by the European standard organisation, CEN, in a working group set up under CEN/TC 191/WG6 with the participation of fire technology consultant Rolf Knudsen from DBI.

– Permanent oxygen reduction is an alternative to extinguishing fires by means of, for example, sprinkling, where there is otherwise a need for a sprinkler more or less above every pallet at all levels. With a permanent oxygen reduction system you can fireproof the whole warehouse more easily and, at the same time, avoid the often costly water damage that is caused when a sprinkler system has been activated, explains Rolf Knudsen.

The working environment
The reduced oxygen concentrations do not exclude people from working in the buildings – provided, of course, that a number of safety requirements are complied with.

– There are no immediate physiological problems with being in a room with an oxygen concentration of, say, 15%, if you are otherwise fit and healthy and do not need to perform any physically hard work for long periods, insists Rolf Knudsen.

In fact, many people have experienced an equally low oxygen concentration when they have been on an aeroplane. The air in the pressurised cabin is equivalent to air with an oxygen concentration of around 15.5% volume on the ground. This is the same as being approximately 2,400 metres above sea level.

– In both the UK and Germany there are rules governing how long you may work in reduced oxygen conditions, says Rolf Knudsen.

More extreme proof is provided by cyclists, who prove that it is even possible to perform extremely hard physical work in conditions with low concentrations of oxygen. What Tour de France cyclists have to endure in, for example, L’Alpe d’Huez, is not just down to the steep mountain roads, but is also due to the fact the oxygen levels in the ‘thin air’ at 3,300 metres is equivalent to an oxygen concentration of just 13.8% volume on the ground.

Green light from the Danish Working Environment Authority
The Danish Working Environment Authority has no objections in principle to permanent oxygen reduction as a means of fireproofing.

– We are positively disposed towards the principle if various criteria and limits are complied with in relation to work safety. Here, we will work on the basis of the Germany safety requirements outlined in BGI/GUV-I 5162, drawn up by the German Institute for Work and Health (DGUV) with information on working in oxygen-reduced atmospheres, explains Erik Lund Lauridsen from the Danish Working Environment Authority.

The German regulation has, for example, four fire classifications for different oxygen concentrations. In Class 0, the oxygen concentration is above 17. Here, the only safety requirement is that employees have to undergo special instruction.

In Class 1 (17.0 % vol. – 15% vol.) employees also have to undergo an occupational health examination to exclude the presence of, for example, heart disease or other risks. In addition, there is a requirement for a half-hour break to be taken in a ‘normal’ atmosphere after four hours of work.

I Class 2 (15.0 %. vol. – 13.0 % vol.) the requirements are the same, the only difference being that the break has to be taken after two hours’ work. In Class 3, with an oxygen concentration of below 13% vol., it is forbidden to be in the room without special measures being in place.

– In addition, there are a number of requirements relating to the actual systems. For example, both the measurement and control of oxygen concentration must be reliable and there must be assurances that the oxygen concentration is not able to fall too low by mistake. This requires the use of approved equipment and regular inspections, stresses Erik Lund Lauridsen.

Likewise, it must be ensured that the oxygen-reduced atmosphere cannot spread to other rooms in the building.

Classic fire theory
The principle of oxygen reduction is based on the classic ‘fire triangle’ whereby the prerequisites for a fire are heat, oxygen and flammable material. In other words, this means that you must permanently maintain an atmosphere in which the stored material cannot burn.

Ordinary air contains approximately 21 % vol. oxygen, which can fuel a fire, but if the oxygen content is reduced to, for example, 15% vol., a flaming fire is not possible for materials such as wood, cardboard and several types of plaster. From the 15% vol. a number safety and sensor tolerances have to be subtracted, and for that reason the required oxygen concentration will be approximately 2% vol. less than the required ignition limits for the material that is to be protected.

The oxygen is reduced by adding extra nitrogen to the air in the protected building, which previously amounted to approximately 80% vol. of atmospheric air. This can be done by either blowing pure nitrogen or a mixture of nitrogen/air into the building, which by its very nature must be relatively air-tight.

– The standard will include rules relating to the design of oxygen reduction systems. For example, you can find tables specifying the maximum permitted oxygen concentration based on the materials that are to be protected, explains Rolf Knudsen.

In the case of more specialized materials, the standard refers to how it is possible to find the maximum oxygen concentration by means of a test.

Fireproofing by means of permanent oxygen reduction is already used to some extent in, for example, Germany, the UK, Spain, Switzerland and Norway for fireproofing warehouses, freezer rooms and server rooms.

Full evacuation


It is a well-known fact that when alcohol kicks in, common sense flies out the window. And with the loss of common sense, the ability to perceive danger, follow instructions, cooperate and move around is also impaired, all of which impacts on an evacuation. Two students from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) have proven this.

As is widely known, when you consume alcohol, your balance, motor coordination and judgement are impaired. You move differently and you are slower to grasp things – if you grasp them at all. However, none of that is taken account of when simulating an evacuation and organising fire safety and the evacuation of a night club. On the other hand, you can be assured that people will be intoxicated. Instead, the same standards are used for how quickly people move and react as they do in all other buildings.

But, doesn’t alcohol affect how people react in the event of an evacuation? This topic was investigated by two students from DTU, Anne Madsen and Marlene Westmose, for their dissertation.

– We set up a trial in which the participants drank alcohol and conducted various tests in order to test their motor coordination, reaction time and walking pace. First of all, we conducted a reference test during which they were unaffected by alcohol and then we repeated the tests in which the participants were affected by various amounts of alcohol, explains Marlene Westmose.

The tests included, for example, a test of their walking pace and a so-called ‘flamingo test’ whereby the number of times the participants lose their balance when they stand on one leg for a minute is recorded.

Poor perception of own safety
Already after two beers the participants’ balance clearly affected. And, after six beers, which was the maximum permitted in the trial, both the test results and the actual tests were significantly different.

– One of the tests was an ‘up-and-go-test’ whereby the participants had to get up from a chair and run around another chair placed 2.5 metres away and then sit back down on the first chair. After drinking, the participants were overly confident and began to fall over the chair. They had a far poorer perceptions of their own safety, says Anne Madsen.

At the same time, they behaved differently. In the walking pace test, which they did in a group, the participants helped one another far less and it was more about completing the test as quickly as they could for their own sake.

Ruin the mood
Quite simply, the participants’ behaviour changed during the course of the trial. And it was not only in terms of thinking of themselves more and paying less attention to their fellow human beings.

– Existing research shows that, in the event of a fire, recorded warnings work best and shorten the response time in an evacuation of adults who are not under the influence of alcohol. However, in the trial, it was clear that the intoxicated participants generally didn’t listen to what was being said. Therefore, you must question whether this is the best way of getting drunk people to evacuate, says Anne Dederichs, who was dissertation adviser to the two students.

She is a lecturer in DTU’s Department of Civil Engineering where she, among other things, researches the evacuation of people with impaired abilities, including those under the influence of alcohol, and it was she who recommended that the two students research the subject, and who had received support from Knud Højgårds Foundation, the Tryg Foundation and Carlsberg to carry out the trials.

– Perhaps, in order to get through to people, it would be better if we looked at how the mood is ruined. For example, by turning the music off or using a loud siren wail instead, says Anne Dederichs.

More research
Even though the trial gives you an idea of how intoxicated people behave during an evacuation, the results in themselves are no substitute for data in the simulation of an evacuation.

– Based on the results, we must expect that the reaction time and the time it takes to make a decision are longer for intoxicated people. In any case, we can see some trends. But, on the basis of our trial, we can’t conclude anything general about how people behave when they are under the influence of alcohol, says Marlene Westmose.

– The trial provides some data, which we have processed, and which will hopefully result in a scientific article. But, first and foremost, the trial will intensify the focus on the problem and show that more research is needed, adds Anne Madsen.

Meanwhile, the two students can be pleased with their finished dissertations, for which they both received top marks.


The ethics behind getting participants drunk

It is difficult to work with alcohol in a scientific trial. Carlsberg supported the trial so there was no shortage of beer. However, on the one hand, fires in nightclubs have cost many human lives so there is a need for knowledge about how people behave when they are under the influence of alcohol. But, on the other hand, how do you ensure, at the same time, that no one suffers any harm or feels uncomfortable when part of the trial involves alcohol?

– Besides the Danish ethical rules governing the area, we used a code of ethics developed by the Evacuation Group at DTU’s Department of Civil Engineering. This meant, for example, that all participants were informed that they could withdraw from the trial at any time and that there was no requirement for them to drink six beers, which was the maximum limit in the trial, explains Marlene Westmose.

– It is a sensitive area, but it was handled in accordance with all the relevant rules, and the plan for the trial was submitted to both the Danish Council on Ethics and the Danish Data Protection Agency, says Anne Dederichs.


Fires in nightclubs

There are good reasons for investigating how you can ensure the smooth evacuation of nightclubs. This is because, throughout history, there has been several examples of fires in nightclubs where frighteningly large numbers of people have not made it out. The most recent example was in Romania where 31 people died in October 2015 when the fireworks in a stage show set fire to the ceiling in a nightclub.
Over the years there has been several incidents where nightclubs have formed the backdrop for tragedies. The five most deadly are:

  • 494 fatalities – Coconut Grove Night Club, Boston, USA, 1942.
  • 309 fatalities – Dance Hall, Luoyang, China, 2000.
  • 242 fatalities – KISS Nightclub, Santa Maria, Brazil, 2013.
  • 207 fatalities – Rythm Club Dance Hall, Natchez, USA, 1940.
  • 194 fatalities – Cromagnon Republic Club, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2004.