International Fire Safety Standards Coalition releases Common Principles publication
Following the tragic Grenfell Towers fire in 2017, the UK-based Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors launched an initiative to develop a coherent global approach to fire safety. The resulting International Fire Safety Standards (IFSS) Coalition was created in 2018, with the Code Council as one of the founding members. Over the course of the past two years, a standards-setting committee was established to create a set of common principles for ensuring fire and life safety in buildings. The Code Council’s Beth Tubbs served on the standards-setting committee, along with about two dozen fire safety professionals from around the world. Their work culminated in the publication of International Fire Safety Standards Common Principles: Safe Buildings Save Lives on October 5, 2020 — a document that was promptly submitted to the United Nations for endorsement in alignment with its own sustainable development goals.
The standard delivers a clear performance-based framework and common principles that apply to all stages of a building’s life cycle, from design to construction to use to change to eventual demolition. It is highly performance-based and is not intended to replace the prescriptive standards related to fire and life safety that are already adopted and successfully implemented in countries throughout the world. Rather, the IFSS has identified the five common principles related to achieving fire safety, which are large, high-level concepts, meant to be used as a cross-check by jurisdictions with well-developed fire and life safety standards and a starting point for jurisdictions with little to no fire and life safety framework.
The Prevention principle sets as its objective the safeguarding against the outbreak fire and/or limiting the effects of a fire. The three main goals of this principle are protecting life, preventing building damage, and protecting operations from the effects of a fire. When considering the prevention principle, users should consider all recognized causes of fire, including arson, electrical fires, accidental fires (for instance, those caused by cooking, smoking, open flame, candles, bonfires, chemical spills, etc.), explosions, and natural causes (such as lightning strikes or wildfires).
The Detection and Communication principle has an objective of investigating and discovering the fire followed by informing the occupants and the fire service. The main goals of this principle are ensuring communication among all relevant stakeholders, ensuring communication between systems, and automatic detection and alarming of smoke and fire. The Common Principles strongly recommend automatic systems for detecting fire whenever possible.
The Occupant Protection principle aims to facilitate occupant avoidance of and escape from the effects of fire. This entails enabling the safe movement of all occupants to a safe location, along with ensuring adequate time and opportunity to reach a place of safety before being adversely affected by the products of combustion.
The Containment principle entails limiting the fire and all of its consequences to as small an area as possible. This can be achieved through different strategies – or a combination of strategies – including compartmentation, smoke control, fixed firefighting systems, structural integrity and use of materials with low combustibility.
Finally, the Extinguishment principle is focused on suppressing fire and protecting the surrounding environment. While installed suppression and control systems, as addressed in the Containment principle, should be capable of controlling the fire, the action of Extinguishment is the purview of the fire service. In smaller fires, Extinguishment can be undertaken by occupants, though it is often not recommended due to the risk of injury and death. If the Common Principles are followed as a building is designed, constructed and maintained, then the role of the fire service would be reserved to extinguish the fire within the compartment where it originated or to avoid propagation to other compartments or neighboring buildings. The Common Principles document also recommends that firefighters receive appropriate training that will allow them to safely and properly respond to unexpected situations with efficiency.
The concept of the framework is that each of the five principles should apply to each stage of a building’s life cycle, as illustrated in the figure below. For instance, in applying the prevention principle, fire prevention should be considered at each stage of the building life cycle so that the building is designed, constructed, used, changed and demolished, each in ways that will eliminate, as far as reasonably possible, the outbreak of fire due to natural or human causes. This includes controlling ignition sources and managing potential fuel sources.
Additional examples of implementing the framework at each stage of the building’s life cycle are provided in the IFSS document, along with a step-by-step guide to complying with the framework throughout the life cycle.
While the fundamentals of the IFSS Common Principles document are embedded in the basis of the International Codes, the document is a very useful international benchmark and broad overview of fire safety principles. The Code Council applauds the work of the IFSS Coalition and encourages all members to review the document and seek to apply the principles as matters of fire and life safety are considered.