The recently reported fire testing at the ANPI facility near Brussels has sparked cross-industry debate on the importance of understanding smoke control in ensuring the safety of building users and assets.
While fire safety may be widely appreciated by professionals in the construction, local government and fire service sectors, smoke control is often less well understood in spite of its legislative importance (in particular the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, commonly referred to as the RRO).
“It’s essential that both the fire service and construction industry link to ensure a real understanding of design, products, relationships, challenges and objectives of all parties,” says Ray Edwards of West Midlands Fire Service.
“We need widespread understanding of how smoke control works and knowledge of how the theory applies when advising upon and tackling fires.”
Peter Bennett, senior design manager at BAM Construction, says: “Fire tests are critical and should take place in the UK. We only rarely design for smoke, and prefer to use experienced consultants to help. As we do not apply smoke control frequently we do need specialist support regarding legislation and how it is changing.”
Greater inter-industry co-operation is important, but we in the smoke control sector need to take the lead and ensure our expertise is as widely available as possible. Constructive feedback from everyone involved is vital to allow the industry to develop and evolve.
Building services designers rarely understand how smoke ventilation systems operate, and when CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software is used by inexperienced operators, the results can be misleading. Unless you have the experience to understand fire and smoke, you can come up with design answers that may end in tragedy.
Ray Edwards says: “The interaction with commercial products and companies helps us understand the issues. Our own tests do not use commercial equipment and are more about working in smoke, not how to maintain the means of escape.
“We see smoke in anger but rarely under the control of a smoke ventilation system. This helps us understand how firefighting should be used when smoke ventilation systems are available. We already advise on regulations; we can now advise on how the systems work and how smoke reacts. Working with consultants on the theory really brings it to life.”
Dave Mowatt is a director at Airvent