The LWF Blog

Facilities Management & Fire Safety – Fire Development & Human Behaviour – Part 2

March 1, 2018 10:58 am

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 been looking at the average person’s reaction to a fire and in particular, to the lack of experience of fire development. In part 1, the differences between a person’s experience of fire – a bonfire, a chip pan fire perhaps, and an uncontained fire spreading through a room were highlighted. In part 2, inconsistencies in human behaviour when there is a fire while they are undertaking an activity will be explored.


There have been numerous examples of fires in public places where people were disinclined to react to a fire in a way that would be considered ‘normal’.  It is assumed that if there is a fire, people in the vicinity will know that evacuation is of paramount importance, but there is documented evidence of people insisting on staying and continuing with the activity they are undertaking at the time.


In 1985, a fire at Bradford Football Stadium resulted in more than 300 people being injured and 56 of those died from their injuries. Police reported that the football fans were unwilling to stop watching the game and be evacuated and, in some cases, had to be forcibly removed from the terraces. The rate and ferocity of the fire were exacerbated by the old-fashioned wooden stands comprising that part of the terraces and as a result of the tragedy, many changes were made to fire safety provision in such venues.


While it is true that the fire was able to make short work of the wooden stands, prompt action from the spectators when they became aware of the fire might have saved lives.


Similar reticence to evacuate can be seen wherever people have purchased something such as food and are waiting to eat, or have committed to another course of action. It has become apparent that the knowledge that there is a fire or even the sight of smoke in an area can fail to alert people to the danger they are in.


It is certainly true that some individuals exhibit behaviour which could constitute denial of the circumstances and do not wish to be seen as overreacting to a situation. While a smoke-filled area is usually enough to dissuade people from entering an area, the presence of smoke does not necessarily act as a deterrent to all people in all circumstances. It seems that the severe toxicity of smoke and the rate at which it can overcome an individual’s ability to breathe is not appreciated fully.


In part 3 of this series, LWF will continue to look at human behaviour in some past situations which led to changes in regulation and guidance. 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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