The LWF Blog

Facilities Management & Fire Safety – Fire Development & Human Behaviour – Part 1

February 22, 2018 12:40 pm

In LWF’s blog series for those who work in Facilities Management, or who have an interest in or responsibility for fire safety, we have recently been exploring the subject of human behaviour in a fire situation. In Part 1 of Fire Development, we will look at the development of fire in the context of people’s understanding of it.


If you were to ask the average person what their experience of fire entails, they are likely to reply that they have had a bonfire, or a used an open grate fire. Some may have dealt with a chip pan fire on a hob, which is relatively easy to control and rarely spreads if addressed promptly. Almost nobody will have experienced an uncontrolled fire in a building.


An uncontrolled fire develops in a very different way to a controlled isolated fire. Many people might imagine that a fire in a building works in a similar way to a bonfire in a garden, but that would be incorrect. While it is possible to stand near a garden fire and as it spreads by flame from one object to be burned to the next, an indoor accidental fire is in an enclosed space.


Indoors, the fire will generate heat which rises until it hits a barrier, which is normally a ceiling; flames are also likely to reach the ceiling. The flames, smoke and heat can then traverse across the ceiling and lengthen, enclosing the ceiling space in flame and causing powerful radiation which can cause ignition to other items in the room which may occur simultaneously, possibly causing a ‘flashover’.


The inexperience of most people with indoor, uncontrolled fires means that they are likely to react to the accidental indoor fire as they would to their most similar experience, a bonfire. This can lead to actions taken which are ultimately dangerous.


It is relatively common for people to simply continue with what they were doing, or to stay and watch the fire, particularly if it is not within their home environment. They may confer with other people as to what should be done.


While it might seem unlikely that any of these actions or inactions actually take place when there is a fire, it has been shown to be a significant factor in many fire disasters in the past.


The low amount of recorded disasters due to fire in recent years is not due to increased awareness or positive action on the part of the people inside the building, but in fact to improved fire prevention provision when buildings are designed. For this reason, a fire-engineered solution must not rely too heavily on the participation or actions of the building occupants, as this cannot be relied upon.


In part 2 of this series, LWF will take a look at some of the issues facing building owners and managers when attempting to manage people in a fire situation. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact Peter Gyere in the first instance on 0208 668 8663.


Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 25 years’ experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings. 


While care has been taken to ensure that information contained in LWF’s publications is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information.






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