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Fire in the Built Environment


Fire has formed an important ingredient of societal cultures and religions, from historic times to our present world, and has played a key role in the advancement of civilization. Fire has taken a variety of trends all through the history of our world. Fire results from the rapid oxidation of flammable materials that release light, heat, and other reaction products such as water and carbon dioxide. The gases that result is capable of ionizing and producing gaseous plasma. The color and the intensity of the blaze relate to the type of substance that is burning and the existence of outside contaminants. Electric failures, careless smoking, inappropriate use of candles, and arson attack generally cause most fires. These actions have immeasurable consequences as they cause widespread costly outcomes whenever and wherever they take place. This paper analyzes four different fire case studies as appertains to the built environment.

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The common type of flame is capable of causing a conflagration that may cause harm to the body through burning. However, most fatalities due to fire do not result from burns, but due to inhalation of smoke. Most of the time, smoke disables individuals to the point that they are unable to overcome and escape to safety as quickly as possible. The synthetic substances that are common in today’s buildings generate harmful compounds. As the blaze builds up in the interior of a building, it uses up all the existing oxygen and reduces the process of combustion. This “partial burning” gives yield to harmful gases. Smoke is composed of constituents that are deadly in their own way. First, smoke contains minute particles. These particles may be entirely unburned, incompletely burned, or entirely burned materials, which can be so minute to be able to pass through the defensive filters of the respiratory tract, and stay in the lungs. Some of the particles are extremely harmful; others are hazardous to the eyes and the process of digestion. Secondly, smoke may be composed of vapors that are fog-like drops of fluid, which are toxic if taken in or are able to penetrate through the skin. Lastly, smoke may be composed of toxic gases. The most prevalent is carbon monoxide (CO), which is lethal even in minute quantities, as it takes the place of oxygen in the blood. The combustion of plastics gives yield to hydrogen monoxide gas, which disrupts the normal process of respiration. The combustion of common household products, for example, vinyl materials, produces phosgene gas. At reduced levels, phosgene leads to the development of itchy eyes and sore throat; while at increased levels, it leads to pulmonary edema and fatal injuries to the body system.

Besides generating smoke, fire can disable or cause death by lowering the levels of oxygen, either by utilizing the oxygen or by changing it with other less desirable gases. The generation of heat during the burning process is also harmful to the respiratory system, as highly heated gases burn it. In situations when the air is exceedingly hot, one breath is capable of causing death. One of the best methods of managing smoke occurrence and preventing it from spreading to other parts of the building is to confine it in compartments within the built environment. Usually, it is not easy to confine the smoke by closing wide openings like doors since the occupants of the building usually walk to and from the compartments and dislike having to close the openings. Reduction of the growth of the fire by placing some combustible substances at some well-considered places in the built environment is of the essence. The building engineer who takes care of fire safety issues usually has a hard assignment of effectively controlling the movement of smoke within the staircase where the forces of buoyancy that affect the smoke are mostly concentrated. The practice of smoke control is of great necessity in the built environment as it guarantees the safety of the inhabitants of the building. Proper planning and evaluation practices to realize this level of safety are necessary. Adequate planning ensures the consideration of the speed of flow of the smoke and the ease of escape of the occupants, whereas the evaluation strategies predict the level of intensity of the flame.

Building fire in Liverpool, England

This fire incident took place on October 5, 2009. It destroyed bookmakers and estate agents to the point that they hard to be demolished (Parker, para.1). Over fifty fire officers fought the fire for a period of twelve hours. The inferno extended to the neighbouring residential apartments and the evacuation of the inhabitants had to take place. A ruptured gas main deteriorated the efforts of the firefighters. At one point, it became necessary to summon a surveyor to ascertain the condition of the building since it was swaying in the wind showing signs of readiness to fall. After assessing the situation, the council surveyor authorized the demolition of the unstable building.

This fire caused massive damages to the building because of the poor structural design of the building. One of the buildings had offices situated on the third floor. The presence of many papers in the offices and the ruptured gas main accelerated the rate of spread of the fire. These combustible materials greatly increased the intensity of the blaze. The fire could probably have been controlled faster had the combustible materials been placed at strategic places within the building and the gas main properly constructed. The building was poorly constructed, similarly, the materials used in its design and the construction of all elements that relate to fire safety engineering did not meet fire safety standards. This is evident from the way the building was swaying in the air in the process of the inferno.

This unforeseen incident brought to the fore some underlining issues that hitherto have never been considered in the buildings of Liverpool. The launching of an investigation to probe the issues surrounding the reduced rubble immediately took place. The importance of every building structure having a fire protection strategy re-ignited. The strategy should ascertain that the building’s design is flexible enough and is capable of offering the best value within the limits of safety considerations. This incident has made the local council enforce safety regulations that appertain to insurance of the buildings, life safety rules, and business-related rules. Attention was brought to the necessity of routine inspection of buildings to determine whether they conform to the standards of design and construction. The building fires erupted at night when no one was in the offices. If this incident occurred when several people were inside the building, more devastating consequences could have been felt. Probably this massive loss of property could not have taken place if the structural engineers adhered to the guidelines regarding fire prevention policies.

In reconstructing the infrastructure, emphasis should be to ensure that it conforms to the fire safety standards. Fire-resistant materials should compose the interior of the building. The gas main pipe ought to be from durable materials that are not susceptible to breakage and it should be strategically located away from fire hazard-prone areas. Emphasis should be on the strategic location of readily combustible materials such as paper within the built environment to minimize the rate of spread of the flame in case a blaze occurs. The new building should also have spray protection devices achieved by improving the interior steel beams to fire safety standards. A major consideration should be placed on the construction of fire prevention structures at the periphery of the steel edges. A sprinkler system when fixed in the building will serve the purpose of reducing the speed of flow of the flame. The structural engineers should also consider putting up an innovative aluminum cladding structure to advance the preparedness of this building for future fires.

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Scotland Building fire

According to the fire statistics of the Government of Scotland, the country has the highest number of both fatal and non-fatal fire victims as compared to other countries in the United Kingdom (“Statistical News Release,” para. 1). One of these incidences is the fire that ravaged the historic Garrison House on 18 June 2001 in Glasgow Street. About thirty fire officers tackled the fire all night to contain it. The fire began wreaking havoc on the 250-year-old building from the first floor and the roof. Investigations to discover the cause of the fire began immediately. The Garrison had been renowned to house a museum and offices for the local council. The two-story building was declared unsafe until restoration bids are assessed and started. No casualty was reported as the building was thought to be unoccupied at the time of the incident (“Historic building hit by fire,” para. 1).

The Garrison House structure experienced massive losses due to the inferno that destroyed some of its historic designs and priceless heritage materials that were present in the traditional structure. Even though no one was in the house at the time of the misfortune, the blaze caused the perilous condition to the persons who were working in the house or just paying a visit to marvel at the mystery of the 250-year-old building. The raging fire did not spare the rich building’s fabric and traditional content.

As the rebuilding of the historic house progresses, some options are worth noting to ensure that this misfortune never happens again. In the process of its construction, no special emphasis was on fire safety considerations as vital components of the building design. Firewalls or fire stops installation did not feature anywhere in the construction process. Wood formed the main constituent of its framing. This accelerated the build-up of the fire in this historic building. The establishment of automatic fire detection appliances or fire extinguishing devices was assumed during its construction and later renovation. The installation of fire safety appliances cuts the middle ground between preserving the rich traditional setup of the building and protecting the structure from future huge losses.

This catastrophe did not lack lessons. The main lesson is that fire does not respect the status of the building, whether historical or otherwise and of essence is adequate preparation whenever and wherever such a tragedy strike. Setting up fire suppressors and fire resistance systems is a sure way of realizing this goal. The Garrison House internal fire safety systems did not conform to the present standards. This taught the people in charge of managing the house to take drastic measures during the building’s renovation to ensure that physical upgrading of all the aspects of the house conforms to the present regulations regarding historic buildings. The Garrison House’s historic features should be preserved as much as attempts to renovate it are taking place.

Building fire in Wales

A fire erupted on 19 November 2009 at a Llanduno house in North Wales. Passers-by noticed the inferno and notified the fire officers after seeing smoke ascend to form the two-story structure. The rescue crew managed to find their way through the highly smoked logged apartment and put off the fire. After extinguishing the blaze, they discovered a fifty-year-old man in an upstairs room. The building lacked a smoke alarm. If the device could have been present, the man could have probably heard the warning of the blaze and escaped to safety. Others may have heard it in time and called the rescue crew. The incident was reported to the relevant authority (“Llanduno man dies in a house fire,”para.3-7). Although smoke engulfed the building, it did not realize massive losses for it to be demolished. This was due to its excellent structural design that lowered the susceptibility of damages. The methods and the materials used in its design and construction of the elements appertaining to fire safety engineering principles were adhered to during its construction. However, besides its adequate structural design, the building lacked a smoke alarm to alert people when the fire started. This led to the death of the person who was inside the building, as he could not escape in time.

The Llanduno house fire incident re-ignited the forgotten codes that appertain to the fire safety of buildings. This loss of life probably could have not occurred had the building’s interior been compartmentalized to control the movement of smoke. Concerns were raised on the decision of the building’s management to have the building in operation without taking concrete measures to protect its occupants from possible fire hazards, for example installing a fire safety alarm. The codes that govern the fire safety of buildings ought to be followed to prevent such mistakes from taking place in the future.

Building fire in Northern Ireland

A glass factory company in Fermanagh went up in smoke in December 2009 and left four employees of the plant critically injured. The inferno began in a furnace that had molten glass heated to temperatures of 1,600oC. The injuries were mainly due to the inhalation of toxic smoke fumes. The huge fire proved to be a challenging task to the one hundred and twenty-six firefighters who only managed to bring it down after eleven hours (“Four hurt in a glass factory fire,” para. 1-4). This factory building did not experience massive losses due to its conformance with fire safety engineering design principles. The building regulations ensured that its design was able to realize the best value and simultaneously ascribe to the expected degree of fire safety considerations. “The building Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000” (“Summary of the regulations,” para. 1), stipulates obligatory functional requirements for any building in Northern Ireland.

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The presence of the fire alarm bell alerted the factory employees at the start of the fire and they were able to take prompt precautionary measures. The factory building had well-organized methods of ensuring that the occupants reach safety zones in the event of a fire incident. The acceptable distance for the movement was arrived at carefully by having a suitable number of staircases and appropriate escape routes that are advantageous to the employees of the production company. The response time of quelling the blaze was swift as the firefighters arrived promptly at the scene to tackle the blaze.

Although this incident left four people critically injured, this incident is full of vital lessons. The number of casualties could have been more than four if the building’s structural design did not conform to the fire safety codes. This exemplifies the need for proper enactment and observation of these rules to avert such future incidences from taking place. Old regulations that are now rendered obsolete due to the rise of modern buildings should be revised to ensure that the rules are not flouted. On the construction of commercial structures, proper assessment of the intensity of the blaze and what consequently takes place in the building should be practiced.

Conclusion and Recommendations

All buildings should conform to fire safety regulations to ensure that massive losses are not experienced in the event of a fire as is illustrated from the above four fire case studies from different countries. The concerned authority should ensure that these regulations are enforced and strictly adhered to during the construction of buildings. These mandatory requirements serve vital purposes in the event of a fire and enable the ease of movement to safety by the occupants of the buildings.

Active and passive fire prevention strategies should be adhered to in order to prevent future destruction due to fire. Active fire prevention strategies involve the installation of items and systems that require actions and responses for efficient performance. These include manual and automatic fire suppression appliances. Manual fire suppression appliances include the use of fire extinguishers while automatic fire suppression appliances include the establishment of sprinkler systems. Sprinkler systems reduce the build-up of fire, hence increases the safety of the occupants as well as lowering possible damages to the infrastructure. A fire alarm puts everyone on high alert in the event of a fire in the building.

Passive fire prevention strategies aim to control the spread of the fire. The methods of achieving this are compartmentalization of the interior of the building by the construction of fire-resistant walls, doors, floors, and other rooms in the building. Partitioning of the building into smaller sizes lowers the rate of spread of the fire; hence, fewer losses are experienced to the building’s structure as well allowing adequate time for the occupants of the building to vacate to secure locations. Other fire prevention strategies include avoiding the potential sources of ignition and education of the building’s occupants on firefighting strategies, mode of working of the different firefighting equipment, and urgent response tactics in the event of a fire.

Works cited

“Four hurt in glass factory fire.” Belfast Telegraph. 2009. Web.

Historic building hit by fire.Herald Scotland. 2009. Web.

“Llanduno man dies in house fire,” Weekly News. 2009. Web.

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Parker, Samantha.”Reduced to Rubble; Probe after fire destroys buildings.” Bnet. 2009. Web.

“Statistical News Release.” The Scottish Government. Aug. 2009. Web.

“Summary of the regulations.” Building control. Web.

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