Can Croatia improve its standards by putting in proper preventative fire protection measures in its buildings, alongside the obtaining of energy efficiency certificates? Fire Safe Europe thinks so.
The director of Fire Safe Europe warns that fire protection should be thought of preventively, not just after something has already started burning.
As Ana Blaskovic/Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 15th of November, 2018, Juliette Albiac is the ”face” of Fire Safe Europe, a lobby association of building material manufacturers, firefighters and firefighting experts, with the aim of increasing security standards when it comes to fire protection in buildings. After the utterly catastrophic fire that took place in the Grenfell skyscraper in London, which took 72 lives in 2017 because of the inadequate materials used in construction, the tragic theme has finally come to the forefront.
Since the Republic of Croatia also needs to incorporate fire protection regulation into its national legislation by the end of 2020, Fire Safe Europe points out that it is now an ideal opportunity to raise awareness of its importance in the energy renewal of buildings and the availability of European Union funds.
How much Europe is aware of the issues of fire protection?
The fire at the Grenfell Tower in London has inspired many countries in the rest of Europe to review their security procedures and documents, although some Eastern European countries have, already gone ahead and done that. We thought Britain was one of the leaders in standards of fire protection, so this tragedy came as a surprise to us. We knew there were problematic issues because the European regulations were not aligned, and the current testing models can’t predict how facades will behave during a fire, but we’d never have said something like that would happen. It was a wake up call.
Was Grenfell a turning point?
First of all, it should be borne in mind that the regulations relating to fire protection are done at the jurisdiction of each member [state of the EU], just as they are with traffic safety. After Grenfell, several countries revised their regulations, but not all of them. A new law has come into force in France, while talks about properly defining tall buildings or skyscrapers are going on in Belgium, as evacuations in the event of fires are getting worse and longer.
Unlike airborne (aircraft) accidents that are spoken about in the media, about which much can be learned by analysing, this isn’t the case with fires that take place in buildings. In Europe, about 4,000 people are killed per year, and about 200,000 people are injured. That’s why the European Commission established the Fire Information Exchange Platform (FIEP) last year to allow member states to share the best experiences and their data.
What about Croatia?
Unlike Europe, which has had to learn from tragedy, Croatia has luckily learned another way, for example, after we conducted a scientific fire facade study in partnership with the University of Zagreb, the results have influenced a change of regulations to strengthen fire protection. We’ve compared the three types of façades with different materials that behave differently in a fire. It’s been shown that due to the high proportion of flammable materials inside the building, the fire spreads quickly inside and outside of the building, and the speed the fire spread depends on the materials used on the outside of the building. It was a breakthrough where the importance of fire protection was really recognised; we conducted the experiment in 2014, and the regulation in Croatia was changed in 2015.
Otherwise, all eastern countries in Europe take more stringent mandatory measures than trends in Western Europe. Among them, Croatia and Bulgaria have adapted the energy efficiency regulations by prescriptive measures. Take, for example, the definition of tall buildings and skyscrapers; in eastern countries, the borders are lower than they are in Western Europe, and this is extremely important for fire protection. If a fire occurs, the time of evacuation from such buildings is longer. There is no single answer that is the best when it comes to fire protection, for example, it’s not enough to just install water sprinklers, but it needs to be a complete approach.
However, everything comes down to money and construction costs. How much more, on average, expensive is it to incorporate a range of inflammable materials into a building?
It’s not just a matter of money, the problem lies with insufficient education. Often people, and I’m thinking of building owners and of landlords, don’t think about fire protection when building an energy-efficient building. At Fire Safe Europe, we’re working to make sure [they know] that using inadequate materials or installing non-certified materials can increase the risk of fire. Talk to your architects and your designers, this isn’t just a matter of money. Today’s construction is fragmented and the responsibility is also ultimately fragmented. That’s the problem. Just take the example of the fires in the middle of the tourist season in Split last year when the fires came down into the city and the citizens and tourists had to evacuate.
Soon, new changes will come into effect. What’s that all about?
Croatia, as well as other EU members, will soon be adopting a new long-term energy-building renewal regulation pertaining to the Energy Performance Building Directive (EPBD), which was amended this year, which for the first time mentions fire protection in as many as two articles, in which it demands of a member state that when working to reduce energy consumption in buildings, they also take charge of fire safety. The new regulation has to be included in national legislation within two years, for which discussions have already begun in Croatia. It’s important to emphasise that European Union funds are available to those who want to make their buildings more energy efficient, and make them safer in the event of a fire.
What’s your key message?
Research shows that people often think of fires just after they hear that something is burning somewhere. In other words, fire protection is often not considered as preventive or during energy renewal, and unfortunately that’s a fact. Croatia now has a fantastic opportunity to further improve the standards of fire protection within the energy renewal of its buildings. That’s why it’s important for people to think about fire protection every time they talk about energy efficiency. Imagine, there’s no fire protection included at the time of obtaining an energy certificate, so we know how much energy is being consumed but we don’t know how the building will behave in the fire. Personally, it’s not clear to me how a building can be sustainable and at the same time be able to just burn to the ground.
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