Fire Safety vs. Sustainability
How does sustainability hinder fire safety?
Being a business owner shouldn’t mean having to choosing between fire safety and sustainability. Unfortunately, many businesses feel pressured into making the choice between going green and protecting their business from a blaze.
Many products used to prevent and tackle a fire are harmful to the environment and damage the ozone layer. For instance cement, which is recommended as a fire resistant material, is responsible for 5% of C02 emissions. On the other end of the scale, sustainable solutions increase a building’s risk of fire. For example, some materials used to insulate a building can melt when a fire occurs.
The matter is further complicated by the great incentives offered to businesses that go green. Saving energy helps to save money by reducing waste and business expenses. Fire safety, on the other hand, is often treated as a necessary evil.
Social impact of a fire
Business owners are praised when for being socially responsible when meeting green target but not for taking fire safety precautions.
A fire has a devastating effect on society. The public, workers and firefighters’ lives are put at risk through exposure to smoke, fire and fumes. Neighbouring businesses and buildings can be harmed. Traffic and normal activities can also be interrupted. Then there’s the temporary, if not permanent, loss of jobs.
Yet still, fire safety lacks the recognition it deserves.
Protect the environment by preventing a fire
The fact that fire safety and sustainability are in such opposition is ironic, given that there are few things as damaging to the environment as a bunt down building.
- To begin with there’s the loss of materials. At the end of a building’s life, its materials can often be recycled and reused. If a fire occurs, these materials cannot be reused. In fact, you will need to replace them.
- There are harmful fumes released into the atmosphere. Toxic gases can come from burnt or melted synthetic products. They are harmful to both the environment and people.
- Then there are carbon emissions to consider. All smoke contains carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, which is one reason why forest fires are so harmful to green incentives.
- Water is wasted when used to extinguish a fire. On average, the fire service will use around 1,000 – 2,000 litres per minute of water fighting and controlling a fire. The wasted water used to extinguish a fire will pick up toxic matter as it runs over burnt material. This contaminated water can also damage the environment.
To use a recent example, Smurfit Kappa, a paper mill in Birmingham recently burnt down. The business fire saw tens of thousands of tons of cardboard go up in smoke. At one point, 100 firefighters were on site, tackling the blaze that went on for days. Just imagine all of the wasted materials, wasted water and carbon emissions.
Find a balance in your business
Finding a balance between fire safety and sustainability isn’t easy. Often it involves weighing up pros and cons and using your own personal judgement. Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Install a sprinkler system
Sprinkler systems are often recommended as a sustainable fire fighting tool because they reduce the amount of water used by the fire service.
Sprinklers tend to use just 50 – 100 litres of water per minute to control a fire. This is partly because action is taken in the early stages of the fire, making it easier to control and extinguish. In fact, sprinklers begin discharging water 10 – 30 seconds after a fire is hot enough to activate them.
This happens automatically so that you don’t have to wait for the fire service to arrive and find the source of the fire.
If you use reclaimed water as your sprinkler supply, you truly are reducing your carbon footprint while helping make your building fire safe.
2. Choose environmentally friendly devices where possible
Some tools used for fighting a fire have environmentally friendly alternatives. For instance, if your risk assessment identifies the need for a foam fire extinguishe
r, check to see if the EnviroFoam agent is suitable.
3. Take long-term effects into account
A sophisticated fire alarms system, for instance, may be more harmful to the environment. However, if it offers other benefits, such as early fire detection, this may be beneficial to the environment overall.
4. Consider both fire safety and sustainability when a building is being designed
According to the FIA, 62% of the UK fire protection market is passive. Passive fire protection comes from a building’s design. So the way a building is constructed can help prevent the spread of fire.
For instance, compartmentalisation is effectively where every room, area or section of a building is set up as a sealed unit. This will help keep a fire contained in one unit while the blaze burns itself out.
Similarly, a building’s design is crucial to sustainability. For instance, solar panels can help generate energy from sunlight.
It’s crucial that you consider both fire safety and sustainability in the design stage, considering how one affects the other.
5. Change a building’s geometry
Altering a building’s geometry can slow the spread of a fire. If this is done without using additional materials, it potentially won’t affect sustainability at all.
Is there a way of ensuring maximum fire safety and sustainability?
Realistically, many fire safety measures will (even if only slightly) alter the sustainability of a building.
However, by reducing the risk of a fire, you are, in essence, improving the sustainability of your building.
The best building designs find a medium ground, giving great consideration to both fire safety and sustainability.
Photo Credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc