A small example of fire risk assessment in a heritage building

historic_windowDeveloping a fire risk assessment about a cultural heritage building it is not a common task even if, in many cases, the problems aren’t so different from ordinary buildings.

One of the most frequent issue to be considered during the assessment concerns the problem of matching fire safety rules with the special limits which the fabric of the building and its architectural features pose. For example, steep stairs or narrow doors cannot be modified in an historic building.

Sometimes, also windows cannot be involved in a upgrading project, so also ventilation issues have to be solved with special solutions, since creating holes in historical walls cannot always be considered as a possible solution. An example of fire risk assessment can consider the case of an archive room (for example, in a library) which cannot be provided with ventilation openings asked by many fire standards in normal libraries in order to let fire smokes flow outside the archives. Using fire safety engineering tools, the analysis should take into account at least the following issues:

– Why current regulations ask for openings?

– Which other systems can replace ventilation openings?

– How identify the correct performance of alternative systems?

– How alternative systems affect safety management?

A simplified solution to such questions can be summarized as follows: openings requested by fire protection rules generally take into account the need of limiting temperatures through smoke venting; openings can be replaced by smoke extracting systems. Alternatively, fire extinguishing systems can lower the probability of a fire, limiting intrinsically the possibility of smoke production inside the room. In  case, simple considerations lead to consider necessary provideing direct ventilation, even if with a smaller opening surface.

In both cases, the adoption of a system aimed to provide an alternative solution to the problem connected to the impossibility of using historical windows as vents, brings the need of improving safety management.

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