In early April 2021, when industrial fires broke out in two different locations, they both had the same devastating outcome. On April 10, a fire started in a furniture factory in County Antrim, in the United Kingdom, damaging the building.
Two days later, a fire swept through a bed-making factory in Dewsbury, UK. Neither building contained a sprinkler system, nor businesses that are now counting the cost of the damage and dealing with the disruption to their livelihoods. Once again, they must question the understanding of the vulnerability to such fires and the gap in regulations.
Absence of fire sprinklers
Local roads were closed and residents were asked to close their windows due to smoke
The fire at Abbey Upholsterers in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, started in the early hours of Saturday, April 10th and completely ravaged a major part of the 6,000 sq. m industrial building, despite the efforts of 70 firefighters from the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service.
Local roads were closed and residents were asked to close their windows due to smoke. The Deputy Mayor of the City Council expressed his shock at the event, as the business is an important local employer, supplying furnishing products to hotels across the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Fire engines and aerial appliances deployed
In Dewsbury, on Monday, April 12th, eight fire engines and two aerial appliances from West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service spent several hours, putting out a blaze at the 2,800 sq. m for Matza factory, with smoke plumes that could be seen, as far away as in Huddersfield. The local family-run, bed-making business employed 50 workers, who like the company, face an uncertain future.
In both cases, these are industrial buildings that have no guidance for compartment size limits or the need for sprinklers.
FSBR guidance on building fire safety
The Fire Safety Building Regulations (FSBR) guidance envisages unlimited-size industrial buildings. In the case of warehouses, they can be 14 - 20,000 sq. m in footprint and in many cases, up to 18 m tall, without incurring guidance for subdivision or sprinklers.
Such buildings are truly enormous roughly six times the size of the average out-of-town DIY store. But, the FSBR makes no consideration for the protection of property or the minimizing of the spread of fire within the building.
Industrial fires lead to major property damage
Industrial fires, such as these, once again highlight the rationale for greater consideration of property protection
The building will survive for the period it takes to get people out, after which there is a transition into a period, where the inherent resilience diminishes. They have physical limitations, when it comes to firefighting, due to their compartment size. There is a twisted logic that says the building is disposable in the event of a fire.
Industrial fires, such as these, once again highlight the rationale for greater consideration of property protection, alongside life safety as a reasonable requirement. Such an expectation would result in more buildings being designed to be resilient to disproportionate damage, using combinations of passive and active fire safety measures.
Importance of sprinkler systems
The Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA) believes that sprinkler systems would be a major part of this change and should be considered more readily, as a viable option right across the built environment, whether it is a care home, block of flats, hospital, school, retail or leisure facility, or a commercial and industrial building.
Everyone needs to be thankful when a fire is contained and extinguished with no loss of life, but it is not enough. Lives are still affected regardless, and efforts should be made to minimize the effect that fire has in all circumstances. By minimizing the fire spread, not only lives but also property, businesses and jobs are protected.
Efficient fire suppression
A properly controlled fire can be the difference between a building requiring renovation or demolition. Halting the spread of fire, when it is first detected, is the best way to limit damage and minimize the costs and impacts. Sprinklers have been shown to contain, control, or extinguish fires in 99% of cases. The impacted business can be operational within hours, avoiding the economic and social costs.
Given the availability of solutions, it begs the question as to why the same actions are repeated over and over again, with different results expected. There is a need to break the chain and have a discussion on minimizing fire damage and property protection, for the benefit of the wider communities, the environment, longer-term business security, and the mutual benefits that it will bring.