Smoke: Fire’s poor relation? Think again.

31 May 2018

Smoke in building fires is far from innocuous. It spreads quickly and stealthily and how it’s held back to enable means of escape or to stop it entering into flats and apartments needs to be seen to be believed.

Its definition: “a visible suspension of carbon or other particles in air, typically one emitted from a burning substance¹” has more meaning as smoke inhalation: “the poisoning of the lungs caused by inhaling large quantities of toxic fumes from a fire².”

Gerda is highlighting the dangers of smoke and what to look out for with live demonstrations on stand A390 at scheduled times throughout the exhibition.

What has changed?

The living environment of flats is quite different to that of the 1950s/1960s even up to relatively recently the 1990s. Lifestyles were simpler, furniture and contents were fewer and materials less complex. Today a person’s flat or apartment is likely to have a high proportion of possessions and furniture which are polymer-based or made from fire retardant materials. Additionally construction materials have become more lightweight, easier to produce, improve insulation and offer perceived cheaper cost alternatives to the more traditional building materials such as timber steel and stone.

Why should this matter?

Fires in dwellings then produced carbonaceous smoke, which is quite different to the toxic smoke that is produced today. With the increase in polymer and fire retardant usage in construction products, scientific work is taking place internationally to look at human behaviour in toxic and smoke-filled conditions; the acute toxicity of combustion products (e.g. asphyxiants); the chronic effects (e.g. carcinogens) to name but a few areas. It is a complex field, which is dependent on the fire conditions; materials present and oxygen levels. The types of toxins depend on the materials’ composition as well as the fire conditions. Today, in addition to carbon monoxide gas, ever present in smoke from building fires, other toxic hazards now include hydrogen cyanide, nitric oxide, hydrogen chloride, ammonia, bromine and isocyanates.³

Smoke-related fatalities in England account for over 50% of deaths year on year over the last four years4 . When Fire & Rescue crews attend fires these days the default is for Breathing Apparatus to be worn – it is only taken off when the officer in charge deems it is safe so to do.

How to minimise the risks?

Passive protection fire safety measures such as fire doorsets are crucial in preventing the spread of smoke. Whilst passive in name, when called upon in fires, they must actively perform. Notwithstanding confidence in the fire safety measure itself (the fire doorset) not rapidly combusting and not having significant material toxic hazards, reassurance on how it performs in holding back toxic smoke is vital.

“It is only when you witness a smoke-filled area and the ensuing disorientation, you realise the crucial role the fire doorset has to play. Vividly demonstrated by Gerda” Ian Moore, CEO, Fire Industry Association. Find out key points you need to be aware of on stand A390.

GERDA®
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