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14 April 2021

Fire safety of buildings

Still a serious concern

By Hans van Brakel, senior TDD advisor

Grenfell Tower in London, Café het Hemeltje in Volendam. Just two examples of infernos with different causes, but the same fatal consequences. According to recent CBS figures, there were approximately 35 thousand fires in the Netherlands in 2013, resulting in a total of 92 deaths and 720 injuries. CBS figures show a decrease in the number of fires since 2001, unfortunately not in the number of victims. Every fire and every victim is one too many.

That is why we pay a lot of attention to the fire safety of a building during a Technical Due Diligence (TDD). In the following paragraphs, we present an indicative overview of the points of attention that we inspect.

The starting point of our investigation is the fire safety requirements in place at the time the building permit is granted. In the absence of the building permit -and underlying documents- we make an assessment based on our experience. During the visual inspection of a building and checking of the building file, we focus on four themes: fire resistance, signalling, control and evacuation.

In the case of fire resistance, we pay attention to, among other things:

  • Does the fire compartmentation comply with the current requirements?
  • Are the fire walls in good condition?
  • Are the fire resistant doors, shutters, etc. functioning properly? Are they (recently) approved?
  • Are penetrations through fire-resistant floors and walls correctly sealed? Are they labelled? Is a logbook available with an overview of all fire resistant penetrations? Have tenants made any subsequent adjustments that have affected the fire separation?
  • Have components with an increased risk of fire been installed, for example PV panels on roofs with flammable roof insulation?

For the fire signalling part, we pay attention to matters such as:

  • Is there a valid certificate available for any fire alarm system?
  • Are smoke detectors present in the places where they are required?

In case of fire fighting:

  • Are powder extinguishers and fire hose reels provided with a valid inspection label?
  • Is the sprinkler installation (if any) provided with a valid certificate? Is the operation of the sprinkler heads not obstructed by obstacles?

In case of evacuation:

  • Are current evacuation plans present in the building, indicating where the escape routes are located?
  • Are escape routes indicated according to the requirements?
  • Does the emergency lighting meet the requirements?
  • Does the evacuation system meet the requirements?
  • Do the emergency exit doors function properly?
  • Are the escape routes free of obstacles?
  • In case of the presence of (flammable) hazardous substances, we ask the building user whether he has the necessary permits.

Which building materials have actually been used cannot be determined without destructive and laboratory testing, leaving a residual risk of fire safety. However, if there is any doubt, we recommend calling in an independent fire safety expert for further investigation and advice.

The approach outlined above has proven its value – there is always something that needs improvement.

In this way, we indirectly contribute to a safe living and working environment. And hopefully to a reduction in the number of victims.