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Report smoke propagation in residential buildings


“As long as sofas and mattresses will produce an extensive amount of smoke, every individual fire safety measure will be insufficiently effective to reduce smoke propagation. The combination of limiting the use of synthetic materials (especially foams) in furnishing and closing the doors is the most effective combination of fire safety measures”, according to researchers of the Fire Service Academy of the Institute for Safety.

In the summer of 2019, the Fire Service Academy, the Organisation of Dutch Fire Services and the Utrecht Safety Region conducted 19 fire tests in a former residential care complex with internal corridors in Oudewater. The analysis of the data resulted in important conclusions.

Watch the report: Smoke-propagation-in-residential-buildings

Smoke propagation
Smoke propagates rapidly through the residential building and smoke propagation is an unpredictable phenomenon, particularly at greater distances from the fire room. The fact that not all smoke is visible adds to the difficulty of estimating the severity and extent of the smoke propagation.

The possibility of escape and survivability
Smoke propagation in a residential building rapidly decreases the possibility of escape and survivability of the occupants.

  • A fatal situation arises in the fire room within 4 to 7 minutes.
  • Almost immediately after opening the door to the fire room, a situation of a seriously impaired escape arises in the corridor next to the fire room. This situation can become life-threatening or even fatal.
  • The occupants of the other residences along the same corridor as the fire room are ‘stuck’ in their residences. Fatal situations, particularly for the (highly) vulnerable groups, can occur in these residences.

Measures for risk management
Only a combination of source and effect measures will be effective to sufficiently improve the possibility of escape and survivability of the occupants. The combination of limiting the use of synthetic materials in the furnishing and closing the doors is the most effective measure, followed by the combination of a mobile water mist and closing the doors.

Fire service deployment
Besides fighting the fire, the goal of the fire service deployment should be to reduce further smoke propagation as much as possible. The situation of the door to the fire room is decisive in determining which deployment method should be used.

  • Open door: extinguishing the fire before rescuing occupants.
  • Closed door: rescuing occupants before extinguishing the fire.

However, every fire service action will cause more smoke propagation, both horizontally and vertically. Here, mechanical ventilation has a dominant influence.

Download report
Smoke propagation in residential buildings (PDF)

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