In the night of July 15th, 1823, a fire destroyed a large part of the Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls in Rome. In the following years reconstruction works, particularly interesting for the historical evolution of fire safety measures, began. In particular, the fire protection system adopted seems to be the first case of automatic detection and alarm system ever designed in the world. Continue reading “The oldest fire detection system ever? The case of St. Paul outside the Wall Basilica in Rome”
When an historic center, a town or a district, is hit by an earthquake, managing the securing operations may reach an high degree of complexity. Different organisations, large number of engineers, cultural heritage experts and workers need to operate at the same time as fast as they can. Continue reading “Securing historic towns damaged by earthquakes: managing the complexity”
Protecting Cultural Heritage form disasters needs different actions, one of the more important of which is to make aware stakeholders about what to do, during emergencies, to limit damages.
When it comes to assess the risks of fire to Cultural Resources buildings or artefacts, normally they are related to buildings. In a consistently smaller number of cases, the scenario is related to a forest or a vegetation fire.
The technical literature concerned with the protection of cultural heritage from the risks of fire rarely takes this issue into account. One of the few documents that fully addresses this aspect is the Wildland Fire report in Ecosystems Effects of Fire on Cultural Resources and Archeology, published by the United States Department of Agricolture. Continue reading “Forest Fire Risks to Cultural Heritage”
Watercolor images are among the most vulnerable artefacts to the effects of firefighting water systems.
According to the NFPA 750 definition, watermist is a water spray for which the 99% of the total volume of liquid (Dv0.99) is distributed in droplets with a diameter smaller than 1000 microns at the minimum design operating pressure of the water mist nozzle.A slightly different definition has been introduced by the CEN/TS 14972, as a water spray for which the 90% of the total volume of liquid (Dv0.90) is distributed in droplets with a diameter smaller than 1000 microns at the minimum design operating pressure of the water mist nozzle. Continue reading “Water Mist and Cultural Heritage: can Simulation Tools help assessing its effect?”
A problem neglected by the most of the studies concerning the protection of Cultural Resources against natural hazards deals with the exposition of archaelogical artefacts to vegetation fire risks. All tangible and intangible cultural assets can be damaged by fires. Thus, archaeological remains are exposed to the risk caused by forest fires.
According to the document published in 2012 by the European Environment Agency (EEA), Europe will experience over the next few decades some effects caused by climate change. The expected changes are not uniform throughout the mainland, but they can be summarised in a number of homogeneous areas. Table 1 illustrates the qualitative trends provided in seven climatic regions. Continue reading “Fire risks and new threats from climate change to libraries and archives”
Being aware of the situation is one of the most important goals that emergency services need when they design the systems and the procedures to be used during or in the aftermath of a disaster. Situation awareness has many different aspects and needs a flow of information (possibly) in real time from a wide variety of data sources. Such data feed the systems that let emergency managers to assess the situation and take their decisions.
Risks to cultural heritage vary from catastrophic events (such as earthquakes, floods, etc) to gradual processes (such as chemical, physical, or biological degradation). The result is loss of value to the heritage. Sometimes, the risk does not involve any type of material damage to the heritage asset, but rather the loss of information about it, or the inability to access heritage items. So, heritage managers need to understand these risks well so as to make good decisions about protection of the heritage (for future generations) while also providing access for the current generation. ICCROM (Intergovernamental Organisation devoted to protect Cultural Heritage) and the Canadian Conservation Institute have published the “The ABC Method: a risk management approach to the preservation of cultural heritage”.
The project STORM (Safeguarding Cultural Heritage through Technical and Organisational Resources Management) has been funded by the Horizon 2020 EU Program and aims at defining a platform that managers of cultural heritage sites can use in improving preparedness, managing emergencies and planning restoration of damaged buildings.
The project specifically considers risks that the cultural sites have to face from either long-term degradation (whose action is far slower than the typical applications of feedback controls), or extreme traumatic events (whose action is much faster). Their common nature is the climate change. So, the specific scope of the project is creating a technological platform that allows a systematic comparison between a real (measured) state and a desired theoretical state.
On April, 6th 2009 the Italian city of L’Aquila and the surrounding area have been striken by a 6,3 Mw earthquake, causing 309 victims, more than 1.600 injured and 10 billion euro of damages.
The standard describes principles and practices of protection for cultural resource properties (museums, libraries, and places of worship etc.), their contents, and collections, against conditions or physical situations with the potential to cause damage or loss. The updates for the 2017 edition include:
- expanded provisions for outdoor collections and archaeological sites and their protection against wildfire;
- further clarification of sprinkler system corrosion protection criteria;
- mandated integrated system testing per NFPA 4, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing;
- the addition of numerous events to Annex B, Fire Experience in Cultural Properties.
According to the 909 code, libraries, museums, and places of worship housed in historic structures have also to comply with the requirements of NFPA 914 (Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures).
The standard includes provisions for fire prevention, emergency operations, fire safety management, security, emergency preparedness and inspection, testing, and maintenance of protection systems.
As in the previous editions, criteria are provided for new construction, addition, alteration, renovation, and modification projects, along with specific rules addressing places of worship and museums, libraries, and their collections.
On August 24th, 2016 a severe earthquake has hit an area in Central Italy approximately among the city of Amatrice and Norcia. The quake, that has been followed by months of replicas (especially on 26th October and 30th October) has killed nearly 300 people and damaged or destroyed a number of heritage buildings (churches, houses, walls, towers etc.).
In many cases, it has not been possible to implement with the necessary timing temporary shoring or putting in safety measures. Therefore, in the shocks happened the weeks after the 24th August, some buildings that had been damaged, but not destroyed, have collapsed.
The numerous debris, which was not possible to remove, due to administrative difficulties in moving them in appropriate areas, have prevented sometimes to approach the buildings and, therefore, to let firefighters operate safely.
Moreover, the sheer size of the area affected and the number of works to be protected caused delays in the processing of putting in safety works projects. The projects, in fact, must be drawn from engineers, but have to be approved by the competent body for the protection of cultural heritage.
On November 4th 1966 a flash flood caused in central Italy 47 deaths, hundreds of injured and 46,000 displaced people and homeless. In Florence, the waters topped the shoulders of the riversides and covered the historic districts, reaching in some places up to 5 meters in height and forming a lake of about 40 sq km in area. In cities the dead were 17, just as many in the surrounding areas.
The material damage was serious: in the end turned out damaged or destroyed 9,752 shops, 8,548 shops, 248 hotels, 600 production plants, 13,943 houses, thousands of cars. The event left more than 30,000 unemployed people. The extent of damage was worsened by the loss of the artistic and cultural heritage.
The water and mud, loads of fuel oil collected from several citizens tanks, reached the Uffizi Gallery, the National Library, Santa Croce, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the Archaeological museum and the Bargello, the National Library. Many masterpieces were damaged, among them the crucifix by Cimabue, the paintings of Botticelli, Paolo Uccello and Vasari, along with other 1,500 works of art and 1,300,000 volumes of the National Library. T
he emotional impact of the devastation flicked a general mobilization: several parts were collected funds and thousands of young people came from all over the world to make their contribution to the salvation of works of art and books, literally snatching them from the water and oily from the mud. And thanks to them was much recovered, but still, after more than forty years after the flood, are still to be restored paintings (about 140, such as the Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari), frescoes (350) and tons of vestments . Then there are the volumes of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (including old books, miscellaneous dated and modern, and theses, is expected to exceed 70,000 units) and the funds of the State Archives (documents that occupy about 2.5 kilometers of shelves) , the records of the Institute of the Innocents (1600) and those at the Opera del Duomo (there are 300), the testimonies of the Jewish Museum (15,000 volumes) and the artifacts of the Archeologico (packed on three shelves).
At the end of the events dedicated to the memory of the 1966 Florence flooding, the workshop “Flooding Rescue” took place in the Cappella dei Pazzi , a day of study and comparison with the academic world dedicated to deepen the issues related to floods in a context of strong climate change.The work session of the day dedicated to the rescue activities in case of damages due to floods has been opened by the presentation of Prof. Piero Cimbolli Spagnesi University “La Sapienza” of Rome that retraced the history of technical rescue in Italy from 1951 to date in the context of the floods in terms of standardization and relationship with the territory. Prof. Nicola Casagli of the University of Florence has exposed an analysis of hydrogeological risks in Italy.
Climate change with its impacts on the region and the need for adaptation in the hydrogeological defense system were the topics discussed by Professor Dr. Massimiliano Pasqui CNR in his speech. Michel Cives Captain of the Paris Fire Brigades, has explained the organizational model and the ability to operational response that the Fire Brigade of Paris have implemented to tackle with the recent French floods.
In the final phase of the day of study was the Director for the Emergency Department of the Rescue Fire Service and Civil Defence, Giuseppe Romano who illustrated the models of intervention of the Fire Brigade in Italian terms of new technologies and innovative organizational models. The concluding remarks of the meeting, made from the Head of the Italian National Fire Brigade, Gioacchino Giomi, showed the interest of the National Fire Brigade with civil society and with the world of scientific research aimed at the qualification of operational response on the territory.
At the end of the meeting a brief video of the Horizon 2020 STORM project has been showed to the public to give some information about the project. The activities, started in June 2016, will deal with the issues related to heritage safety and climatic changes and will end in 2019.
The fire broke out on the same day Orthodox Christians around the world celebrated Easter. Hours before the fire, more than 1,000 people were inside in services between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. to celebrated Easter.
The church was built in the early 1850s and was designated a city landmark in 1968.
At least 170 firefighters and 36 vehicles arrived on the scene to combat the flames. Plumes of smoke poured out of the church.
After six days it was not clear if any of the structure could be saved and repaired.
A fire broke out in the historic center of Luino (Italy). For reasons still under investigation a roof of a house situated on a courtyard went to the fire. The fire started around 211.00 pm, perhaps because of the overheating of a chimney. Aided by the wind that was blowing very strong at that time, the roofs of four buildings have been destroyed.
Twenty citizens have been evacuated. Several apartments were declared unfit for habitation, the damage amounted to hundreds of thousands of euro. the narrow streets of the old town have made it difficult to extinguish fire by firefighters.
STORM (Safeguarding Cultural Heritage through Technical and Organisational Resources Management) is a EU research and development project funded in the early 2016 by the EU under the Horizon 2020 program (Call: DRS-11-2015: Disaster Resilience & Climate Change, Topic 3: Mitigating the impacts of climate change and natural hazards on Cultural Heritage sites, structures and artefacts).
On January 31st, 2015, one of Russia’s largest academic libraries, which contains millions of unique historic documents, has been severely damaged by the flames. A part of the building’s roof collapsed before many of fire fighters teams managed to contain the fire.
The fire has destroyed some 2,000 m2 of the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences (Inion) in Moscow, created in 1918 and holding 10 mln documents, some of which date back to the 16th century.
The library has been founded in 1918, has the Russia’s most complete collection of documents of the League of Nations, the UN, and UNESCO, as well as parliamentarian reports of the United States (since 1789), the UK (since 1803), Italy (since 1897), and many others.
According to Russian media, investigators looking into the cause of the blaze suspect an electrical short-circuit was to blame.
On April 29th, 2015, a fire has destroyed the 18th century Palladian masterpiece of Clandon Park. The fire started in the house’s basement, and quickly spread to the roof. The Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has operated with a total of 16 fire engines and more than 80 personnel.
The timeline of the firefighters’ operations is well described in the Getsurrey page, which highlights some problems in water supply.
Although some paintings and furniture were rescued by staff, many tapestries and some items of porcelain were heavily damaged.
Managed by the National Trust since 1956, Clandon Park has been built in the 1720s and, before the fire, contained a large collection of 18th-century furniture, porcelain and textiles.
Paris firefighters on August 20th 2015 have fought a fire at the Cite des Sciences. The fire broke out between 02:30 and 03:00 local time in a building that was undergoing work, and has been fought by some 30 fire trucks and 120 firefighters.
Six floors of the museum have been impacted by the blaze, which took five hours to be brought under control.
Many Parisians took to social media to report the smell and seeing plumes of smoke. The building was empty when the fire started.
Wooden pallets, cardboard boxes, plasterbloard, electrical cables have been burning,and the heat was so fierce that firefighting teams were only able to work for 20 minutes at a time before having to be rotated. One of the firefighters was hospitalized with extreme heat exposure while the other suffered light injuries from smoke inhalation.
The complex draws around five million people a year and comprises four huge cube-shaped buildings.
The fire occurred in a 10,000-square metre cube that was being fitted out for shops, and was due to open on October 15. Smoke and flames damaged the area ravaging a 110-million-euro plan to turn the building into an area for shops.
The fire alarm system was not operational because of the works.
The Citè de la Science et de l’industrie complex is one of the biggest science museums in Europe.
Historic District Protection Planning A Case Study – Lexington, Virginia
The City of Lexington, located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, was established as the town of Lexington in 1778. Today, Lexington has a permanent population of about 7500 with another 4000-5000 students attending Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute from September through May. Lexington is well known for its architecture and historic preservation. Tourism and higher education are its major industries and its downtown is a thriving collection shops and restaurants, many housed in restored buildings dating from the late 18th to the early 20th century. Lexington is a typical small city in southern America: many buildings in the downtown area have party walls, construction tends to be brick exteriors over wood framing with combustible roofs, and some older buildings are completely wood frame construction. The streets in Lexington, while not as narrow as many streets in Europe, are narrow when compared to the size of most modern fire apparatus.
The Lexington Presbyterian Church Fire
Lexington Presbyterian, a Greek revival style church, was completed in 1845 and it is one of the centerpieces of Lexington’s history and its visual appeal. Lexington was home to Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and he worshipped at the church in the years leading up to the American Civil War. The sanctuary underwent some renovation between 1845 and 2000, but overall the building changed very little and there was no fire detection or fire suppression system installed when in the summer of 2000 the governing board hired a contractor to repaint the exterior of the building. The board, aware that the dry, 155 year old long-leaf yellow pine wood in the building posed a greater fire hazard than newer material, had the contractor chosen for the work demonstrate the hot-iron technique he proposed to use to soften the paint before scrapping it off. The board approved the process and the contractor began work. On Tuesday, July 18, as workmen were using a hot iron to strip paint off of a cornice around the base of the church’s clock tower, the hot iron apparently ignited a fire in the roof area of the wood frame structure that destroyed one sanctuary and caused the clock tower to collapse.
According to fire investigators from the Virginia State Fire Marshall’s Office, workmen removing paint from a cornice at the base of the clock tower noticed smoke at about 9:30 a.m. The workmen searched for the source of the smoke and found a fire inside the clock tower behind the cornice they had been working on. The workmen attempted to extinguish the fire, and when they could not, they notified the Lexington Volunteer Fire Department. Some volunteer firefighters responded quickly, but since it was a normal workday and most of the members were at work, many were delayed getting to the church and calls for mutual aid went out to other nearby jurisdictions. By 10:00 a.m., heavy smoke was pouring out around the base of the clock tower.
Fire fighters began to battle the blaze with ladder pipes shortly after 10:00 a.m., but by that time the fire in the clock tower was fully developed. Firefighters worked to save the clock tower through the morning; however, the combination of the highly combustible wood frame construction of the church and the amount of water needed to fight the blaze put a strain on the city’s aging water system.
At about noon the clock tower finally collapsed. Fire investigators pointed out that the firefighters did an excellent job keeping the fire from spreading to other structures and because of their efforts no one was injured when the clock tower collapsed into the street.
￼￼Damage to the building was estimate at $2.5 million, and shortly after the fire the church board announced the church would be restored to its original condition and restoration work began soon afterward. The restoration was substantially completed when a new clock tower was installed on March 5, 2002.
A senior architectural historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources pointed out after the fire that using heat to strip paint on old wood fixtures that are hollow or that cannot be seen from behind, like the cornices that were being stripped at Lexington Presbyterian where rats or birds sometimes build nests, can cause combustible materials to catch fire without workers knowing it.
In August 2000 the president of the Rockbridge County Historic Society called and asked me to come to Lexington to share information about how Colonial Williamsburg protects its historic buildings and to see if some of those things might be adapted to help Lexington improve protection in its historic district. She also wanted to know how the concepts in the 1997 edition of NFPA 909, Standard for Protection of Cultural Resources might be applied to historic districts. As a first step she arranged a one-day workshop for members of Lexington’s city government, merchants, and other interested parties. The workshop was surprisingly well attended and during the discussions it became evident to the political leaders that much of what made Lexington an attraction for tourism could be lost in a single fire. After the workshop I met with the mayor, the chief of the volunteer fire department, and the president of the Rockbridge County Historic Society to brainstorm ideas to improve fire safety in Lexington’s historic district. In the discussion we identified four major challenges:
- Many of the buildings in the historic district have party walls, and some interconnect at the attic level. The fire department was aware of some of the interconnections; however, the fire chief suspected many more existed that were not on any drawings or building plans.
- The Commonwealth of Virginia has a statewide fire prevention code, but in a city as small as Lexington that has a volunteer fire department no one locally enforces the code and any inspections have to be done by the State Fire Marshall’s office. As with most state agencies, the Virginia State Fire Marshall’s office has a small staff to cover a very large area. In practice, the only inspections the State Fire Marshall’s office can do are in the largest state-owned facilities; so, there is very little, if any, enforcement of fire prevention regulations in privately owned buildings in cities like Lexington.
- Lexington’s aging water supply system was challenged to provide enough water to fight the fire in the church and the fire chief expressed concern about its ability to handle a fire spreading from building to building in the downtown area through interconnecting attics.
- Access is difficult for fire apparatus in many parts of the downtown area because of traffic congestion and narrow streets, particularly during the summer when tourism is at its height.
Two initiatives were undertaken as a result of the discussion:
- The Rockbridge County Historic Society and the Lexington Volunteer Fire Department agreed to focus efforts on a public education program in fire safety management. To help with the project, local residents with backgrounds in fire protection and fire suppression were recruited to conduct public awareness campaigns, fire safety educational programs, and voluntary fire safety inspections for merchants and home owners. Lexington is a popular retirement area for professionals from urban areas in the northeast United States, and several highly qualified individuals volunteered to assist with the project.
- The Lexington City Council agreed to create a position in the Building Department for an inspector who would devote 50% of his time to building code issues and the other 50% to conducting inspections to enforce the Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code
More than a decade has passed and over those years I’ve drawn the following lessons from my experience in Lexington.
1. The fire codes and standards in place at the time, and since, including the most recent editions of NFPA 909, Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties – Museums, Libraries and Places of Worship and NFPA 914, Code for Fire Protection of Historic Structures provide no guidance on planning and implementing fire protection programs for historic districts. The NFPA Cultural Resources Committee has been discussing the issues for several years, and it hopes to provide some guidance on the subject in the 2015 edition of NFPA 914. In 2000, the NFPA Cultural Resources Committee was several years away from the paradigm shift it made in the 2010 and 2013 editions of NFPA 909 and the upcoming 2015 edition of NFPA 914 that take an all-hazards approach to protection planning. The shift was crucial because it focused protection planning efforts on the outcome of a comprehensive vulnerability analysis. Such an approach is especially important when thinking of protection in historic districts where one way to approach the issue is to think of the historic district as a very large multiple use occupancy building with multiple owners /tenants (like an apartment building or condominium). From that perspective the district is analogous to a museum building that contains a collection – that is the individual buildings inside the district – and provides the support infrastructure, utilities, and services to maintain them. The planning issues are similar, as well. For example, egress is a primary concern in both, particularly during an earthquake, flood, or conflagration; however, ingress is also a significant issue for both because the collection (buildings, artifacts, or works of art) must be protected in place and to do that, emergency responders must have ready access. Other common issues include water supply (or lack thereof), occupant notification, fire department response time, fire prevention, security and planning for emergency operations and damage limitation.
2. The assessment we did in Lexington was flawed because it addressed only a few of the vulnerabilities, so the resulting action plans only scratched the surface of the problem. The steps taken in Lexington after the fire in 2000 only addressed two limited aspects of the problem (education and enforcement) but failed to address the significant infrastructure issues (water supply, limited availability of volunteer firefighters during the normal work day, fire department access during the busy summer months in the downtown area, installation of automatic sprinklers, etc.). A comprehensive vulnerability assessment of all the hazards is the key to a successful protection plan in a building or in an historic district.
3. Dividing an inspector between building department duties and fire prevention code enforcement probably is not a sustainable model. Building departments are partially self-sustaining because they generate revenues from building permits and plan reviews while fire prevention activities generate no direct revenue. As a result, when municipalities face budget shortfalls, as they have since 2008, they tend to focus on activities that generate income and that moves fire prevention code enforcement to the back burner. After all, governmental memories are short and fires are low probability events even if the consequences can be devastating.
Deborah Freeland (Area Senior Vice President Property Loss Control Arthur J Gallagher & Co.)and Donald Moeller (Principal The Fire Consultants, Inc.) explain the activity of the NFPA Committees 909 e 914 to improve fire protection of cultural and historical heritage.
Download the pdf (without slides with pictures) presented during the september 20, 2012, Venice meeting about emergencies in historical centers: 1