Smoke Detectors and Flame Retardants for Improving Fire Protection in Residential Buildings

The German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) has been entrusted by EFRA, the European Flame Retardants Association, to develop a model of fire development and escape times reflecting European residential buildings for optimising fire safety by using smoke detectors and flame retardants.

Although decreasing, fire losses in Europe are still high, with approximately 4 000 deaths, and 500 to 600 deaths per year in Germany. About 80 % of fatalities occur in residential buildings. Smoke detectors are promoted to reduce these fire losses: In the UK, 80 %, and in the USA, nearly 100 % of households have smoke alarms. Investigations of fire research centres in the USA (NIST) and in Sweden (SP) showed that smoke detectors have a positive effect on fire safety, but they also revealed that escape times can be very short in residential fires, even down to 3-4 minutes. The highly increased usage of plastics in the home and their often high flammability are most likely the reason for a decrease in escape time from about 17 minutes in the 1970s to around 4 minutes nowadays.

 Preliminary results presented by BAM at the FRPM'05 Conference, Berlin, in September 2005 show that temperatures in a furnished living room can reach 100°C within 6 minutes of the start of a fire. The objective is to show, using real and modelled fire data in set ups comparable to real European furnished flats, that although smoke alarms give inhabitants a rapid warning, the short times to flash-over make it advisable to additionally use flame retarded grades of items like TV sets or upholstered furniture. Flame retardants delay or inhibit the start of a fire with the benefit of additional escape time, thus saving lives. The results obtained so far show that the combination of using smoke detectors for early warning and flame retardants for inhibiting flame propagation leads to better fire safety in residential buildings. The final report of the BAM project is expected in early 2006.

 Residential fire caused by a TV-set