Thursday, 7 December 2017

IAASF: Protecting Cultural Venues from Fire



Protecting Cultural Venues from Fire
Stewart Kidd, MD Loss Prevention Consultancy Ltd.


Stewart Kidd kicked off after the break on the first day to speak about Protecting Cultural Venues from Fire, a topic which I think covers some of the worst nightmares of a registrar!

Stewart shocked us all to begin with by stating how at present there is no data for UK heritage properties fires, meanings that we don’t actually know how many heritage buildings are damaged or destroyed by fire each year. This is a statistic that Stewart is hoping to change, after personal research he believes that there has been approximately 600 fires in Scotland’s historic buildings alone.

To prevent a fire you must first know what main causes could be for example; arson, cooking, electrical equipment and contractors. Whilst fire services will advise you about the law, their first priority will always be humans and not objects. This is a legal compliance that must be considered.

Stewart continued by discussing in detail his opinions on fire suppression systems, stressing the point that you should choose your system carefully. Fire is of course very destructive but the impact of firefighting can also cause just as many problems, leaving a mess, water and stability/structural damage to the building. Powder systems Stewart believes will destroy everything and should not be used. Similarly foam provides no benefits, it is acidic and can cause environmental problems for a building. There are also several different suppression systems that require buildings to be airtight to work … as we all know, this is usually not possible with historic buildings! 

Overall Stewart is an ambassador for sprinkler systems in historic properties. He believes they are hugely effective and are particularly beneficial for buildings that are not attended very often. Sprinklers work on heat not spoke and there is a high probability of getting a property back to normal soon after a fire. It is important to not mix up sprinklers however with mist – insurance providers are yet to be convinced by mist systems. When considering installing sprinklers, which for many may seem far too much a risk particularly around works of fine art, consideration must be taken for restrictions that may delay the fire services; geographical location, routes, access and time.

Fire can destroy hundreds of years of history in a matter of minutes, is your fire suppression system up-to-date?

Ellie Saggers, Assistant Registrar, The Fitzwilliam Museum

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