To begin, fires should be prevented from starting. Understanding the causes and risk factors for this is the first step toward developing effective prevention efforts involving both technical and human factors.
In Europe, the leading causes of accidental fires are smoking, electrical malfunctions, cooking, and carelessness with ignition sources such as matches or candles.
The majority of fatal residential fires begin in the living room, followed by the bedroom and kitchen*.
Construction products that may be exposed to an initiating fire are subject to Euroclass-based “reaction to fire” performance requirements.
In 2006, Estonia revised its approach to fire safety to incorporate systematic prevention. Since then, the number of fire accidents has decreased by a factor of three. Finland hosts a Fire Safety Week each year, which includes a family event called ‘Day at the Fire Station,’ where important fire safety skills can be learned.
Enhance the collection of statistics on the primary causes and risk factors for building fires. The European Parliament adopted a pilot project to that effect in 2018.
Specific products address key areas of concern. Electrical safety, for example, necessitates stringent product standards, effective market surveillance, and routine inspections.
The EU Rapid Alert system (RAPEX) identifies dangerous products and appliances that must be withdrawn from the market.
When a fire occurs despite prevention measures, it is critical to detect it quickly to allow building occupants sufficient time to react, including safe evacuation and early fire extinguishment.
Smoke alone will not alert you to a fire in the middle of the night; only smoke alarms and detectors will. These are critical for prompt evacuation.
It is recommended that smoke alarms be installed inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on each level of the entire residential building.
Alarms in larger buildings should ideally be connected in order to alert all building occupants.
In Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Austria, Belgium, and Germany, smoke alarms are required in all residential buildings.
In Nordic countries, Smoke Alarm Day promotes the importance of routinely checking smoke alarms.
Building occupants are responsible for ensuring that smoke alarms are properly installed, have an adequate number, and function properly. In several countries and regions, fire services organize targeted awareness campaigns and distribute or install smoke detectors for the most vulnerable citizens.
The European Parliament can assist national efforts by advocating for widespread smoke alarm use throughout Europe and recognizing the role of fire services in public awareness and prevention efforts
When a fire starts, it can be extinguished manually or automatically with sprinklers within minutes. Sprinklers are activated automatically in response to heat and only at the location of the fire.
96 percent of fires in sprinkler-protected buildings are extinguished or controlled by the on-site system.
While sprinklers are primarily used to contain or control fires, evidence indicates that they can also be used to save the lives of people in the room where the fire started.
In Wales and Norway, automatic fire suppression systems are required in all residential dwellings with more than two storeys. Numerous types of sprinklers are available, including portable and temporary units that can be installed without the need for pipework and are beneficial for people who are unable to evacuate, such as the elderly or disabled.
Promoting the use of automatic suppression systems on a larger scale (particularly in high-risk buildings and among vulnerable populations) is critical for further reducing fatal fires.
Efforts can be aided by the EU through dedicated EU funding.
If a fire begins and cannot be extinguished immediately, the safe evacuation of the building’s occupants takes precedence. Having access to well-lit, brief, and smoke-free escape routes, as well as knowledge of them, is critical. As a result, escape routes should be incorporated into the design of buildings as part of a comprehensive approach to fire safety.
The target time for evacuating a building in the event of a fire varies according to the building’s size.
Obstructions or clogs in escape routes can be a significant issue.
Slovenia launched a campaign to educate citizens about the importance of early evacuation planning in the event of a fire.
The Frankfurt Fire Brigade conducts safety checks and evacuation drills on high-rise buildings.
Numerous building codes define methods for keeping escape routes smoke-free. This can be accomplished through the release of smoke or the extraction of smoke, as well as through compartmentation.
European regulations already establish minimum standards for the provision of safety signs at work, including those indicating emergency exit routes.
Individuals in residential buildings must be familiar with their evacuation plan and practice evacuation exercises. At the EU level, this can be accomplished through awareness and education campaigns in all official languages.
Specific strategies for more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or disabled, should be developed.
Fire compartmentation ensures that a fire and its smoke remain contained within the original compartment and do not spread to adjacent rooms. Additionally, it aims to safeguard safe escape routes such as corridors and stairwells.
Physical barriers, such as fire walls and floors, fire doors, and fireproof sealing of joints and penetrations, will achieve compartmentation.
If a fire spreads rapidly across a façade, the compartmentation strategy may be jeopardized.
The EU’s Construction Products Regulation (CPR) establishes a uniform methodology for testing and classifying construction products’ reaction to or resistance to fire, as well as for communicating their performance.
It enables Member States to establish national performance standards for specific applications, including compartmentation.
Numerous countries (the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia) conduct large-scale tests on façade systems, which is the most effective way to ensure that the façade system does not jeopardize the compartmentation strategy.
The Frankfurt Fire Brigade organizes regular inspections of high-rise buildings to ensure that compartmentation is not jeopardized by fire door malfunctions or unsealed penetrations through walls.
Building codes and enforcement are a matter of national jurisdiction. The EU could play a role in highlighting best enforcement practices and recognizing the role of fire services in building inspections.
The EU provides harmonised standards for CEN-developed products to national authorities. Additionally, an EU-wide harmonised testing and classification method for façade systems is being developed.
In the event of a large fire, it is critical to ensure the structural integrity of the building so that it does not collapse on occupants or firefighters.
Structural fire testing is performed by subjecting structural elements and assemblies to a standard fire resistance test (i.e. furnace test).
Structures that are fire resistant are not simply a matter of material combustibility.
The current state of knowledge enables the design of fire-resistant structures in concrete and steel, as well as in wood, composites, and elements containing combustible materials.
The Eurocodes – a collection of European standards for the design of buildings and other civil engineering works – serve as a reference both within and outside of Europe for the design of fire- and seismic-resistant structures.
Additional engineering methods based on experimental studies can be used to gain a better understanding of structural systems’ fire performance during real-world fires.
The EU can contribute to the work of the Fire Information Exchange Platform (FIEP), which is examining the feasibility of developing EU standards and qualifications in fire safety engineering.