Introduction.

After serving 25 years in the Royal Air Force (UK) as an Aircraft Weapons Technician, we decided to move to Adelaide, Australia.  Presently I am employed as an Operations Manager for a company that delivers emergency response training and fire safety audits.   After 18 months in this employment my managing director gave me the opportunity to undertake a Grad Cert course in Building Fire Safety at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).  I successfully completed this course in Sept 2007. 

The intention of this web site is for interest and reference only and NOT for any compliance issues.  It is important that anyone reading this  site understands that each class and size of building or buildings,  require very different fire safety systems installed  further to this there could also be an alternative building solution within. All references that have been provided are the most general requirements and are from the latest Australian Standards (AS) and  Building Code of Australia (BCA), however these change frequently.  For up to date information please read the latest BCA or AS refering to the fire system that you require the information.

I have discovered many aspects in regard to Fire Dynamics, Fire Engineering Technology,  Fire Detection, Supression Systems and ultimately the many rules and regulations.  All these collectively enable people to evacuate safely from a building during a fire emergency.

 The many different materials we have in everyday life all combust at various temperatures and give off many toxic fumes.  However a few toxic gases common  to all materials are HCN (hydrogen cyanide) CO (carbon monoxide) and CO2 (carbon dioxide) all of which are hazardous to human health and life.  The temperatures, Heat Release Rates (HRRs) and smoke production, are dictated by the air supply to the fire, the position of the burning fuel in the compartment, and the type of fuel combusting.

There are many types of Fire Detection and suppression systems on the open market today, all of which do the same job but in different ways.  For example standard smoke detectors are not as sophisticated as Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus (VESDA). This system can detect and control the suppression system used in the compartment.  The suppression systems are in the main gases and water that are designed to suit the area they are protecting.

We can install the the worlds best fire detection and suppression systems within our buildings, however in my experience, unless people are trained to respond to alarms most people will do absolutely nothing. p

Human behaviour is not an exact science. We all behave differently when faced with situations that are life threatening.  However from studies of tragedies around the world human behaviour can be grouped into 3 categories: 10-15% remain calm and act quickly in a situation,  15% totally freak out and can hinder an evacuation and 70%, the vast majority of people, do very little as they are stunned and bewildered.

The Kings Cross tragedy occurred in November 1987 at an underground station in London England.  Surveys after the event showed many cases of human behaviour that invariably led to the unfortunate deaths of the public.  The brain needs many cues when placed in an unfamiliar situation and it reacts very slowly until more cues happen.  The attention of people involved becomes narrowly focused as anxiety mounts; this is possibly because of the vast amount of information that is necessary for people to process in an emergency.  At Kings Cross it was a ticket collector that needed several members of the police saw a member of the public use the emergency stop button on the escalator and they responded immediately and began to direct people away from the area.  The policemen’s actions were quicker due to the training that they have received.  The public were found not to take any notice of underground staff as they have no confidence in them. They did take notice of uniformed police officers even though they were actually directed towards the fire and some of them perished on the escalators due to flash over in the ticket office.  It was also noted that people got alert cues from others, because other people were running they did as well, when they believed they were no longer in danger they stopped and carried on as normal.  Some even went shopping.  Kings Cross is a busy station intersecting with other stations, platforms and tunnels. The public were carrying out activities that they do on a daily basis, they did not require any training and taking the underground was thought to not have any noticeable risks attached.  Many survivors reported that they just carried on with their usual routes and routines in the belief that they were safe because they were not directly faced with the fire. Time magazine has also reported articles on behaviour of humans in peril and danger. It reports that there is almost always a period of intense disbelief as to what is happening. 

In the 9/11 tragedy of the World Trade Centre one witness recalls that she ‘was in a trance like state never finding herself in a hurry’.  In a crisis our instincts can be our undoing and sometimes can backfire because research shows that lack of data can cause problems.  When in an agitated state the brain slows down and it takes longer to process each new piece of complex information.  It has been thought that this neurological process might explain in part the urge to stay put in a crisis.  One survivor of 9/11 was probably one of the fastest to leave as he did everything exactly right.  His actions were thought to be automatic as he had been previously involved in a fire and two earthquakes and survived.  Some would say that he was unlucky; however in this instance he was lucky as his brain had already received the right cues so he reacted automatically and evacuated so saving his life. 

Another example of this behaviour can be found with a passenger aboard a plane involved in the Tenerife tragedy.  As soon as the plane was struck he grabbed his wife and ordered her to leave the plane with him. As a boy he had been involved in a fire in a theatre and always checked where the exits where when he was in unfamiliar surroundings.  When the planes collided his brain already had the data that it required so he reacted automatically.Studies have shown that if passengers had a mental plan for escaping from a plane they tend to move more quickly in a crisis. Reports into tragedies also suggest that training and even mental rehearsal vastly improves people’s responses when faced with disaster. 

Therefore training should be considered an important factor to people who work in large buildings. In the World Trade Centre fewer than half of the survivors had ever entered the stairwells before and they didn’t understand the confusing transfer hallways to get down to ground level.  Panic is also a behavioural problem that some people may encounter.  Panic is a sudden and uncontrollable fear or anxiety and is a powerful concept suggesting blind irrational behaviour. However most people in panic know exactly what they are doing.  Panic is non social but it may have anti social consequences, ordinary relationships and group patterns maybe ignored but normally only for a short period of time. 

During the Bradford Football Stadium fire people remained in their seats as the fire raged.  One man reported that he acted anti socially by leaving his friend behind.  He said ‘he wouldn’t move and I knew we only had seconds, so I left him’ Panic is reported much more frequently than it actually occurs.  It is all too easy for news reporters to make assumptions that because people are moving quickly they are panicking.

In summary it shows that the brain is very complex and it takes time to process signals being sent in a life threatening situation, however, if the signals have already been processed previously then the quicker and more calmly the person reacts so saving their lives. Training is important and the more frequent that people receive training the more effective they become in raising the alarm and evacuating. The public are more likely to take note of a uniformed officer other than members of staff or other members of the community. Human behaviour will always surprise us when exposed to different situations.  All we can do is try to put in place procedures that will assist people in evacuation and hopefully save further loss of life.

We as mankind can all be better trained in this field, as humans are the best fire detection systems on earth.   Fire is a very complex chemical process which is very unpredictable. We need to detect and suppress a fire before it has any chance of seizing a building and costing lives.   

Human Behaviour pps.

 

There are four things we need to know to combat fire and its products.

 

1.  The ease of ignition.  (How easy is the fuel going to ignite).

2.  Rate of Growth. (How fast is the fire going to grow).

3.  Heat Contribution.  (How much heat is going to be produced).

4.  Smoke and Toxic Gas Production.  (What products are produced).

 

The Kings Cross fire 1997  London England by Kizzy Grice 12, PDF.

 

The intention of this web site is for interest and reference only and NOT for any compliance issues.  It is important that anyone reading this  site understands that each class and size of building or buildings,  require very different fire safety systems installed  further to this there could also be an alternative building solution within. All references that have been provided are the most general requirements and are from the latest Australian Standards (AS) and  Building Code of Australia (BCA), however these change frequently.  For up to date information please read the latest BCA or AS refering to the fire system that you require the information.

Nick Grice

Grad Cert  (Building Fire Safety).

Diploma  (Training & Assessment).

LCGI  (Aero Eng).

Email.

If you would like any additions or comments please feel free to e-mail me im always up for some good  photos.