During the fire at Sainsbury’s in Chichester in 1993 the fire was able to spread above ceilings without the fire fighters being aware, and the building was a total loss. The store was unoccupied, the fire protection wasn’t as good as it should have been and it took a year or two before Sainsbury’s could re-open on that site. Thankfully, there was no-one in the store and no loss of life, but there was a significant loss of property and disruption to business continuity.
Another example of a major fire was that at Dusseldorf Airport in 1996. It wasn’t a big fire, but unfortunately the smoke was uncontrolled and a number of people were killed and injured owing to the fact that the smoke moved through the terminal to locations remote from the fire.
Statistics show that if there is a fire, it is smoke and not fire which is the largest contributor to deaths and injuries: over 60% of deaths are directly due to being overcome by gas or smoke. It is not necessary to be close to a fire to be affected. The statistics for injuries follow a similar trend: around 60% of injuries are due to the inhalation of smoke. This means that if smoke is controlled, this will play a large part in reducing deaths and injuries, as well as protect the building.
The two main reasons why people will specify and install smoke control systems are to protect escape routes and to assist fire fighters. Legislation such as BS 9999 and BS 9991 focuses on the protection of escape routes. In addition, if smoke can be kept above fire fighters’ heads, then they can do their job better: they can get in and see where the fire is and fight it more effectively. Some legislation relates to this secondary aspect, especially for buildings such as car parks.
Another advantage of smoke control systems is that stock and machinery can be protected and the risk of loss of the building (perhaps due to roof collapse) can be reduced. None of these aspects are legislated for, but many owners and occupiers of the buildings value the protection that such systems afford in protecting buildings and businesses, and will specify smoke control for these reasons.