Fire protection and climate change

Fire protection and climate change

Though the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) has drawn to a close, the topic of climate change continues to be a hot topic. Tom Roche, Secretary of the Business Sprinkler Alliance explains why fire resilience plays a crucial role in sustainability.

“There is no question that climate action will remain critical over the next decade which is why a change in the approach to the built environment will go some way to meeting our climate change targets. A call for the use of natural construction materials, greater insulation and low carbon heat options should not be at the expense of fire performance. Managing fire safety and energy objectives together makes perfect sense. When a building is not designed or built to withstand potentially catastrophic risks such as fire, then it can nullify the benefits gained from sustainable construction.

“We will need to consider a building more as a system and an asset where the value is in its efficiency, flexibility, and re-usability. Protecting that reusability will therefore become an integral part of a building’s sustained value. Losing the materials and the building usability in a fire will see it taken out of the cycle – the result will be a valuable resource taken to rebuild them and increasing lifecycle costs as was noted by a study by FM Global. Therefore, a holistic approach that addresses sustainability and fire resilience will be needed to deliver these outcomes. This will mean a shift in regulatory thinking too.

“Green rating systems and regulations may well recognise a high-performance building, but you only have to look at the devastating consequences of a fire to realise that a building’s sustainability score does not mean immunity to fire. In some cases it means increased exposure to disproportionate damage when fire exposes part of the construction. Some have been completely destroyed by fire, meaning their potential saving and green credentials are gone. Valuable resources are needed to recreate them, and their function has been interrupted for several months, if not years. Some see this as a signal that fire safety regulations deliver the wrong outcome for sustainability and others that there is a blind spot in certification schemes.

“Active protection systems like sprinklers are part of the building system and add to their overall carbon emissions. However, before dismissing active fire protection because of these emissions their benefit needs to be weighed. Studies show their benefits in minimising the impact of fire and emissions.

“… active fire protection systems will need to continue to adapt to demonstrate their improving wholelife costs and sustainability credentials too. This will require adapting test regimes, increased recycling of water and perhaps new technology to improve their already high effectiveness.

“In a world where sustainability is key, a disposable building will no longer be the ‘right thinking’ I would contend that a sprinklered one will be.”