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Notre-Dame Cathedral by the Fire Protection Association
  • Jul 4, 2019
  • Latest News

The terrible destruction of the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral by fire is a stark reminder of how easily and quickly both national and international important heritage buildings, which have stood for hundreds of years, can be lost in a single day.

Challenges of heritage fire protection are many and varied. Materials of construction and wall linings are often combustible, there can be an absence of fire compartmentation, and alteration over time can create voids and cavities in which fire can spread and develop unnoticed.

The complexities for attending fire and rescue services can very onerous too. Against a background of a quickly developing fire, they must assemble and navigate teams with specialist access equipment through potentially narrow and crowded city streets, to fight an established fire - high in the eaves of the building. In this case, with potentially simultaneous demands to save life, salvage historic content and save the building the challenges are enormous where the structural stability of the building cannot be assured.

Dr Jim Glockling, the Fire Protection Association’s technical director commented:
“It could be considered amazing that anything was saved, but this will not be by accident. It is likely the French fire services would have prepared for and rehearsed for this event many times over the years, and whilst the resulting outcome may look quite devastating, there will certainly be more fabric to rebuild from going forward, as a result of this pre-planning.”

An obvious feature of the fire is the scaffolding silhouetted against the flames, suggesting an ongoing major refurbishment. Building works of any type present a period of heightened risk from fire, and it will be interesting to see if this played any role in the fire starting. During refurbishment it is not uncommon for hot work activities that produce sparks or use flame to be prevalent when metal is cut or welded, roofing materials laid, or paint removed.

Presence of people in normally unoccupied areas can also increase risks from accidental and smoking related fire sources, as can the routing of temporary power supplies required to run equipment and lighting. Refurbishment might also require the disabling of installed fire protection systems for a period of time.

Control of fire risks on construction sites is well documented, with strict control of methods, training requirements, provision of firefighting equipment and safe systems of work. These are normally sufficient, but increasingly, where the consequences of a fire are great (financially, historically or a threat to adjacent buildings), it is becoming more commonplace to install temporary detection and suppression systems to cover the periods of heighted risk.

It is often cited that the installation of fixed fire suppression systems, such as sprinklers, are incompatible with historical building fabric preservation. There are actually very many sympathetic installations, and few issues have proved insurmountable – a small compromise to ensure survival for future generations to enjoy seems a small price to pay.

For more details on the Fire Protection Association please visit www.thefpa.co.uk