New video content, NFPA Journal article explore the persistent global problem of facade fires
June 14 will mark the three-year anniversary of the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire, during which smoke and flames raced up and around the sides of the London high-rise at an astonishing pace, killing more than 70 people. There were many safety deficiencies within the building, from a lack of fire sprinklers to faulty alarms to just one exit stairwell. But in terms of fire spread, the most significant factor was the 24-story apartment building's combustible exterior wall assembly, which included plastic-laden cladding and insulation.
So what have we learned about facade fires and exterior wall assemblies like Grenfell's since then? Turns out, not as much as many fire safety experts had hoped. And fires involving combustible exterior wall assemblies continue to occur worldwide.
Just last week, a 49-story building in Sharjah, a city near Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, was aglow with flames. Dozens of worried onlookers captured footage of the blaze (pictured right), which clearly showed the building's facade burning readily, with huge chunks of it breaking loose and smashing the ground and even parked vehicles below. "There was so much smoke coming from the building, you could see the speed at which the fire raced up the building ... you could see big pieces of the cladding falling down," Birgitte Messerschmidt, director of Applied Research at NFPA, told me in an interview this week. "It had all the telltale signs of a facade cladding fire."
Parts of my conversation with Messerschmidt is featured in a new episode of Learn Something NewTM that highlights the persistent global problem of facade fires. In the video, she answers questions like, what led to the proliferation of combustible exterior walls in the first place and why is there no quick fix to the problem?
Messerschmidt also penned a recent NFPA Journal article on the difficulty of obtaining data related to facade fires. "A surprising fact is that the only way researchers know about the increase in these types of fires is from the media—even after events like Grenfell, there is still no coordinated global effort to collect data on these or any other fire incidents," she writes in the piece.
My full conversation with Messerschmidt—as well as with Anas Alzaid, who is NFPA's representative to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region—can be viewed below. In the video, both Messerschmidt and Alzaid discuss the most recent fire in Sharjah and go into detail about why many of these facade fires over the past decade or so have occurred in the Middle East. The tremendous growth of the region in recent years is one factor, says Messerschmidt. While failures in testing and code compliance is another, adds Alzaid. "This is not the end of the issue," he says in the video.