The legacy of large-scale fire testing

At the second annual BRE Fire Research Conference experts discussed newly published and current BRE research related to both passive and active fire protection, ranging from roof void compartmentation and fire safety in open plan flats, to sprinkler systems in housing and the problem of false fire alarms.

This year’s keynote lecture was given by Professor Colin Bailey, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester and an international authority in structural fire engineering. Professor Bailey discussed the legacy of large-scale fire testing at BRE Cardington which yielded critical data on structural fire behaviour that continues to inform safer, more robust and more cost effective design solutions.  Together with real fire data and the development of codified performance-based approaches, the work has delivered tools to better predict a building’s performance during a fire and more accurately assess risks.

Professor Bailey argued that performance-based design employing advanced models can better respond as we push the limits of structural engineering with the use of longer, thinner sections and new materials. A prescriptive approach dictated by building standards and system fire testing is less adaptable to the impacts of new technology and materials.

Referring to fire data on multi-storey structures, he explained that while any visible degree of vertical displacement in the beams will typically necessitate replacement, it does not lead to building collapse – a point that has been acknowledged by insurers. Hence, performance gains do not necessarily follow from an increase in beam fire protection, with evidence showing that between 40-55% of beams in multi-storey steel structures can be left unprotected. A performance-based approach therefore provides the confidence to target fire protection where it is required.

The remaining nine papers, presented by experts from across BRE’s certification, structural and fire safety teams, gave an insight into other landmark research and opinion-leading projects.

BRE Global managing director, Debbie Smith, who hosted proceedings, said: “We are delighted at the number of attendees and enthusiastic feedback. It reflects the diversity and influence of BRE’s fire research activities, working with government and major stakeholders on pressing areas for investigation and improvement in fire protection and fire risk management.”

Speaker presentations from the second annual BRE Fire Research Conference, held 9 June 2016, are here: