Building an Emergency Plan A Guide for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions

1The Getty Conservation Institute has published on its website the “Building an Emergency Plan”, which is the result of a GCI project that began in 1995 as a proposed series of training workshops to follow the 1992 workshop.

In the process of identifying written material to support these activities, the Authors recognized the lack of a clear, step-by-step guide to developing emergency plans tailored to meet the specific needs of museums and other cultural institutions. With that realization, the efforts have been focused on creating a publication that would fill this need.

Among the main topics of the Guide there are:

  • Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning
  • Role of the Director
  • Role of the Emergency Preparedness Manager and the Emergency Preparedness Committee
  • Role of the Emergency Preparedness Manager and the Emergency Preparedness Committee
  • Communications
  • Training
  • Buildings and Maintenance Team
  • Vulnerability and Asset Analysis

Scottish Castle Saved by “Quick Actions” of Staff

1A positive example of how useful is keeping a good level of training and safety management in historical buildings has been given on Wednesday, 26 August 2009  by the staff working in the 18th Century Scottish Floors Castle near Kelso. Four person of the staff have been praised for saving it from widespread damage in a fire. The alarm was raised at 07:30 after the ignition occurred near a freezer and spread behind lath and plaster walls.

The “quick actions” of the staff  made the castle – the family home of the Duke of Roxburghe –  able to open to the public as usual the same day (some 35.000 persons each year visit the building, which is the most visited Scottish inhabited castle).

In particular, four persons of the staff were sent to tackle the fire and their actions brought the fire  under control avoiding its spreading so much that the house could have been opened to the public as normal.

Floors Castle was designed in 1721 by William Adam and extensively remodelled in the 19th Century.

Malfunctioning Sprinkler in Archive

Fire SprinklerA malfunctioning sprinkler head reduced some historical documents kept in Columbia (USA)  by the Missouri State Historical Society to waterlogged paper and soggy cardboard on October 1st, 2009.

Columbia firefighters arrived after receiving a report of a fire alarm sounding in the library and they have found the source of the alarm to be an activated sprinkler head in a storage room. The room was used to hold documents, in the lower level of the library.

Probably, it was some sort of mechanical failure in the head of the sprinkler system, which did cause water discharge. Firefighters shut off the sprinkler head and began cleaning the storage room. “In some cases, they may not be salvageable,” Executive Director Gary Kremer said.

Three shelves of books and documents were soaked. No one was in the room when the sprinkler head was triggered. “If the same system of sprinklers is throughout the facility, there are rooms — for example our art gallery — has tens of millions of dollars of artwork in it,” Mr Kremer said. “If the sprinklers were to malfunction there, that would be a catastrophe.”

Are Wireless Sensors Suitable to Heritage Buildings?

1Wireless sensors can be used with fair advantages in historical buildings. They do not need the works that normally have to be carried out with traditional appliances.

In order to understand if this kind of sensor fits with the performances of reliability and effectiveness, Prof Mecocci (Siena University) and Mr Barneschi (Italian National Fire Corps) have studied the problem in order to gather data to develop specific guidelines and installation procedures capable of granting the proper performance and security level.

One of the sub-goals of the study was to gather real data from real operative condition to guide us toward the above main objective.


Fire Effects on Archaic Materials, Cultural Resources and Archeology

P1040996As specialists know, one of the main problems in applying fire safety engineering to cultural heritage is the lack of data about the behavior of artifacts and materials used in historic buildings to fire. Such problem concerns also the effect of extinguishing agents to the same materials.

U.S Department of the Interior – Bureau of Land Department, has published on its website ( a page dedicated to the behavior of historic materials to fire. The study (Bare Bones Guide to Fire Effects on Cultural Resources For Cultural Resource Specialists), by Ms Kate Winthrop, synthesizes some of the technical information available on the effects of fire on cultural resources. In particular, much of the data published  is from drafts of articles for a publication to be released under the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station “Rainbow” series.

The main issue of the page are:

  • Fire Effects on Lithics
  • Fire Effects on Ceramics
  • Fire Effects on Organic Materials
  • Fire Effects on Historic Materials
  • Fire Effects on Inorganic Architectural Materials
  • Fire Effects on Rock Art
  • Effects of Fire Suppression on Cultural Resources
  • Effects of Fire on Archaeological Sites
  • Protection Protocols

Damage Limitation Teams: How to Improve Safety Management

dltManagement is an important part of fire safety of the built heritage and of cultural resources.  To ensure permanent risk awareness it’s vital to keep documents of premises and collections, to assess artifacts at risk and structures to regularly update documents. Documentation on interventions (training, emergency rescue services‚ near misses, restoration and conservation) and documents of organisation (charts of hierarchy, Management Plans, regulations and controls) are important too.

Organizing Damage Limitation Teams it’s another part of the strategy. Every structure, in fact, should have the availability of a group of persons who can help rescuers in taking in safe places every object could be damaged by a fire.

Mr Wolfgang Kippes (Schönbrunn Company) explains how fire safety is managed in Wien’s Schönbrunn Castle. The slides that can be downloaded were presented during the 2008 International Conference  in Siena (Italy) Cultural Heritage and Fire Protection Issues:


Fire Risk and Restoration works: 6 years of Fire Data in Venice

1The problem of restoration-rehabilitation sites fires and their consequent severe damages to the historic-artistic heritage seems to not receive the due attention yet. There is probably a lack of adequate information, which would allow such heavy risk emerge and enable to establish the necessary landmark upon which the consequent initiatives could be organized.

The contribution of Mr Stefano Zanut (Italian Firefighters Corps), which is a part of a research carried out by Venice University Institute of Architecture (I.U.A.V. – Istituto Universitario di Arhitettura di Venezia), aims to begin filling up that gap through the data analysis provided by the Firefighters Corps operating in Venice, where, because of building fabric typology existing there, every of its building sites can be identified as “restoration site” of an heritage building.

The paper has been presented during the international meeting Cultural Heritage and Fire Protection Issue –  Siena, 23rd May, 2008: zanut_110_118

Did Rome’s Colosseum suffered a post earthquake fire in 271 A.D.?

ColosseumIn 217 A.D. Rome’s Colosseum was slightly damaged by a fire. Since Rome is built in a seismic area and there is an earthquake reported during September 217 A.D. ,Rome Univerity  La Sapienza’s Professor Enzo Cartapati has studied the possibility of a fire event due to the seismic event.

Together with Maurizio Cerone, Prof. Cartapati has conducted a structural analysis of Colosseum’s stone columns, in order to understand if actually the fire occurred after the seismic shock.

The presentation of such work, presented during the April 11th 2003 Conference “Integrating Historic Preservation with Security, Fire Protection, Life safety and Building Management Systems”,  is downloadble from this website:


Rome 2003 Conference “Integrating Historic Preservation with Security, Fire Protection, Life safety and Building Management Systems”

aquilaOn April 10-11th 2003 the Conference “Integrating Historic Preservation with Security, Fire Protection, Life safety and Building Management Systems” has been held in Italy, in Rome. The Conference has been hosted by the Italian Fire Corps (CNVVF) structure which studies for fire safety of the built heritage, together with the NFPA 909 and 914 Committees.

The main topics of the Conference have faced the problems which arise with the management of safety conditions in cultural and heritage buildings.

The Conference proceedings can be downloaded by this website:


Fire Ratings of Archaic Materials


The US Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Policy Development and research ( has issued in 2007 the second edition of the Guidelines on Fire Rating of Archaic Materials, produced by the National Institute of Building Sciences.

Older buildings often contain materials that are fire safe but not listed in current fire ratings sources. This lack of documentation hinders the modernization and reuse of our nation’s building stock. The Guideline on Fire Ratings of Archaic Materials and Assemblies is a compilation of fire ratings from earlier sources for a wide vari ety of materials and assemblies found in buildings from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. This guideline also provides methods for calculating the fire resistance of general classes of archaic materials and assemblies for which no documentation can be found.

First published in 1980, this guideline has found widespread use and acceptance among architects, engineers, preservationists, and code officials. It has been incorporated into numerous state and local building codes, three model code publications, and two NFPA standards.

Now, for the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) program, the Guideline on Fire Ratings of Archaic Materials and Assemblieshas been updated to reflect changes in assessment techniques and to provide additional information on doors. HUD is pleased to reissue this important and time-tested publication, knowing that it will remain a valuable resource for preserving and reusing our nation’s housing and building stock.

The publication is downloadble also from this website: fire_ratings

Car Museum Suspected Arson

WreckDenghbig’s (North Wales, UK) Cae Dai cars museum has suffered extensive damages after a fire broke out on December 1st, 2009, night in a suspected arson that has damaged a collection of tens of vehicles.
Fire engines attended the fire at the Cae Dai museum after receiving a call at 11.07 pm on Tuesday.
A man that was staying at a caravan on the museum site, was taken to hospital by ambulance as a precautionary measure to be treated for possible smoke inhalation.
Fire and Rescue Service said: “The building suffered extensive damage and it is believed that all the vehicles were destroyed in the fire.”
A caravan situated near the building was also completely destroyed.
Firefighters used two main jets and two sets of breathing apparatus to tackle the fire. An investigation is now being conducted by Police into the cause of the incident, but it is too early to confirm if it was arson.

Fire Destroys Historic Inn and Restaurant

1At approximately 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 29, 2005, The Reluctant Panther Inn & Restaurant, a landmark in Manchester, Vermont (USA) for decades, was devastated by a fire that destroyed the main inn building, the restaurant, and the tavern.
This building was a 3 story 1850’s vintage wood-framed, balloon construction building.
The staff was tending to their morning chores when they went to the basement to investigate an odor of smoke. Upon entering the basement laundry area, the owner witnessed a fire within the barrel of the commercial dryer.
He immediately activated the building fire alarm using a manual pull station and called 9-1-1. The building contained only 2 guests at the time of the incident and their evacuation was facilitated by the fire alarm and hotel staff.
Upon the arrival of the Manchester Fire Department, fire was found in the walls and floor/ceiling assemblies of all floors and there was fire showing in the attic space. Suppression efforts were hampered by balloon framed construction and the installation of false ceilings and floors during previous renovation projects. About 75 firefighters from Rutland and Bennington Counties fought courageously throughout the day, but the 150 year old structure was declared a total loss by Fire Chief Norman Bowen by the end of the day. Continue reading “Fire Destroys Historic Inn and Restaurant”

Scottish Historic Buildings national Fire database – Risk evaluation

Istantanea 2009-11-30 18-02-47

In an attempt to try to evaluate and reduce the different level of risk in heritage building, in Scotland, a unique approach under the project title of the Scottish Historic Buildings National Fire Database (SHBNFD) was developed. This provided a different kind of insight and approach to historic buildings at risk. The SHBNFD project is an ongoing partnership between Historic Scotland and the eight Scottish Fire and Rescue Services. Initially covering the 3,500 Category A Listed Buildings across the country, the project’s overall aims are: • to improve the effectiveness of fire-fighting operations in historic buildings by making available relevantinformation in a format suitable for use by fire crews attending an incident at these properties • to facilitate the improved reporting and gathering of statistics on fires in Scottish historic buildings • to inform Historic Scotland’s Technical Conservation, Research and Education Group’s future researchprogramme from the feedback material The database has been developed as a ‘living document’. It provides an exchange of information between Historic Scotland (who hold reference details on listed buildings), the National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS) –located with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (who hold a survey, drawing and photographic archive of sites and buildings) – and the eight Scottish Fire and Rescue Services (who hold fire inspection information on buildings). Combining all of this material for each of the listed sites provides a unique insight into the location, quality and relevance for fire fighting crews.

Istantanea 2009-11-30 18-03-20Istantanea 2009-11-30 18-03-44Istantanea 2009-11-30 18-04-21

The output from the database is an amalgam of historic information from the NMRS and other archives. This material is initially gathered by a historic buildings researcher, and then verified and expanded on by any material gathered on site by a seconded fire officer from each of the eight Scottish Fire and Rescue Services, following a related series of site visits. The initial phase of the project aims to incorporate each of the c3,500 Scottish Category A listed properties in the database. The type of collated information includes architectural descriptions, photographs, plans, access routes and details of water supplies. In addition, priority areas within a property that are of highest historic significance are identified, as are ways in which a building’s structure may adversely affect fire-fighting operations. The following illustrations are copy “screen shots” of the type of data resulting from the amalgamation of information:-

Istantanea 2009-11-30 18-05-28

Istantanea 2009-11-30 18-05-44Istantanea 2009-11-30 18-06-07Istantanea 2009-11-30 18-06-26Istantanea 2009-11-30 18-06-47Istantanea 2009-11-30 18-07-02Istantanea 2009-11-30 18-07-26

An immediate benefit of the database is the improved awareness of the location, significance and importance of historic buildings within the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service areas. The longer-term benefit of the project will be in helping to mitigate the devastating effects that fire can and does have on Scotland’s built heritage. Today, the majority of the country’s Category A listed buildings had been included across the eight Fire andRescue Service rural areas and in the smaller towns. Agreement was also reached on how to extend the exercise to include the high proportion of Category A listed buildings that exist within the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Scottish Historic Buildings National Fire Database has been well received as a valuable example of collaboration between cultural heritage professionals and the fire and rescue authorities. Used together with relevant statistics on actual fires, the database is considered to present a very effective means of increasing future fire safety in historic buildings. As a result, its recognised value, potential for a much wider application, and clear operational benefits for fire-fighters has been acknowledged. It was also considered that the project approach could be adopted by other countries where similar, or related, datasets of information exist and could have the potential to be integrated. From COST C17 final report – Author :  Mike Coull

Is cultural heritage compatible with coffee machines? The TU Delft faculty of Architecture fire case study

TU-Delft The combination of a coffee machine and a broken water pipe led to the destruction of the TU Delft faculty of Architecture, containing one of the world’s finest architectural libraries and a collection of furniture models by Rietveld, Le Corbusier, Adolf Loos, etc.

In particular the fire on May 13, 2008 began at approximately 9:00am when a water leak caused a coffee vending machine, located at the 6th floor of the  southwest wing, to spark, smoke, then finally flame. The building did not have fire sprinklers, but firewalls divided it  into three compartments. Such walls  revealed to be not effective in confining the fire to the compartment of origin.  All building occupants were evacuated safely, but  the fire spread has severely impacted firefighting  operations. As a consequence, the fire has burnt uncontrolled for hours, causing the structural collapse of an important section of the building. In fact, the northwest wing collapsed at 4:40 pm (some  7.5 hours after the first flames were observed) .The damages revealed to be so severe  the building had to be demolished.

West Elevation at 2:35 pm – From West Collapse investigation of the TU Delft faculty of architecture building : preliminary evaluation of member capacities – Elevation at 2:35 pm- Adam Jess Kirk 2010

Luckily firefighters were able to save historic models and books from the library but the building itself was lost with its content, a loss for culture and heritage anyway.

An interesting thesis by Dr Adam Jess Kirk concerning the analysis of the  the building and fire together with an overview of available methods for calculating the ultimate strength of reinforced concrete members at elevated temperatures has been published by the University of Texas at Austin.  In the document a preliminary models of the fire have been also developed and applied to selected structural elements.

Is restoration the biggest treat for the built heritage?


The fire of La Fenice theater in Venezia, the Guerini chapel in Torino as many other terrible damage to the World Heritage, are related to restoration works. There is the urgent need of going deeper in the study of fire safety during restoration of the built heritage as we cannot afford anymore the risk of destroying what we are going to restore.

The technical approach may not be sufficient as the problem is deeply related with irrational human behavior but the complexity of the problem is not a good reason for delaying a common effort in finding a solution. Any contribution of any kind on this sensitive topic is welcome.

Built Heritage: Fire Loss to Historic Buildings – Associated Publications

costCOST Action C17 “Built Heritage: Fire Loss to Historic Buildings” has contributed to gather a wide variety of publications about fire safety and fire risk assessment of historic buildings. In the downloadble document  Part4_Pages_267-280 (which is one of the parts of the final proceedings of the Action) it is possible to find some of the Cost C17 proceedings Associated Publications.

Decision making tools in fire safety of historic buildings

In analysing fire risks posed to historic buildings, the use of statistical data and lessons learned for managerial needs may be considered an important tool. Why do we need these tools and what is the knowledge provided and what is the problem with it?
In analysing the trends of fire risks we have to consider, that most of the listed objects are in use (housing, residential, etc.). Statistical comparison will be more likely related to existing statistics on residential buildings.
Every building management needs clear indication about the priorities of building upgrading. As the existing data bank systems are national reports from several European countries there is no possibility comparing the categories used.
Although empirical data are poor overall, conclusions can be drawn. The main risks appear to be (covering 75% of all cases) providing useful help for building managers when prioritising their investment:
– hot building and maintenance works (often in the attic area)
– old electric wiring
– open fire provided by neglect, inhabitants, staff members (candles,
smoking, etc.)
– arson
More information can be obtained from Cost C17 Action proceedings (WG4
Property Management Strategies).

Water mist for Protection of Heritage – Cost C17 Final report

Water mist for fire protection is a relatively new technology with specific advantages to the built heritage. Many fixed installations have been commissioned throughout Europe and many research activities are on-going or beingconsidered.

The standard design and manufacturing processes do not currently address heritage applications, but performance-based codes are favourable for introducing new water mist systems. This report establishes the current level of experience, and presents basic information about water mist for the heritage community. The challenges, implications and perspectives of the technology are outlined in order to ensure the best protection of European heritage. A guide on how to accept or approve mist systems in heritage properties is given.

Water mist application is the most subtle method of water extinguishing of fires. It provides a safe and practical environment for rescue work, it protects visitors and staff, and it incurs minimal secondary damage in valid or unintentional activations and substantially removes harmful particles from smoke.

Istantanea 2009-11-06 19-35-05

Continue reading “Water mist for Protection of Heritage – Cost C17 Final report”

Fire of historical building in Naples (Italy)

fire residential naples

On November 5th, 2009, a building in the historical center in Naples (Italy) has been damaged by a fire occurred in a flat in the early afternoon hours (around 2.00 p.m.).

The building has a residential use and the fire seems to have been ignited by a faulty electrical appliance in the bedroom of an apartment at the third floor. The occupants of the apartments escaped, as the fire grew very fastly and made it impossible to extinguish it.

Also other residents could escape immediately, while a woman and her five children who lived in the building have been saved by firefighters.

Continue reading “Fire of historical building in Naples (Italy)”

Impacts of Fire on Stone-Built Heritage

Spalling Fire is one of the major threat to stone-built cultural heritage and this    paper is a review of the existing research into fire damage on building  stone. From early research based on anecdotal evidence of macroscopic  observations, scientists have moved on to develop various techniques  for approaching the investigation of fire damage to stone (high-    temperature heating in ovens, lasers, real flame tests), different aspects    of the damage that fire does have been learned from each, developing    understanding of how microscopic changes affect the whole.

This paper, published on the Journal of Architectural Conservation seeks to highlight the need for a greater awareness of the threat that fire poses (and the need to take precautionary measures in the form of fire-suppression systems), of the immediate effects, and of the long-term management issues of natural stone structures which have experienced fire.


Castello di Moncalieri (Italy) fire

moncalieriOn April 5th, 2008, Italy’s Castello di Moncalieri (near Turin), a royal residence on World Heritage List, has been seriously damaged by a fire occurred under the wooden roof. The fire has been seen around 5 a.m. by a bypasser, on saturday morning. Firefighters have been working with 30 teams and needed several hours to extinguish the fire.

It is possible that the fire has been caused by  renovation works which interested also the wooden structures of the roof.

Three important rooms of the historical castle (built in 1100) located in the tower where fire probably started have been completely destroyed. The massive bed of the King of Piemonte has been severely damaged by the fall of the stories of the tower.

Damages sum up to 10.000.000 euros.

Royal Palaces of Abomey (Benin) fire

On 21 January 2009 the Royal Palaces of Abomey (Benin) have damaged by a fire  which destroyed some buildings. In particular, the fire seems to have been caused by a brushfire. The flames have consumed the straw roof and the framework of six buildings (which enclosed two temples to Agasu, the tombs of King Agonglo, King Ghezo, and each king’s 41 wives). The fire run fastly due to the strong winds.

Even if the alarm has been raised and the arrival of help has been immediate, when the rescuers arrived the buildings were engulfed in flames.

The restoration will include drying the water damage and the installation of fire hydrants.