Great Fire 350

“FIRE” - Fire Engineering is one of the most modern of engineering disciplines, yet it addresses one of the oldest risks in buildings, Fire.


When a Fire Engineer’s work is done, nothing happens. Fire Safety Engineers look at the risks; people, processes and premises to develop a strategy and design that reduces risk and mitigates against the affects of fire, smoke and heat.


What it means for you is a safe workplace where you can get to a place of relative safety in the event of a fire; whether you are on the 32nd floor of your office, hotel or apartment; underground in a club, pub or car park; in a theatre, church or historic building; hospital or a modern shopping centre. Fire engineers also look at public transport, so you can travel safely to and from home, work and play.


Many iconic and statement buildings demand open atria, common circulation space and clear lines of vision. Modern materials are often used as they are brighter, cleaner, lighter with good thermal and acoustic performance, or they might just be quicker to install or cheaper. Fire Engineers address these requirements in buildings, reducing fire risk and fire loads, using early detection and suppression systems that keep the escape routes tenable, i.e. clear of heat and smoke that could otherwise make an exit unusable; hence making it safer.


If and when a fire does occur then a fire-engineered building will detect and sound the alert, giving you time to make a safe and orderly exit from the building, whether you are fully mobile, semi-ambulant or disabled. Interestingly, fire tests and false alarms, although often annoying, reduce the risk of panic in the case of an actual fire alert and people tend to react in a calm, orderly way, although a sense of urgency is usually revived once the flame heat or smoke is seen. 


A key tenet of fire engineering is an effective management plan. This includes fire evacuation procedures as well as testing and maintenance of key fire precautions. Maintenance of fire protection is ignored at your peril, especially compartmentation, i.e. the separation of the buildings into separate compartments that prevent fire spread. A critical part of the compartmentation is fire doors! A well-designed and maintained fire door will prevent the spread of fire and smoke from one area (compartment) to another, despite temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees C that occur in a fire. Fire doors need regular inspection and maintenance. If in areas of regular use, providing proper hold-open devices will allow the doors to close automatically in the event of a fire. You must not prop them open with a fire extinguisher!


Now, back to Pudding Lane 350 years ago. How was fire protection addressed then? A bucket of water? Because it was not usually difficult to get out of a low-rise building then the price paid was loss of your place of work, and probably home if you lived ‘over the shop’. However as the Great Fire of London had a series of conditions conducive to the fire spread it went completely out of control. This directly led to the first laws about fire safety in construction, some of which are still in use today, but that is covered elsewhere in Great Fire350.


So take a moment to look all around you, down as well as up and you will see the successful outcomes of the most modern of engineering practices – Fire Safety Engineering – a vital part enabling a safer yet more interesting cityscape.

Last Updated: 29/07/2016