Was it a cigarette? A short circuit? Sparks from welding work? In the wake of the disaster that hit Notre Dame in Paris in April 2019, there was, of course, immediate speculation as to what had caused the fire. Whatever the cause – what happened in Paris could very well happen to many other historical buildings: a fire that spreads quickly and is difficult to control. And that in a very large wooden roof structure with no divisions.
After what happened to Notre Dame, fire protection is once again a huge issue
Fire safety experts throughout Europe respond to this event by questioning the safety of their own buildings. How safe are our buildings? Fires are unpredictable. And they cause an enormous amount of damage. And fires keep happening – in town halls, in residential buildings and in high rises such as Grenfell Tower in London or in historical buildings like the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar. Fire can break out in any building containing flammable materials.
Preventive fire protection saves lives and property
Of course, after a fire, it’s only natural to discuss the causes. And the discussion also often includes fire-fighting equipment, i.e. defensive fire protection. Because once a fire happens it all comes down to saving lives and minimising damage. Preventive fire protection is crucially important in order to enable fire services to do their job. In addition to construction and organisational measures, this also includes technical systems, in particular, fire detection systems, fire extinguishing systems, smoke extraction systems and fire protection doors. However, these do not prevent a fire from breaking out. But they do play a huge part in stopping the fire from spreading and the damage it then causes.
Smoke and heat extraction systems facilitate escape, rescue, extinguishing measures
Smoke detectors and fire alarm systems help to detect fires early. Smoke and heat extraction systems (RWA) guide toxic smoke and heat out of the building. Fast and safe evacuation is possible only if emergency exit systems are free from smoke and combustion gases, which is why smoke and heat extraction systems are often the primary enablers of proper escape, rescue and extinguishing measures.
Self-closing fire protection doors act as safety barriers
The openings in fire protection or fire-retardant doors are sensitive. Here, self-closing doors prevent fires from spreading and act as what is known as fire protection closers. They, therefore, play a crucial role in preventive fire protection. Special smoke protection doors with smoke-proof lip seals prevent smoke from spreading throughout the building.
Fire protection with intelligent systems
GEZE provides solution concepts with intelligent systems for the above mentioned preventive fire protection systems. For example, a GEZE smoke and heat extraction system can extract smoke and heat in the event of a fire. GEZE door closers ensure the safe closing of fire protection doors. And GEZE fire door holders permanently or temporarily keep fire protection doors open. They, therefore, offer barrier-free access but close reliably in the event of a fire. Ceiling-mounted smoke detectors and manual trigger switches can communicate via wireless modules with the fire door holders. This means that existing buildings can be retrofitted without having to use any additional cables.
Fire protection requires planning and practice
Anyone reviewing their fire protection system after having seen the images of the devastation in Paris should observe the following checklist in addition to implementing construction and system measures:
Emergency exit systems – provide access to fire services
- Regularly prepare, publish and practise emergency exit system plans
- Ensure corridors and stairs are safe
- Mark out escape routes and emergency exits
- Do not block escape routes
- Keep emergency exits clear, never lock them
Staff training and fire protection drills
- Regular training on undesirable behaviour and unconscious carelessness
- Regular instructions to all employees about what to do in the event of a fire
- Practical drills using fire extinguishers and wall-mounted hydrants
- Clearly, indicate how to operate fire detection equipment
- Display safety notices
- Appoint and announce first-aiders, fire safety teams, evacuation assistants and fire protection officers
These actions and the regular inspection and maintenance of the systems can minimise risks – and save lives, the building and property in the event of a fire.