Fire Test On A Standing Georgian Dwelling Bath (UK) 1967

1Report on a Fire Test of a Ceiling in a Georgian Dwelling House on 2 March 1967, published in the Cost C17 Final Report vol 2  (pages 73-80)

RF Little, Chief Building Inspector, Bath City Council

Note that many of the technical testing methods described in this report will now have been superceded.

The test was carried out by Bath City Council under the supervision of the Chief Building Inspector of the City Engineers Department and the Senior Fire Prevention Officer of the Bath Fire Brigade. Observers form other authorities included

• Mr WH Cutmore, Ministry of Housing and Local Government

• Mr PMT Smart, Ministry of Technology & Joint Fire Research Organisation

• Mr Gibbs, Home Office, Fire Prevention Department

• Senior Building Inspectors from neighbouring authorities

• Senior Fire Prevention Officers from neighbouring authorities

At the time of the test (1967), no amendments to the English Building Regulations Part E had been made. The Regulations referred to are those current at that time.

Reason For Test

With the need to provide more units of accommodation, many large multi-storey houses previously occupied by one family were being converted into separate dwellings. In most cases, it was impossible to comply with the degree of fire resistance required by the Building Regulations, or the provision of non-combustible elements of structure. It therefore follows that applications for relaxation or dispensation of the Building Regulations were sought in the majority of cases.2

In a building of three or four storeys which was to be converted into flats or maisonettes, if alternative means of escape could be achieved at parapet or roof level, and the main means of escape was protected by walls and doors having half hour fire resistance, it was considered that the provisions of Building Reulgations E5, E9 (7), E10 and E12 were unreasonable for the following reasons

• A ceiling consisting of at least 1 inch thick plaster on laths, with square-edged flooring over joists 2 inches thick, will provide half hour fire resistance, which is a reasonable time for vacating the rooms of a building in case of fire

• The British Standard 476 Fire tests on building materials sets out conditions which are far more severe than those actually experienced in a room of a dwelling when a fire occurs

• Compliance with the Regulations would not be possible, economically or structurally, in this type of building

In order to test this theory, it was necessary to simulate the behaviour of a typical domestic fire, from the time of ignition, through the build-up period, for at least 30 minutes and then having extinguished the fire, to examine the condition of the ceiling and the floor above, and having established that the theory is correct, to use such information to support future applications for relaxation of the Building Regulations where similar conditions occur.

The house chosen was No.12 Chatham Row and was an end-of-terrace house, built about 1760 and comprising a basement, with an open area at the front, to one side and to the rear, and three additional storeys. The external walls were of 5 inch thick Bath ashlar stone. The interiors of the rooms were lined with timber panelling to a height of 3 feet above floor level and plastered above.

The wall separating the ground floor room (the one under test) and the entrance passage was constructed of lath and plaster on a timber studding.

• The floors were seven inch by one inch square edged flooring on eight inch by two inch joists

• The ceilings were constructed of one inch plaster on laths with ornate cornices

• The roof of timber trusses and rafters with slate covering

• The house on plan measured twenty seven feet by eighteen feet, while the room (the ceiling of which was under test) measured twelve feet, five inches by thirteen feet and was nine feet high

Measures Taken Prior To The Test

A visit was made to the Fire Research Station at Boreham Wood to ensure that the test would be similar to tests carried out by the Joint Fire Research Organisation (JFRO), and the preparations were made strictly in accordance with the advice given at that visit.

Firstly, the room was brought up to the standard one would expect to achieve after conversion, except for decoration, and this entailed the following work

• Reglazing the windows and replacement of sash cords to enable the windows to operate normally

• Testing the key between the ceiling plaster and the laths, and infilling cracks in the plaster

• Replacing floorboards in the room over the test room

• Re-floating a concrete hearth in the room over the test room

• Covering the partition wall between the test room and ground floor passage with quarter inch insulation board and plasterboard to ensure half hour fire resistance

• Infilling the door panels and covering the whole internal surface of the door with quarter inch insulation board to give half hour fire resistance and increasing the door stops to a thickness of one inch

In addition, it was necessary to provide a suitable fire load, and the JFRO indicated that it was desirable to have a fire load of five to six pounds per square foot of floor area. Better results would be obtained if this was provided by cribs of rough cut timber rather than by articles of furniture.

Four cribs were prepared. Each crib weighed 216.67lbs. which gave a fire load of 5.67 lbs. per sq. ft. of floor area. In addition to this imposed fire load, each wall had the original panelling to a height of 3 inches above the floor level.

The floor covering was removed from the floor of the room over the test room with the exception of a narrow strip of standard hard board covering a crack between two floor boards. It was essential that the temperatures during the test were accurately recorded and accordingly five thermocouples were installed in the ceiling of the test room to record the temperatures at a position 3 inches below the ceiling at intervals over the area of the ceiling.

Arrangements on the Day of the Test

Recording instruments, to which the thermocouples were connected, were installed in the first floor rear room. The floor of the test room was covered all over with 1” of damp sand and at the points where the cribs were to stand, sheets of insulation board were placed on the sand. These measures were to ensure that the fire would not burn downwards and affect the floor structure. Four cribs were set up in the test room in the positions shown on the plan.

The ignition pyre was built at a central point between the four cribs and trails led away to the cribs. The pyre and trails were of wood shavings, wood chips and sawdust and was 1’ 6” high and the trails 6” high. Immediately prior

to the ignition of the pyre three pints of paraffin were poured on the pyre to simulate similar conditions to that of an overturned oil heater. The Fire Brigade Officer assumed responsibility for fire control during the test and also provided observers to record conditions during the test.

Recording Equipment

The test required that the temperature at five points, 3 inches below the ceiling, of the test room, should be measured at short intervals from the time of ignition of the fuel, affording the fire load, in that room. Thermocouples were used and the wire selected was nickel-chromium/nickel aluminium T1/T2.

Duration Of Test

In order to simulate as near as possible the conditions and development of a normal fire in a dwelling, it was decided to allow the fire to burn 45 minutes from the time of ignition. The reasons for this period being chosen are as follows

• In a normal domestic fire with oxygen supply limited to that found in a room with doors and windows closed, severe smoke logging occurs at an early stage and the fire could be self-extinguished through lack of oxygen. Under these conditions the ceiling of the test room would not be given a satisfactory test as maximum temperatures would not be reached. Therefore, a flow of air to the fire had to be guaranteed in order to ensure it would continue to burn. Accordingly, a 2 ½” gap was left above the top sash window from the beginning of the experiment and at zero + 3 minutes a gap of 3” was opened at the bottom of the lower sash window. This was at zero + 9 minutes, increased to 6”. During the whole of the experiment the normal flue from the grate of the room was providing a cross draught.

• As the structure of the ceiling was to be tested for a period of at least 30 minutes under normal conditions appertaining at a domestic fire, and at the end of the first 15 minutes approximately, of such a fire, it is usual for a ‘fall off ’ of temperature to occur until the fire is ventilated in some way, e.g. breaking of glass in a window, it was decided that the 30 minute period of test for the ceiling should take place after that initial 15 minutes period has passed. This meant that from the time of ignition of the pyre, to the time of completion of the experiment, a 45 minute period was indicated.

• Although, in some circumstances it would have been desirable to allow the fire to burn until the ceiling under test had collapsed, in this instance it was necessary to submit the ceiling to the heat from a normal domestic fire for a period of at least 30 minutes and then, if the ceiling still remained intact, to extinguish the fire and carry out a close examination of the fire damage done to the materials forming the construction of the ceiling and the floor above.

• The door and the partition wall, between the Test Room and the passageway from the staircase to open air, had been modified to conform with normal half hour fire resisting standards. A 30 minute fire test was, therefore, demanded and again the extra 15 minutes initial burning period, appeared to be indicated in order that the performance of the door and partition could be measured against that of the ceiling.

Weather Conditions

The day was dry with cloudy and bright periods. There was a slightly westerly wind. The front window of the room under test, faced west.

Summary Of Test

Zero: At 1205 hours the incendiary materials forming the ignition pyre and comprising wood chips, wood shavings and sawdust over which 3 pints of paraffin had been poured were ignited. When reference is made to this time in the following report it will be as ‘zero’.

Zero + 2½: Within the first 2½ minutes the pyres and trails were burning well, with some build up of heat and then smoke became quite dense as oxygen in the air within the room was rapidly reduced.

Zero + 5: At zero plus 5 minutes some temperature reduction showed on the thermocouple readings and a very slight percolation of smoke occurred at the top of the half hour fire resisting door, into the passage. The window at this point of the room was opened 3” at the bottom in addition to the 2½” at the top, in order to encourage air circulation. The cribs were now alight at the bottom. Quite heavy smoke logging of the room was apparent but the cribs were still visible.

Zero + 7½: In the next 1/2 minutes (zero 5 – 7½) the top pane of the front window cracked in two places and all cribs were alight at the inner corners with smoke issuing from the tops. Temperatures started to take an upward curve.

Zero + 10: Temperatures continued to rise and a slight increase of smoke penetration was noticed around the top of the half hour fire-resisting door. The front window was opened another 3” at the bottom ( 6” in all) and flames were noted coming from the tops of the cribs at all inner corners. Vision across the room improved.

Zero +12½: Continued rise in temperature. First signs of smoke on first floor – very slight percolation between the fireplace and the door, at base of wall. Cribs now burning well on inner surfaces. Side window glazing very hot.

Zero + 15: Temperatures still rising. Highest recorded at No. 3 thermocouple 3270 C. Smoke percolation at 1/2 hour fire resisting door very slight. Small increase in temperature of door panels. Lower pane of front window cracked. Cribs burning well with flames 2’ 6” high from inner surfaces. Good vision most of room but ceiling obscured by smoke.

Zero + 17½: One thermocouple showed slight decrease in temperature recorded (No. 5) others a slight increase.The Yale lock on the half hour fire resisting door, hot but bearable to touch. Slight percolation of smoke around the door jamb. Molten paint dripping from framework of front window and top pane cracked in the side window.

Zero + 20: Slight decrease in temperature readings of thermocouples 1 and 3. Increases on all others.Yale lock too hot to touch. Smoke becoming dense inside room and flames less visible, but cribs showing increased burning.

Zero + 22½: Increase all round in temperature recordings of thermocouples. Increase in smoke percolation around door stops and door jambs. Cribs well alight nearest door. Increased number of cracks in front top window. Severe discolouration of side window by smoke.

Zero + 25: Temperature reading of centre thermocouple (No. 3) same as zero + 22½ . Slight decrease in reading from

No. 5. All others slightly up. First signs of smoke through cracks between floorboards at a point immediately above the partition wall between the test room and the passage. Slight smoke also showing in corner of room at side of the door. Again over the passageway. No apparent increase in temperature of the half hour fire-resisting door frame but slight increase evident on panels. Fire in cribs sluggish. Sash cords to lower half of front window burnt through and window dropped. Glass only slightly broken away and a reduction of visible flame with a corresponding increase of smoke evident.

Zero + 27½: Considerable drop in temperature readings of thermocouples 1, 2, 3, & 4. Slight drop in case of No. 5. Smoke now coming through crack at end of another floorboard over the ground floor passage and some percolation of smoke into the Recording Room, first floor, rear. No smoke coming from around the door stops and jambs. Pegs removed from below top section of front window to simulate sash cords burning through. Window dropped and glass dislodged where cracks had already been apparent. Smoke seen to be issuing from cracks in walls and lintel over the side window.

Zero + 30: Sudden rise in temperature recording of all thermocouples other than No. 5. Smoke now increased from the base of both door jambs near landing at first floor level and also issuing in centre of room near the thermocouple (No. 3). Very slight smoke percolation around the half hour fire-resisting door. Flames in the room high and licking the ceiling. Slight flaking from ceiling, possibly distemper or similar decorative material. Bottom pane of glass in side window cracked.

Zero + 32½: Steady increase in temperature recordings of No. 1-4 thermocouples. Slight decrease in temperature recorded at No. 5. Smoke convected from window of room on fire below, through the unglazed first floor window. Signs of smoke from the top of the wooden wainscoting near front window. Paint softening on the top rail of the half hour fire-resisting door and smoke issuing under pressure from the Yale lock. Smoke also apparent from between the top of the door and the door stops. Cribs well alight and tops of window frames and frame around window opening burning.

Zero + 35: General rise in temperature recordings. In the case of No. 2, 3, 4, 5 from 800 C – 1050 C, and No. 1 a very slight increase of 60 C. At first floor front room level considerable smoke percolation was apparent from around the sill of the front window. Smoke also percolating between the skirtings and the floorboards all along the wall between the front room and the centre of the room. The paint on the panels of the half hour fire-resisting door started to blister. The top pane of glass in the side window blown outwards by excessive pressures in the test room.

Zero + 37½: Rapid rise in temperature recorded. In the case of thermocouple No. 5 – 2260. Following a crash of glass breaking (side window – see Zero + 35) the smoke and heat entering by the first floor front window became less. Some smoke started to come up the staircase. A greater quantity of smoke apparent through the Yale lock on the half hour fire-resisting door and smoke around the door increased.

Zero + 40: Continued rapid rise in temperature recordings. 3200C in the case of thermocouple No. 1. Smoke percolation continued at first floor front room level and fire observed for the first time at the side of the front window. Heat through the unglazed windows, rising from the room below became intense. A slight increase of smoke noticeable from the upper area of the door around the stops. Fire in ground floor room at peak with plenty of ventilation by way of the two windows which were now without glazing. Slight flaking of ceiling is still all that is apparent. No breaking down of separation.

Zero + 42½ : Highest temperature reached No. 3 thermocouple, 10000 C. All others, 8950 C. or above. Fire still at its peak. Half hour fire door shows slight burning at the top. Upper panels still comparatively cool. The ceiling of the room was intensely white and appeared to be glowing. No signs of failure.

Zero + 45: Temperature still between 8430 C and 9870 C. The latter being the measurement at No. 3, thermocouple. Most smoke percolation at the first floor front room was between the chimney breast and the door. Smoke percolation also quite heavy around the base of the wainscoting panelling on the wall between No. 12 and No. 11 Chatham Row. Inspection afterwards showed that this smoke had entered the hollow partition wall around the door at ground floor level and had then risen into the void between the ceiling and floor above which was situated over the passage. The room was now becoming smoke logged. The half hour fire-resisting door was starting to warp at the top allowing smoke to pass more freely. The whole of the ceiling still apparently sound. None of the stopped in cracks had broken down. Cornices still in position. Fire still extremely hot but showing signs of being past its peak.

Zero + 45½: Temperature reading No. 1 thermocouple -7650 C, a fall of 1750 C. Ceiling still apparently sound.


Zero + 46: Extinguishing of the fire commenced using 1” hose reel jet. This was augmented by 1/2 “ jet. Steam produced, caused rapid cooling of the surface of the ceiling, and the first cracks appeared. These seemed to be in positions where original cracks had been repaired. Approximately 8 sq. ft. of ceiling then fell away and access of air to the ceiling void and exposed laths resulted in some of the laths, already conditioned by conducted heat, catching on fire. Extinguishment was carried out without undue disturbance of tested material, but water hitting the door surface caused the asbestos fibre board surface to split and curl. This same effect was produced where water hit panels of asbestos fibreboard which had been fitted over recesses which were suspected of not being up to half hour fire-resisting standards. The plasterboard covering the partition wall was damaged considerably during extinguishing because fire had entered the hollow partition and water had to be directed through into the hollows at various points causing spalling of the plasterboard and plaster of the partition itself.

Observations during the test.

The ceiling under test registered the passage of flame for the whole of the test period of 45 minutes. There was no sign of cracking, distortion or material breakdown during the whole of the test other than a brief period, in the early stages, when some initial flaking occurred on some parts of the surface of the ceiling eg distemper. The fire had reached its peak at zero + 42½ and then the temperature curve had started to descend. At the peak period it was noted that the fuel cribs in the test room were almost exhausted having burned down to within 6” of the floor. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that a continual drop in recorded temperature could have been expected had the fire been allowed to burn after zero + 46. The treatment of the inner surface of the door and partition, between the ground floor passage and the Test room, to afford half hour fire-resistance was completely successful in spite of the fact that the plasterboard additional covering had not been skimmed with plaster to seal the joints. The penetration of the fire which did occur into the hollows of the laths and plaster partition over the door, was not through the protected surface but by way of the architrave over and to the side of the door opening. The fire thus by-passed the protection. Even so this must have occurred at the very late stages of the test as no flame was noticed on the floor above until extinguishing the fire in the test room well under way. It was then necessary to remove some of the lath and plaster surface of the partition in order to extinguish the hot spot.

At no time during the whole of the test was the escape route from upper floors so affected by smoke or heat that it could not be used. The separation afforded by the half hour fire-resisting partition wall and door was adequate for the whole 45 minute period of the test. Although some smoke percolation occurred past the ends of floorboards in the front room at first floor level, no flame penetrated at any time through that area of the floor over the test room. Considerable pressures were applied by hot gases both to the ceiling and the walls. This was most evident at zero + 32½ when smoke issued in the form of a horizontal jet from the Yale lock on the door, and at zero + 40 when the glass of the upper sash window at the side of the test room blew out with considerable force. The fire followed the usual pattern which can be expected when a fire occurs in a room in domestic property in which there is a normal fire load, the fire has some ventilation and is not disturbed for some period by opening doors or breaking windows. In the case of this test there was an early rise in temperature, brought about by the paraffin soaked pyre burning fiercely and then as the cribs became involved and oxygen in the atmosphere of the room became rare, a sluggish period followed. This occurred during the first ten minutes after which, by increasing the flow of air over the window sill of the front window, more rapid combustion took place. A gradual rise in temperature for a further 15 minutes when again some smoke logging developed and temperatures dropped. This was at the time that sash cords burnt through, which were holding up the bottom section of the front window. When the top window section was dropped the new supply of air stimulated the fire and a general very rapid rise in temperature resulted culminating in the peak of 10000C. being reached at zero + 41½. Fuel was at this time becoming exhausted and in the next 2 minutes a decline in temperature commenced. The heat of the test fire was sufficient to cause almost all of the 11/4” plaster skimming on the inside of the front wall of the room to leave the stonework.

Observations after the Test

The ceiling under test withstood the application of heat from a normal fire load underneath for the whole of the 45 minute test period without any visible signs of deterioration. No cracks were apparent, and after the initial flaking of surface decorative materials no further spalling or flaking was noted. The plaster cornice around the room also remained intact, other than in one short section immediately above the front window where it cracked and dropped slightly.

When water was applied to the fire in the remains of the cribs, the steam created caused, after approximately halfminute, sudden contraction of the ceiling and cracks opened up at points where previously cracks had been undercut and sealed with plaster during the preparation period. A few moments later approximately 8 sq. ft. of ceiling plaster fell to the floor. It was noticed that although some of the laths had carbonised due to heat conducted through the plaster they were not on fire, but as soon as they were exposed small flames appeared on the carbonised surfaces. These had to be extinguished to prevent further damage and during the extinguishing, further collapses of ceiling plaster took place.

With greater exposure of the underside of the floor and the joists it was most apparent that the floorboards were undamaged and the lower edge of only some of the joists, although charred in places, the charring was not of sufficient depth to measure with any accuracy. A considerable portion of the laths still remained undamaged.

A composition gas pipe passing through the void between the floor and the ceiling was undamaged. In addition, an accumulation of small twigs and fibrous material, possibly collected by mice and in itself readily combustible, found in a void between floor joists, resting immediately on top of the laths supporting the plaster ceiling, was not damaged in any way by fire or heat. The plaster decorative cornice around the room was intact after the fire on three sides of the room. In the case of the fourth side, it was only the section immediately above the front window that some signs of damage occurred. At this point the cornice cracked vertically and a section approximately 18” long dropped slightly but did not become dislodged.

Although during the whole of the 45 minutes covered by the test, some smoke did percolate into the passage and also into the first floor room above the test room, at no time was the movement of people prevented along the passage, up the staircase or around the rooms.

The fire, during the period of the test, did not penetrate the ceiling and floor structure to the room above. At zero + 58, after extinguishing had commenced, a small flame was noticed at a crack between floorboards which had been covered with a strip of standard hardboard. The hardboard was burning and flame started to travel rapidly over its surface. When the source of the flame was investigated it was found that the fire from the test room had penetrated the architrave of the door at a point over the top of the half hour fire-resisting door, and had then by-passed the ceiling of the test room by travelling up the hollow of the partition wall. This was also the route by which most smoke percolation occurred into the first floor room.

The partition and door which were converted to half hour fire-resisting standards stood up to the test remarkably well. Some percolation of smoke and heat by-passed the test ceiling by way of the hollow partition. This, however, would possibly not have occurred, had the partition been skimmed with plaster and cracks filled in accordance with normal procedure.

The door reacted extremely well. It was only at zero + 45 that the door began to warp and allow smoke to escape in increasing volume. When the remains of the asbestos fibreboard cladding was removed from the inner face of the door including the panel infills, some of the original green paint was still intact under the infills.


The fire resistance of a normal ceiling in a middle class Georgian house is such that it is capable of preventing fire from spreading to the floor above for at least a 30 minute period. It is normal for vertical separation between rooms and exit routes to afford half hour fire-resistance. To be consistent, therefore, a ceiling between such rooms and rooms above should also be half hour fire-resisting and a fire resistance of one hour plus, as required in some circumstances by the building Regulations 1965, between floors, would appear to be excessive. It would appear that the tests applied under furnace conditions to ceiling and partitions, to assess fire resistance, is too stringent and does not simulate conditions as they really occur in a fire in a building. Under the circumstances it would appear that the fire resistance of a sound Georgian ceiling does not require to be upgraded to one hour. Such an upgrading could result in the fire below the ceiling breaking out horizontally into the exit route and preventing escape by that route, before any warning of a fire is transmitted to persons living above.


Mr. A. E. Loveridge (then Chief Building Inspector, City of Bath)

The Chief Fire Officer, Bath Fire Brigade.

The Principal, Bath Technical College.

NFPA 909 (2010 edition) – Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties – Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worshi


The need for fire standards in cultural resources buildings has been addressed by NFPA 909: Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties – Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship. This Code describes principles and practices of fire safety for cultural resource properties (museums, libraries, and places of worship); their contents; and those who operate, use, or visit them, through a comprehensive fire protection program.

The 2010 Edition adds important addition about security. The main technical changes are:

  • Expansion of the code’s goals and objectives to include ‘hazards other than fire
  • New requirement for a vulnerability assessment
  • New chapters on planning for protection, emergency operations, and security
  • A new annex describing commonly used premises protection systems and equipment

The 2010 Edition deals also with new issues as:

  • Reorganization of requirements pertaining to construction, alteration, addition, and renovation projects into one chapter
  • Addition of design and installation requirements to reduce the risk of corrosion damage in dry-pipe and preaction sprinkler systems
  • New requirements for sprinkler protection inside some exhibit cases
  • Annexes pertaining to renovation of historic structures and fire ratings of archaic materials have been deleted and are now part of NFPA 914: Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures

Measuring the Impact of Fire Extinguisher Agents on Cultural Resource Materials – Final Report (2010)

1One of the main problems posed by fire protection of cultural resources is the behavior of archaic and support materials to the effect of flames and extinguishing agents. We do not know, for example, how a watercolor painting or a fresco behave in case of fire and how water or other extinguishing agents  affect theme. Until now, there is an extremely small number  of testing and research activities carried on to improve our knowledge about this field of data. In particular, portable fire extinguishers and their associated fire extinguishing agents play an important role in reducing the impact of fire on cultural resource collections.  While conservators are well versed in the effects of moisture and water on collections, little data is available on the effects of other non-water based extinguishing agents. To fully evaluate the appropriateness of an extinguisher, its extinguishing effectiveness should be compared to the potential collateral damage to collection materials from the agent and its thermal decomposition products. Such contact with collection materials can occur by overspray during firefighting efforts or the direct spraying of collection materials in an act of vandalism.

This report, produced by the Fire Research Foundation, is downloadble from the website and documents Phase I of a project designed to quantify the impact of discharging portable fire extinguishing agents on cultural resource materials.

The report includes a comprehensive literature review and the development of prototype specifications and procedures to test the effects of extinguishers. In an anticipated Phase II, the test specifications would be validated and a final specification produced. The results will be used by the NFPA Technical Committee on Cultural Resources (NFPA 909 and 914) to provide users with guidance on extinguisher selection.

Cultural Heritage Fire Safety Standards – Italy

The effects of the fire that on 29 January 1996 destroyed the Gran Teatro della Fenice in Venice (Italy), The fire, that threatened also the surrounding historical buildings, is iconic of the vulnerability of the Cultural Heritage buildings and built environments (image: Wikipedia)


In order to understand how cultural heritage fire safety is addressed in the world, a series of posts will describe legislations of different countries. The first post, published with the Author’s permission, is the updated version of a paper presented during the international conference  “Toward a Safer World”  – ESREL 2001. The paper illustrates the Italian rules concerning fire safety of cultural heritage: Stefano Marsella – Performance-based codes vs prescriptive rules: the case of the application to fire protection of cultural heritage in Italy.

According to the EU Construction Product Directive, fire protection of buildings can be designed using either performance based approach (engineering methods) or prescriptive rules. In his work, the Author describes as the application to historical buildings is carried out in Italy, showing the main problems which arise with the use of prescriptive rules in a context extremely rich and complex as italian heritage and showing how, in an fire engineering approach, the special task to protect heritage and the people could be addressed.

When engineers approach the protection of cultural heritage and, at the same time, try to safeguard human life letting people to use and enjoy buildings, the main problems they have to face in the most of historical building lie in the difficulty to meet the mandatory prescriptions. The utmost variety of architectural solution, urban situation and fire load, together with the severe needs of conservation, makes it quite difficult, if not impossible at all, to follow prescriptive rules, which will soon become not acceptable. Regarding this point, we must consider that, in Italy as well as in other countries, fire protection is carried out with a series of rules, prescriptions and standards which were been defined having as a goal new constructions and new building elements. Moreover, hygiene and occupational workplace safety rules must be enforced without any regard to the age or the historical value of the building. Another matter that has to be addressed in the upgrading of heritage to standards of safety is connected to the accessibility requirements of urban environment, matter that the ageing of population and the growing consciousness of people make a primary issue even in solving the fire evacuation problems.

In the following analysis, the Author will examine only the fire protection rules, but is intended that the problems which arise in applying fire protection rules to heritage are quite similar to the ones which accessibility and workplace hygiene and safety bring.
Looking at the problem from another point o view, it must be stressed that the authorities have to face the need to allow the public into these buildings, for political reasons, but also for the need to raise funds for their upkeep. Generally the owners, public or private, have a vested interest in preserving their property and content and should take the matter seriously enough if a definite set of rules would exist, even we must consider that exist a different challenge if the public are to be brought in. In Italy there not exists a national building regulation, neither common prescriptions for public safety, and the only prescriptions that could be used are the fire prevention standards for cinemas, theatres and dancings. So, in the case of public let in a heritage building, the primary interest in protecting people has to face the difficulty to meet a group of rules that were set specifically for buildings built to  receive a great amount  of persons.

Probably, the only reasonable approach to the problem of protecting the heritage lies in the use of a non prescriptive approach, in a framework of performance based rules which simultaneously fix the need to be satisfied with reference to accessibility, public safety and workplace safety.
In the following consideration no reference will be done to cost analysis, for the lack of data in Italy about this issue make it impossible a serious evaluation of the impact this issue on the definition of fire prevention strategies applied to cultural buildings.

1.    Cultural Heritage Safety in Italy
The problem of protecting against fire italian heritage is a main issue in the policy of safety. The worst fires occurred recently in Italy, in fact, have hit mainly important historical or cultural buildings (Teatro la Fenice – Venezia, Cappella guariniana – Sacra Sindone – Torino, Teatro Petruzzelli – Bari).
Starting from the definition of heritage, according Italian laws, may be considered historically relevant any building older than 50. In Italian heritage there are at least 95.000 monuments and churches, 30.000 historical buildings, 3.500 museums, 2.000 archeological sites and 900 theaters. In these figures we must consider that entire town centers, if not entire towns are part of the heritage, with all the risks that technological improvements bring in a so bound environment. Moreover, the most of churches and interesting buildings date back to the last ten centuries, with a great difference of construction materials, structures, content, state of conservation and use. The only amount of libraries scaffolding is several thousand km and, this statement, lets the possibility to remember that bounds don’t exist only in the works to be done inside the buildings, but also in the extinguishing substances that can be used.

2.    Italian rules on the heritage
The common challenge to the authorities, when the problem of fire protection of heritage is addressed is three‑fold:

  • to preserve the building and content from the effects of fire,
  • to protect life (includes fire-fighters) from fire.
  • to limit the impact of fire precautions on building fabric.

If it is clear that in the most of cases something needs to be done, the challenge is on what standard and by what principles should the fire precautions be based. We know that would not be appropriate to apply current standards to historic buildings.
In Italy, common buildings where people work are subject to the rules concerning their accessibility, their hygiene and health conditions and their fire protection features. With regard to such arguments, we may say that a lot of laws, regulations and codes have been enforced by Public Authorities which  concern design, construction stages and maintenance management. Moreover, if the building is considered as a part of the cultural heritage, there exist special laws which will make it extremely difficult to modify the building itself, even if in the case of works intended to preserve it. An important issue to be taken into account, is that, as a general rule, the level of safety and accessibility that laws ask must be assured in every case, so it is not possible to accept in any kind of building, say the historical or artistical heritage building, lower safety and accessibility standards.
Focusing on fire protection (which, nonetheless, is strictly bound to some accessibility prescriptions as well as to the occupational safety), in Italy there exist two prescriptive codes, which are applied in the case of historical building used as places of assembly and as archives. In both cases, emphasis has been given to the human safety, specially in order to means of egress characteristics.
May be useful to add that in Italy the specific activity of fire prevention and fire extinguishing is passed on the National Fire Department, coming from Department of Internal Affairs (Ministero dell’Interno), organised into Brigades by Province, while preservation of historic buildings (public or private owned) is bound by the Board of Architectural and Environmental Heritage (Sovrintendenza ai Beni Artistici e Ambientali).
Until now, we may say that prescriptions for fire prevention have been issued from the new building experiences having, as unique goal, people safety, but nowadays is stronger the common perception that for historic heritage the safety of inhabitants should be reconciled with the need of safeguarding historical and architectural value of buildings as well as goods contained within them.
Looking at the procedures needed to achieve the prescript level of fire safety, it must be said that a list of activities, which are subjected to periodic surveillance, is specified in a Decree of 1982. The only case where the building itself is subject to fire safety control independently from the activity held is the case of heritage buildings. Nonetheless, the control for these buildings hasn’t been in the past so strict as necessary, due to the reluctance of many Boards of Architectural and Environmental Heritage to accept the minimum required safety features and the inherent difficulty to define such features.
For any heritage building, the following obligations are established:

  • acquisition of preliminary approval, on behalf of the territorial qualified Provincial Fire Department Brigade, for rehabilitation works, including normative adaptation and changes in purpose of use;
  • acquisition of the ”fire prevention certificate” following on‑site inspection by the provincial fire Department Brigade, after the completion of the works.

In general, the aim of fire prevention rules, prescriptions and standards issued for different activities or workplaces looks at providing operators with an instrument unequivocally applicable in all cases. Designers must observe rigid bounds, which sometimes are too hard and difficult to be respected so that they are often compelled to ask for derogation through a trade off among Customer, and local Fire Department Brigade. In the case of cultural heritage has become immediately clear that it was impossible to issue fire protection standards. Too many differences and too many bounds made it impossible asking even low impact prescriptions. In order to safeguard building conservation and to assure at least safety of human life, the relevant Ministry issued two historical building oriented decrees:

  • D.M. n. 569, issued on May 20,1992, “Regolamento concernente norme di sicurezza antincendio per gli edifici storici e artistici destinati a musei, gallerie, esposizioni e mostre” (Regulation concerning fire safety norms for historical and artistic buildings destined as museums, galleries, exposition centres, and shows)
  • D.P.R. n. 418, issued on June 30,1995, “Regolamento concernente norme di sicurezza antincendio per gli edifici di interesse storico‑artistico destinati a biblioteche ed archivi” (Regulation concerning fire safety norms for historical-artistic buildings destined as libraries and archives).

Reading such rules it becomes clear that, perhaps violating the general rule that oblige to assure the same safety level to everybody, prescriptions to protect human life are softer than in other non – historical buildings, while the building and its content aren’t perhaps so protected as necessary.

3.    the approach to fire safety in Italy
In order to take a look to the approach followed until now in fire protection in Italy, we must consider that other relevant regulations exist for specific activities, which we may find in historical buildings, that must be applied without any gap to those buildings.
As common rules to be applied actually in evaluating the fire resistance of elements, there are three different methods for determining the class of resistance: experimental methods, as specified in Ministry of the Interior circular n° 91 of 14th September 1961 (new reference: ministerial decree 16 February, 2007); simplified methods, by checking tables drafted by interpolating the data resulting from the experimental investigations in statistical series (UNI standard 9502/89, UNI standard 9503:89, UNI standard 9504/89); analytical methods, in accordance with the calculation methods indicated in the UNI standards referred to above and in the Eurocodes (1,2,3,5,6) (new reference: ministerial decree 16 February, 2007).
The experimental method asks that the duration of resistance to fire is determined on the basis of the results of a standardised fire test carried out by simulating heating with a fire chamber, applying a standardised temperature curve internationally accepted.
The brief list intends to show some of the rules that have to be compulsorily respected in planning the fire protection of  any building, explains that the framework in which a solution could eventually be found is extremely well defined, making rather difficult to individuate the different solutions that such special buildings need.

4.    the fire protection engineering approach
Fire protection engineering is addressed in the works of ISO Technical Committee 92.  Actually, the Technical Report 13387 (1999), which sets the most of the rules that have to be followed in an engineering approach to fire protection does not address the specific field of heritage, but states that, in the future, a specific branch of this discipline will study the characteristics of the analysis of fire protection in cultural and historical buildings.
In our context, where the problem is not designing brand new buildings but upgrading existing ones, the main interest of the engineering approach is bound to reach the equivalent safety level, which implies to select, alternative protective and preventive technical measures, based on the evaluation of the fire risk, in order to reach acceptable safety conditions for an activity.
Starting from this base, legislation shouldn’t indicate mandatory requirements about “what to do” but provide an information based both on the procedural and scientifically recognised methods of analysis and calculation, in order to offer alternative solutions. After a new approach has been brought in Italy with Legislative Decree n° 626/94 (now Legislative Decree n° 108/08), which incorporates the Community Directive for “improving the safety and health of workers at places of work” and with Ministry Decree dated 10.3.98, which implements it as far as concerns the risk of fire, this goal seems to be nearer, but with reference to historic or artistic value is still needed the specific knowledge that will let to enforce such approach in such a critical area.

5.    reasonable answers  to problems
When considering heritage, given that is impossible to apply prescriptive fire safety rule, performance-based approach has to be necessarily followed to solve the problem.  According to this approach, in the evaluation of the fire scenarios equal attention has to be given to life safety and heritage preservation. Moreover, the facts have demonstrated that the worst fires in historic buildings and towns have occurred in construction, renovation or restoration sites , that implies the need of a special attention to responsibilities of managers, in order to avoid unappropriate risk situations and to mantain always the level of fire safety that the risk analysis has shown as acceptable (fire drills, staff preparedness).
On the other hand, the very large number of rules that simultaneously has to be met (workplace heath and hygiene, accessibility), makes it difficult to imagine that a so wide range of prescriptions could be overtaken with a risk-assessment based process. Under this point of view, an appropriate package of precautions that meets the requirements the different regulation but which would allow performance design, is the only foreseeable solution. A check‑list, could be organised according to the following phases:

  • Identification and listing of the risks of fire in relation to the sources capable of sparking one off;
  • Forecasting of the danger of sparking off a fire in relation to the structures of the building.
  • Forecasting of the way in which the fire will develop.
  • Analysis and assessment of the means of escape.
  • Analytical valuation of the protective measures that can be adopted.
  • Definition of specifications for safety measures ‑ automatic detection systems and extinguishing systems on the basis of the ruling regulations.

Another point that is worth to be addressed is the use of simulations. There exist a certain list of experiences and records about their use in historic buildings. For historical buildings it must be stressed that simulations are due when their outputs could be used for assessing the actual safety of the means of egress. Therefore if their capacity is very large and their accessibility is sure, of course no simulation is advisable. On the other hand, simulations can be very valuable for assessing the actual need of interventions suggested by prescriptive standards. In other words, prescriptive standards often force to perform building interventions that have a hard impact of the original structure (e.g. divisions in compartments, safety staircases, etc.). Perhaps, in some conditions not all those interventions are absolutely needed: simulations can demonstrate it. Once more, if little or no intervention is required by prescriptive standards, simulations of the smoke flow patterns are unnecessary. Finally, simulations are affordable when boundary conditions are properly set. Under this point of view. First of all, one should verify is the boundary.

Given that the current situation shows that prescriptive rules can’t be used in protecting heritage, in the short period efforts must be done in order to acquire more profound knowledge of fire engineering approach. After having reached an adequate sensibility to the matter (both for public control officers and fire prevention designers), fire-risk analysis will probably make possible to select accepted procedures and sets of technical features (including a small group of mandatory rules necessary to assure the minimum safety and accessibility leve) that will meet both people and heritage safety and conservation issues.

Special aknowledgements has to be done to Mr A. Dusman of the Italian National Engineers Council, who is daily involved in the improvement of the culture of italian safety engineers.

L.Nassi, S.Marsella – La sicurezza antincendio per i beni culturali, UTET, Torino 2008

NFPA 914 Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures – 2010 Edition

91410One of the most common difficulties fire safety professionals face in protecting historic buildings and historic sites against fire is the lack of suitable prescriptive standards.

Historic buildings hardly comply common safety rules and any specific standard for such constructions can only ask few safety features.

The only suitable way to assess safety in the most of historic buildings is using fire safety engineering methods, which pose, on  the other hand, several problems due to the lack of data about fire behavior of historic materials.

In order to help everyone who operates, uses, and visits such structures, NFPA 914: Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures (2010 edition) gives the latest requirements for fire protection and fire prevention  . Provisions of this essential document acknowledge the need to preserve the historic character of these unique occupancies while providing the necessary level of life safety and fire protection. The 2010 edition addresses fundamental arguments as:

  • security
  • prescriptive and performance-based options
  • management
  • addition, alteration and rehabilitation works, and fire precautions during construction, repair and alteration works
  • special events
  • inspection, testing and maintenance

More over the new edition address:

* Survey forms for conducting arson vulnerability assessments

* Guidance on the implementation of operational controls

* Provisions for the use of arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) to protect electrical circuits

* Wildfire protection criteria

* Criteria for determining contractor qualifications

* Inspection, testing, and maintenance requirements for premises security systems

* Criteria for special event protection and security

* New annex containing historic building fire case studies

* New annex addressing protection of historic districts

* New annex containing security system provisions

Cost C17 Final Report Brochure

Cover Cost17
Cover of the Cost C17 Action Report Final brochure

An emerging proposal to initiate an integrated approach to the established problems was offered to the 2nd COST Urban Civil Engineering Conference: The future of the city; New Quality for Life event in Bled, Slovenia in 2001 and

Follow-up activities resulted in the final Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) being formally agreed by the COST Office in Brussels. This document promoted the implementation of a European concerted research approach, ultimately designated as “COST Action C17 Built Heritage: Fire Loss to Historic Buildings”, which was formally inaugurated in Brussels in December 2002.
The agreed MoU identified four work-packages:
• Working Group 1: Data, loss statistics and evaluating risks.
• Working Group 2: Available and developing technology.
• Working Group 3: Cultural and financial value.
• Working Group 4: Property management strategies.

COST C17 had as its central objective the definition, at a European level, of the degree of loss to built heritage through the effects of fire, and the promotion of remedial actions and recommendations to combat these using minimal invasive techniques. The Action also aimed to address a general lack of statistical information, and a common lack of understanding and appreciation of what measures are available and required.

It sought to provide good practice guidance on how to sensitively retrofit modern day fire protection equipment into historic fabric, and to develop related management expertise in dealing with this problem in historic premises.
The operational framework of the Action was developed to consider the special nature of the value of historic buildings, the economic aspects of cultural historic value, and the need for measures to minimise damage if a fire occurs. Specifically this required consideration of the:
• vulnerability of historic buildings to fire
• risk assessment methodologies
• protection of fabric and content
• prevention of fire and fire spread
• detection and suppression requirements
• training and management of staff
• insurance considerations
In pursuing these intentions, there was a need to integrate and coordinate the associated factors so that a common understanding of the issues might emerge. To achieve meaningful results during the intended life-span of the programme, a strategic approach was adopted. This focused on:
• compiling statistical data on the extent of heritage at risk.
• promoting statistical research into the consequences and causes of fires – both major fires and more minor incidents (such as small fires to which the fire brigade are not called or false alarms) and their impact. Using risk assessment data gathered as a basis for discussion, a dialogue began to be established with insurance bodies to seek the development of insurance products more closely tailored to historic buildings.
• establishing a well-documented survey of up-to-date technical expertise to assist in influencing future developments in fire protection technology for use in historic buildings.
• defining an appropriate range of passive and active technical equipment countermeasures.
• considering alternative approaches to assist in stemming current loss levels.
• organising a series of conferences and/or workshops to develop thinking for effective risk assessment techniques and risk mapping using insurance company and other data.
• promoting findings and benefits of relevant risk assessment methodologies and property management support.
• effecting know-how dissemination through publishing proceedings and recommendations.

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).

The Final Report brochure of the Cost Action C17 may be downloaded from this post: COST Final Report Brochure

A presentation on fire protection system that can be used also of cultural heritage buildings based on the use of oxygen depleted atmospheres is the Hypoxic Air. This system has been presented during the Cost C17 Action meetings. In particular, in the downloadable document “Inert_Air_Presentation_for_COST_C17_Ljubljana_May_2006”  (presented during the joint NFPA – Cost C17 action meeting, held in Ljubljana on May 2006), it is possible to find some of the more important information about this system. The presentation has been made by Geir Jensen (COWI AS, Norway) and Jan Holmberg Department (Building Sciences, Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden).


Sprinkler systems are common in commercial and industrial buildings. In cultural heritage buildings, there are sometimes concerns about their use. The unintentional activation can damage paper documents or other artifacts that must be protected by moisture. Thus, the study of sprinkler reliability in such kind of building is important to develop a more effective strategy of protection against fire. The paper “Analysis of Sprinkler Failures in Listed Heritage Buildings – Analysis of unintended activations of water based extinguishing systems in Norwegian heritage buildings February 2006” has been written by Geir Jensen, Arvid Reitan and John Ivar Utstrandf for the Riksantikvaren (The Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage – RNDCH) and has been presented during the Cost C17 Action (Fire Loss to Built Heritage). It can be downloaded by this post:

Riksvantikvaren Analysis of Sprinkler Failures in Listed Heritage Buildings

Water mist for fire protection is a relatively new technology with specific advantages to the built heritage. Many fixed installations are commissioned throughout Europe and many research activities are ongoing or being considered.

The standard making processes does not currently address heritage applications, but performance- based codes are favorable for introducing new water mist. The COST Action C17 WG here reports on the experience this far and presents basic knowledge about water mist for the heritage community. Challenges, implications and perspectives of the technology are outlined in order to ensure the best protection of the European heritage possible. A guide on how to accept or approve of mist systems in heritage is given in the white paper (dated July 2004) from Riksantikvaren – The Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage (RNDCH).

Water Mist in Heritage Report 12 July 2004


COST 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.

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

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

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

Water mist for Protection of Heritage – Cost C17 Final report

In the final Report of the Cost c17 Action different aspects of fire protection of Cultural Heritage buildings have been addressed, as the water mist for fire protection, which at the time was a relatively new technology with specific advantages to the built heritage.

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”

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.


Firefighting equipment and techniques for museum

cowi1This report, compiled on behalf of the Riksantikvaren the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage (RNDCH) and Historic Scotland, provides an overview examination of available firefighting equipment and techniques for museum staff to use in the early stages of a fire.
Six categories of hand held extinguishers, three techniques for fighting fire without extinguishers and nine automatic small extinguishers for use in museums, galleries or historical buildings have been evaluated in terms of ease of use, extinguishing efficiency, secondary damage, maintenance and cost.
Results from a series of tests on such equipment are included. Thirteen sample artefact materials were subjected to hot smoke and to six different extinguishing media.
Reference samples were compared to those subjected to smoke only and those
subjected to both smoke and extinguishing methods. The test research was commissioned by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority (ABM, formerly NMU) and RNDCH, and carried out by COWI AS in cooperation with the The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU).


Scottish Historic Buildings National Fire Database. Annual Report 2008-2009


The Minute of Agreement between Historic  Scotland and the Scottish Fire and  Rescue  Services  for the development of The Scottish Historic  Buildings National  Fire Database (SHBNFD)  continues to provide the structure to enable  Scotland to  remain a world leader in the  protection of the built heritage from the  devastating  effects of fire.

Mike Coull of Grampian Fire and Rescue Service  continues to serve in the role  of Heritage Co-  ordinator for the Scottish Fire Services. This post is  considered  crucial in not only delivering the key objectives set out in the Minute of  Agreement, but also to enable further research developing strategies with the Fire S ervice that will contribute to the protection of the built heritage.

The current Minute of Agreement was signed in October 2007 and sets out a wider set of outcomes to reflect the fact that the SHBNFD is much more than a database, it is a project setting out objectives driving forward the protection of the built heritage. To meet those objectives it was vital to ensure effective partnership working, through this it has been possible to establish protocols with each of the eight Scottish fire and rescue services for the exchange of information on Category B-listed buildings.

This Annual Summary Report aims to demonstrate that significant progress has been made in many of the outcomes identified within the Minute of Agreement over the past twelve months. In addition to the agreed outcomes, two significant tasks have been undertaken; a major International conference on ‘Fire Protection of the Built Heritage’ was held at Elphinstone Hall, Aberdeen on 5th May 2009 and a research project involving a series of fire tests on historic doors. Further details of these two initiatives are included within this report.


Minimum Invasive Fire Detection for Protection of Heritage

cowiFire detection systems in general are effective fire safety measures for heritage
buildings and museums. Still, we are faced with these challenges of detectors and
inherent cable installations:
• Irreversibly impair fabric or décor
• Renovation and maintenance incur irreversible damage to fabric or décor
• Aesthetically invasive measures in sensitive environments
• Detectors do not respond to fires as quickly as anticipated
• Excessive nuisance alarms: detectors disconnected, or downgraded response
• Cable installations increase risk of fire from lightning
• Application may be inappropriate in terms of cost, efficiency, obtrusiveness
A summary of technologies used for minimizing invasive detector installations has
been made in this publication written by Geir Jensen, COWI AS, Norway. Results are evaluated and recommendations given.


Fire is a constant threat to cultural heritage

Fire has always been a threat to cultural historic valuable buildings and surroundings.

The level of loss is unacceptable, yet most of us instinctively believe that this will not happen to us and, consequently we make, at best, half-hearted attempts to deal with the issue. It is, quite simply, too difficult for many to imagine how easily an accident can happen, and the magnitude of the resulting damage, even when we succeed in preventing the fire from spreading.

Most property owners believe that as long as they comply with current legislation, their buildings will be sufficiently protected. But this is not the case. The primary aim of most current legislation is to save life, not to save buildings. That said, emerging new laws are starting to broaden their remit and improve the standards to some degree. Continue reading “Fire is a constant threat to cultural heritage”

COST Action C17: Built Heritage: Fire Loss to Historic Buildings

cost c17 action booklet publications fire loss to built heritage

Cost Action C17 – Fire loss to historic buildings – has been an important activity on fire safety of historical and cultural buildings developed with EU funds that ended its activity in 2006. The intention of the Action was to address the significant physical and cultural loss of Europe’s built heritage to the damaging effects of fire.

Cost Action C17 (financed by the European Science Foundation under the European project of Cooperation in the field of science and technology program) has been active in the years 2002-2006 and has focused its  work on:

    • establishing a well-documented survey of up-to-date technical expertise to assist in influencing future developments in fire protection technology for use in historic buildings
    • defining an appropriate range of passive and active technical equipment countermeasures
    • considering alternative approaches to assist in stemming current loss levels
    • organising a series of conferences and/or workshops to develop thinking for effective risk assessment techniques and risk mapping using insurance company and other data
    • promoting findings and benefits of relevant risk assessment methodologies and property management support
    • effecting know-how dissemination through publishing proceedings and recommendations

Continue reading “COST Action C17: Built Heritage: Fire Loss to Historic Buildings”