Losing any building to a fire is always a tragedy - but when there is a wealth of history or significance also at stake, the loss is irreplaceable. John Harrison, Sales and Marketing Director at Ramtech, discusses the fire protection challenges associated with heritage projects and how they can be safeguarded from the risk of fire thanks to innovative wireless fire safety technology.
The world watched in great sadness and shock as flames engulfed Paris’ Notre Dame - one of the most famous and culturally significant buildings of our time. The twelfth-century Catholic treasure had been undergoing renovations at the time, although after a lengthy investigation, the cause of the fire was still fairly inconclusive. The blaze was a stark reminder that hundreds of years' worth of legacy can be turned to ashes and destroyed in mere minutes.
World Heritage Sites
Historic England describes the fire as ‘probably the most devastating of disasters’ for protected buildings. While heat and smoke are obviously detrimental, the water used to fight the fire can cause problems too, along with the impact of having a building exposed to the elements.
Historic England’s research in 2019 indicates that there were over 1,000 incidents requiring Fire & Rescue attendance including:
- Listed buildings: Grade I listed buildings x 15, Grade II listed buildings x 47, Grade II listed buildings x 343.
- World Heritage Sites x 16.
- Conservation Areas and locally listed buildings x 554.
Fire safety professionals
If a fire did occur, being able to identify the source would limit devastating
The problem is, heritage often comes hand-in-hand with ongoing refurbishment to keep the often aged structures in good condition so they do not fall into disrepair, and those extensive projects will always be wrought with challenges, particularly protecting against fire. In fact, the latest figures from the Home Office show that between April 2018 and March 2019, fire and rescue services attended 365 fires on construction sites in England – increasing from 333 in 2014/15.
For site owners, their contractors, and fire safety professionals, preserving the safety of the site and those on it from fire risk during construction is extremely important. If a fire did occur, being able to identify the source would limit devastating, irreplaceable damage and ensure that those present on the site could be quickly located and evacuated.
Fire alarm systems
This is why fire alarm systems need to remain active day and night, so whether a site is occupied or not, there can be real-time insights given to enable sites to quickly react to potential disasters and mitigate risk by alerting the local fire brigade and other responsible building personnel immediately.
Heritage projects have the added concern of protecting the building fabric from any unnecessary alterations
On top of the practical fire safety concerns, heritage projects have the added concern of protecting the building fabric from any unnecessary alterations to maintain its historical value. So, choosing a fire protection system that does not rely on an external power source and will not impact the building fabric is another consideration.
Dust proof detectors
To monitor and locate fire risk during the construction phase, while the permanent solution is waiting to be installed, a temporary fire alarm system is essential. To support heritage buildings, Ramtech has wireless solutions that can be deployed no matter the size, location or timeframe that the temporary fire safety system is required for,
For instance, when Great Scotland Yard and London contractor Galliard Homes needed to protect a Grade II-listed former metropolitan police headquarters undergoing a transformation into a luxury five-star hotel, it was important to have a system that could span across the vast Edwardian building, which was being extended (boasting 92,000 sq. ft. over seven stories). To protect the iconic structure Ramtech deployed a system of over 30 WES alarm call points and dust proof detectors. A GSM base station with text message alerts was also used to monitor the building for fire out-of-hours.
Extensive internal alternations
More than 60 WES alarm units were deployed across the site, to move with the flow of the project
Similarly, the restoration of Bolton Albert Hall completed by contractor Willmott Dixon required extensive internal alternations while the building was still occupied by Bolton City Council, so a system of more than five WES alarm call points and heat detectors were deployed in the refurbishment areas.
For projects that span long periods of time, such as the £30m renovation at Nottingham Castle by G.F Tomlinson – which lasted three years – or the six-year conversion project at Donaldson’s – a Grade A listed former school in the center of Edinburgh – by City & Country, having a system that can be scaled up or down quickly without the need for time-consuming wired installation is a must.
Needing immediate notifications
In Edinburgh, more than 60 WES alarm units were deployed across the site, to move with the flow of the project. Over at Nottingham Castle, protecting close to 1,000 years of history from the risk of fire during a significant refurbishment was an incredible undertaking. The castle trusted Ramtech’s WES alarm system and solution in place was strengthened by combining with Ramtech’s REACT platform.
The fire protection industry can do its part to raise standards by promoting the innovations available to it
A cloud-based solution that can raise alerts in real time, sent straight to mobiles via a handy app, REACT ensures those that need immediate notifications and detailed insights can receive them in the most efficient way. Other heritage projects that have featured WES systems include St George’s Hall in Bradford, Norwich Castle and The Fry Building at the University of Bristol.
Wireless safety systems
The possibilities for wireless safety systems are endless and ensure no heritage site ever needs to go without adequate protection. Heritage buildings are irreplaceable, like the lives of those working on site. To safeguard the future of heritage sites, fire safety must remain a priority. The fire protection industry can do its part to raise standards by promoting the innovations available to it.
At Ramtech, we are dedicated and passionate about providing the best solution to protect them and our technology is designed to accomplish this. We believe that by harnessing wireless technology, the construction industry benefits - these systems can be completely tailored to meet the modern challenges of individual sites, while protecting their history for future generations to enjoy.