Europe is playing with fire, says new White Paper
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02 December 2014
More than 4000 people in Europe are killed by fire every year and if lives are to be saved then improved EU-wide building fire safety regulations are needed urgently.
The claim is made by Fire Safe Europe (FSEU) in a White Paper as firefighters from the European Fire Fighters Unions Alliance (EFFUA) met with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).
Earlier this year, 78 European Parliamentarians standing for election pledged their support to put building fire safety at the heart of the EU’s political agenda, and FSEU President Barry Lynham, called on “all Members of the European Parliament to work for fire safety in buildings.”
He added: “In the 1950s, it would take around 15 minutes for a full blaze to take hold, but today a big fire can be out of control in under three minutes. Now, more than ever, it’s time for the European Parliament to wake up to the threat of fire in our buildings.”
Mikael Svanberg of the EFFUA, a fire officer with 25 years of experience, agreed. “These days it seems we are fighting buildings on fire not fires in buildings,” he said.
“Fires are now more unpredictable, bigger and more dangerous, while buildings are more complicated and modern construction materials are not necessarily fire safe. I no longer know what to expect when I’m called to a fire and I’m taking more risks.”
The White Paper, Europe is Playing with Fire, highlights how existing fire-related building standards and construction regulations across the EU are out-dated, and describes a patchwork of inconsistent regulations, particularly in public buildings such as hospitals and schools.
For example, a survey of 10 countries showed that the distance to a school fire exit in Germany is 10 metres while in Italy it is 60 metres, and that only Germany and the Czech Republic require that compartment walls have to be made from non-combustible materials.
German MEP, Jens Gieseke, said: “Any loss of life resulting from out-dated regulations is not acceptable. Therefore, I absolutely support the harmonisation and upgrade of fire safety regulations for buildings at EU level. As the situation in some Member States showed, there is an enormous potential to improve safety standards EU wide. Joint action needs to be taken to use this potential and to ensure that the highest standards are achieved in all EU countries.”
Czech Republic MEP, Pavel Poc, also feels that action is needed: “We spend 90% of our time in buildings – homes, offices and schools – and this is where 90% of fires occur. The loss of 4000 lives every year is unacceptable but in addition to these tragedies, nearly 200 people every day are hospitalised due to smoke and fire while the risks facing our firefighters continue to escalate.”
The White Paper outlines an three-step action plan to ensure a common level of fire safety in buildings across Europe to safeguard the daily security of all Europeans, regardless of where they live:
- Raising the ambition on fire safety in buildings across the EU with a Fire Safety Strategy.
- Updating the provisions in the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) to address its gaps and weaknesses in testing methods.
- Incorporating smoke toxicity in EU standards and regulations for construction products.
In concludes its call to action by saying: ‘It is time for the European Parliament to wake up to the threat of fire. To continue to ignore the problem is to sleep through a very loud alarm.’