Fire Safety in high rise buildings: understanding the role of membranes (2023)

Every year an estimated 5,000 people die in residential fires across Europe, while about ten times that number are injured1. Since the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017, the spotlight has fallen on fire safety in high rise buildings.

Fire safety in high rise & high risk buildings

Fires can be more dangerous in high rise residential buildings than in low rise homes. Why is this?

  • During a fire it is more difficult to evacuate occupants from tall buildings.
  • Fire and smoke tend to spread vertically.
  • It more challenging for fire services to fight fires in tall buildings.
  • Finally, if the external cladding of a high rise building features combustible materials, as was the case at Grenfell, it can cause a fire to spread quickly up its external surface. This is why it is important to specify non-combustible materials in high-rise facades.
Fire Safety in high rise buildings: understanding the role of membranes (1)

The Grenfell fire led to a review of the building regulations, chaired by Dame Judith Hackitt. Her review described the regulatory system for high rise buildings as “not fit for purpose”, and led to an initial ban on combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings over 18 metres high in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 11 metres in Scotland, along with other changes. This has now been reduced to 11 metres across the board, though these details are still subject to change.

What are high risk buildings for fire?

Approximately 80 per cent of deaths from fire occur in homes, according to the European Fire Safety Alliance. Tall residential buildings are regarded as a particular risk because of the potential for large numbers of fatalities.
This doesn’t just apply to conventional homes and apartments, but also to other types of building where people sleep, such as:

  • boarding schools
  • prisons
  • hotels and hostels
  • residential colleges etc.

Certain types of residential building, such as hospitals and care homes, are particularly vulnerable, because occupants may be unable to escape quickly. Many of these building types also have a high density of occupants, which is an extra risk factor.

Considering fire safety at design stage & fire safety engineering

Planning for fire safety from the earliest stages of design is critical for delivering a fire safe building.
There are multiple ways that proper design can reduce the risk of fire , including:

(Video) Webinar: Fire Performance of Construction Membranes

  • Designing out ignition sources
  • Limiting the amount of material that will burn in the event of a fire
  • Designing the building so that residents can escape safely in the event of a fire
  • Designing the building so that heat and smoke can be contained
  • Designing the building the so that it resists fire and maintains its structural integrity

The RIBA Plan of Work recommends considering whether specialist fire expertise is needed at the outset of your project. It says that a fire safety strategy should be integrated as soon as the building project is identified, and should continue right through to the post-occupancy management of the building, providing a “golden thread” of fire safety information throughout the building’s lifetime.

What is the difference between ‘reaction to fire’ and ‘fire resistance’?

When it comes to the fire safety of construction materials, two terms you frequently hear are ‘fire rated’ and ‘fire resistant’. But these terms are often confused.

The Euroclass system (EN 13501-1) measures ‘reaction to fire’ and assigns fire ratings for building materials on a scale from A1 to F. These ratings or classifications measure the extent to which a product will ignite and contribute to a fire. An A1 rated material is regarded as non-combustible. It will not cause a fire to spread, but this does not mean it will resist fire either.

Fire resistance testing, on the other hand, assesses the performance of construction elements for their load-bearing or fire separating properties – usually termed their fire resistance – for their regulated use in buildings. It is measured in the number of minutes of resistance the material can provide.

Read on to find out more about reaction to fire and fire resistance.

Euroclass ratings for external wall membranes in high-rise buildings

What does the ban on combustible materials in the external walls of high rise buildings mean in practice?

When specifying materials which become part of an external wall on buildings with a storey at least 11 metres above ground level we must consider if they need to achieve class A2-s1,d0 or above. Depending on the project location and building purpose different building regulations apply.

Membranes are one of the components in external walls that are exempt from meeting class A2-s1,d0. They are required to meet classification B-s3,d0. Whilst this is the requirement, we recommend when designing buildings that require a breather membrane, products that meet classification A2-s1,d0 should be considered from the outset. Breathable membranes such as Partel's EXOPERM DURO A1 or EXOPERM MONO DURO A2 could be specified.

Decoding the fire performance of building materials & membranes

Post-Grenfell, the primary means of evaluating the reaction to fire of construction products in the UK is the European Standard EN 13501 – ‘Fire Classification of Construction Products and Building Elements’. This represents a move away from the old British system BS 476.

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The Euroclass system – what do the classifications mean?

EN 13501-1 outlines a series of fire tests and, depending on the results, a building product may achieve a reaction to fire classification on a scale from A1 to F. The standard provides additional classifications for the production of smoke and flaming droplets. A classification might be given as ‘A2-s3,d1’. But what does this mean?

The primary classifications are as follows:

A1Non-combustible material
A2Limited combustibility (England, Wales & NI); Non-combustible (Scotland)
BCombustible material - Very limited contribution to fire
CCombustible material - Limited contribution to fire
DCombustible material - Medium contribution to fire
ECombustible material - High contribution to fire
FCombustible material - Easily flammable

What do the s and d classifications mean?

Products are also given classifications for the production of smoke and flaming droplets. Flaming droplets result in burns and cause fires to spread. Smoke inhalation, meanwhile, is the leading cause of fatalities from fire.

Production of flaming droplets is classified as follows:

D0 = No droplets
D1 = Some droplets
D2 = Quite a lot of droplets

Smoke production is classified as follows:

S1 = Little or no smoke
S2 = Quite a lot of smoke
S3 = Substantial / heavy smoke

What is fire resistance?

Fire resistance measures the ability of a construction element to maintain its load bearing function (ie structural capacity), integrity (the ability to prevent flames and gases from passing through) and insulation function (the ability to prevent heat from passing through). These are denoted by the letters R, E and I respectively.

Fire resistance is measured in number of minutes. Sometimes figures are quoted separately, for example an R of 30 minutes and an E of 60 minutes, while sometimes an assembly may be quoted as having an REI of 100 minutes, which means the assembly provides all three functions for 60 minutes. Minimum periods of fire resistance for elements in different building types are given in the building regulations. Fire resistance is covered by EN13501-2, EN1366 and other related standards.

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Standardised fire tests explained

EN-13501-1 outlines a range of tests to determine the fire classification of a product.

Ignitability test (EN ISO 11925-2) — E or F rating
The product is placed in a chamber and exposed to a gas flame. Depending on the time it takes to ignite and the speed with which the flame spreads, it may achieve an E or an F rating. If the product achieves a 30 second exposure, it may be eligible for a higher rating.

Single burning Item test (EN 13823) — B, C or D rating
A product may achieve a B, C or D rating depending on its performance in this test. The product is exposed to a small fire in a full size test room. The release of heat and smoke are measured, as are the production of droplets and spread of flames.

Gross heat of combustion test (EN ISO 1716) — A1 or A2 rating
This test is for products seeking an A1 or A2 rating. The material is ground to powder and set alight in an oxygen-filled container that is surrounded by water. Testers measure the change in the water temperature and based on this a calculation is performed to work out the gross heat of combustion, also known as calorific value. This is the total heat energy released when the material undergoes complete combustion in oxygen.

Non-combustibility test (EN ISO 1182) – A1 or A2 rating
This test is also for products seeking an A1 or A2 rating. The product is placed into a furnace at about 750 C, and temperature changes in the material are observed using sensors. The sample is observed for flaming, and the mass of the material is measured before and after.

Partel membranes for use in high rise buildings

Partel offers a variety of fire-rated membranes for use in high rise buildings, and recently launched two new fire-rated breather membranes, EXOPERM DURO A1 and EXOPERM MONO DURO A2.

Below is our list of high-rise suitable membranes and their ratings.

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Breather membranes

  • EXOPERM MONO DURO A2 – A2-s1,d0
  • EXOPERM MONO DURO 200 — B-s1,d0
  • EXOPERM MONO SA 250 – B-S1,d0 (when affixed to a non-combustible material, otherwise Class E applies)

Vapour control layers

  • IZOPERM PLUS A2 – A2-s1,d0
Fire Safety in high rise buildings: understanding the role of membranes (2)

All of these Partel membranes meet UK regulations for high rise buildings. They also all achieve the highest possible classifications for production of smoke and flaming droplets, critical considerations for fire safety.

Of course, it is important to consider other performance factors when specifying a membrane, such as:

  • breathability
  • air permeability
  • UV resistance,
  • how the membrane is suited to your construction type

Best practice is to specify the membrane with the highest fire classification once all other key performance factors have been met.

Fire safety: a crucial parameter of building sustainability

The twin goals of fire safety and sustainability can sometimes appear to be in conflict. For example, the UK’s ban on combustible materials also restricted the use of timber — a lower carbon material than concrete or steel — in mid and high rise buildings. But ultimately, fire safety is a core principle of building sustainability. Why?

  • Fires shorten the lifespan of a building. A serious fire can require substantial parts of a building, or an entire building, to be rebuilt — generating all of the carbon emissions and pollution associated with the new construction.
  • Fires emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and other toxic gases into the air and nearby water bodies. One study found that warehouse fires in England release an estimated 135,000 tonnes of CO2 each year.2
  • Firefighting foams can pollute nearby water bodies
  • Demolition of fire-damaged buildings creates huge quantities of waste, some of which may be toxic.

“Fire resilience is currently the missing part of the sustainable buildings puzzle – a building is not truly sustainable if it can burn to the ground,” says Fire Safe Europe.

Fire safety in the retrofit drive

There is currently a major drive to retrofit buildings across Europe. The EU’s Renovation Wave aims to renovate up to 35 million buildings by 2030. Meanwhile, the UK government wants all homes to achieve an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of C by 2035.

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The retrofit drive offers an opportunity to improve the fire safety of buildings, but there is also the risk of making buildings less fire safe if combustible assemblies are installed.

Buildings which are the least efficient and most likely to experience fuel poverty — such as older social housing blocks — are often those most at risk from fire too. So, if done right, the retrofit drive presents a unique opportunity to improve energy efficiency, comfort and fire safety all at once.




What are the fire safety precautions in high-rise buildings? ›

Never lock or block fire exits. Keep waste material away from escape route. Fire doors not only provide a way out during a fire, they also slow the spread of the effects of fire and smoke. Never prop fire doors open.

What is the importance of fire and corrosion protection in in high-rise buildings? ›

Fire protection is not only focused on stopping the spread of flames, but also smoke and dangerous gases. The main purpose of all fire protection strategies is to slow down the spread of these elements and allow rescue services to do their job and residents to evacuate safely.

What are the rules for fire safety? ›

Get down, get low, get out – smoke is poisonous, get underneath it on your hands and knees, and crawl to the nearest safe exit. Shut the doors behind you to stop the spread of fire and smoke. Shout Fire! Fire!

What are 3 precautionary measures that can prevent fire? ›

Top Tips for Fire Safety

Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Test smoke alarms every month. If they're not working, change the batteries. Talk with all family members about a fire escape plan and practice the plan twice a year.

What are 3 fire precautions? ›

2. Fire safety precautions
  • keeping your workplace tidy and having a good standard of housekeeping.
  • regularly removing combustible waste, including accumulations of dust.
  • keeping ignition sources away from combustible material or flammable liquids and gases.
Sep 4, 2020

Which building materials is the most fire resistance Why? ›

Concrete is highly resistant to heat, and it is noncombustible, so it's generally considered one of the most effective building materials for slowing down fires. That's one reason why it's one of the most widely used materials for modern buildings.

What are the most important elements to be protected in a fire? ›

Heat, fuel and oxygen must combine in a precise way for a fire to start and continue to burn. If one element of the fire triangle is not present or removed, fire will not start or, if already burning, will extinguish.

What is one of the most effective means of fire protection in a building? ›

A common fire protection system is a smoke detector and a sprinkler. If a fire sparks, smoke sets off the detector causing the sprinkler system to activate. The water protects against the spread of fire.

What are the five steps fire safety? ›

Please use the links below to find out more about each of the five steps:
  • Step 1 - Identify people at risk. Have you identified who is at risk? ...
  • Step 2 - Identify fire hazards. Have you identified all potential fuel sources? ...
  • Step 3 - Evaluate the risk. ...
  • Step 4 - Record your findings. ...
  • Step 5 - Review and revise.
Dec 8, 2021

What is the fire safety summary? ›

Fire safety is a set of practices intended to reduce destruction caused by fire. Fire safety measures include those that are intended to prevent the ignition of an uncontrolled fire and those that are used to limit the spread and impact of a fire.

What are the 5 rules of accurate fires? ›

There are five requirements for achieving accurate first-round fire for effect. These requirements are accurate target location and size, accurate firing unit location, accurate weapon and ammunition information, accurate meteorological information, and accurate computational procedures.

What is the first line of defense against fire? ›

A portable fire extinguisher is often the first line of defense against a small fire. A trained person can save lives and property by using an extinguisher to put out or control a small fire until the fire department arrives.

Which are the 3 main fire hazards? ›

Common fire hazards are found in most occupancies and are not associated with any special occupancy. Smoking, trash, electrical appliances, storage, and heating are common to most occupancy types.

What type of wall has better fire resistance? ›

What is the most commonly used fire-resistant material for interior walls? Gypsum board, also known as drywall, is the most commonly used fire-resistant interior finish. Type X gypsum board is treated with additives to improve its fire-resistance property, making it a popular choice.

Which floors are more fire resistance? ›

Vinyl flooring, ceramic tile, and natural stone are fire resistant and often used in home kitchens. For industrial spaces and commercial kitchens, resinous floors are not only fire resistant, but provide many other critical benefits that floors manufactured for the home cannot offer.

Which type of construction has the highest resistance to fire? ›

The most fire-resistant buildings, Type 1 structures, are constructed with concrete and protected steel, which can withstand high temperatures without collapsing.

What are the three components of structural fire protection? ›

The primary methods of achieving fire suppression can be explained through the use of the fire tetrahedron which evolved from the familiar fire triangle. The fire triangle is a graphic representation of the three components that must be present for combustion to occur: 1) fuel, 2) heat, and 3) oxygen.

What are the 4 methods of fire suppression? ›

All fires can be extinguished by cooling, smothering, starving or by interrupting the combustion process to extinguish the fire.

What OSHA standards require a fire prevention plan? ›

1910.39 - Fire prevention plans.

Which is the most common method of fire control in a structure? ›

The most common method of fire suppression is water. In part this is because many fire protection systems in buildings may have been installed before more advanced fire suppression systems were available.

What provides structural fire protection to a building? ›

There are multiple ways to compartmentalise a building, such as fire walls, doors, and cavity barriers. Cavity barriers inhibit the spread of smoke through open spaces in roofs and between floors. These barriers can be made from a variety of materials, such as concrete, gypsum or masonry.

What are the two main types of fire protection systems? ›

Active and passive fire protection work independently but together to provide comprehensive coverage for your facility. In the unfortunate event of a fire, active fire protection methods work to extinguish the fire, while passive fire protection keeps the fire from spreading to other areas in the building.

What are the 7 layers of fire safety? ›

According to the EU Fire Safety Guide, the 7 layers of fire safety in buildings are prevention, detection, early suppression, evacuation, compartmentation, structural safety and fire fighting.

What are 4 things a fire safety plan should include? ›

At a minimum, your fire prevention plan must include: A list of all major fire hazards, proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials, potential ignition sources and their control, and the type of fire protection equipment necessary to control each major hazard.

What would be 7 basic steps to building a fire? ›

How to Build a Campfire
  1. Choose a Safe Spot. The first step in building a campfire is finding a safe spot. ...
  2. Create a Tinder Bed. Once you've found a safe spot, set down a layer or bundle of tinder. ...
  3. Add the Kindling. Next, stack kindling on top of the tinder. ...
  4. Build Your Fire. Now, build the frame for the rest of your fire.

What are the three main ways in which a fire can be controlled or put out Class 7? ›

Fire can be put out by taking away the fuel, stopping the supply of oxygen or by lowering down the temperature around the fuel, so that the fuel is not able to attain its flash point.

What is the gunnery problem? ›

The gunnery problem is an indirect fire problem. Solving the problem requires weapon and ammunition settings that, when applied to the weapon and ammunition, will cause the projectile to achieve the desired effects on the target.

What does the fire support gunnery team consist of? ›


The fire support gunnery problem is solved through theN coordinated efforts of the field artillery team (Figure 1-1). This team consists of the observer, the fire direction center (FDC), and the firing unit-all linked by an adequate communications system.

Are high rises safe in a fire? ›

Buildings with occupied levels above a fire floor pose a significant danger if the fire is not extinguished quickly. It can be difficult to evacuate large numbers of people from elevated floors, resulting in longer evacuation times and challenges for first responders trying to reach the elevated floors.

What should be done to prevent smoke from entering a high rise stair tower? ›

One way to combat this issue, and to keep stairways clear of smoke to allow occupants to descend safely is to employ the use of smoke and fire curtains in these areas. Smoke curtains are discreetly installed at the head of an elevator or stairwell doorway.

What fire safety systems may be located in a building? ›

These may include sprinkler systems and fire suppression systems such as smoke containment curtains and smoke vents. Products like these are used to ensure building fires cause the least damage possible.

Where should additional equipment be stated on a high rise fire? ›

Where should additional equipment be staged on a high-rise fire? One or two floors below the fire. Which color are the high-voltage cables in a hybrid vehicle?

What are the hazards in high-rise buildings? ›

What are the risks of working on high-rise construction sites?
  • Ladders.
  • Falling waste.
  • Slips, trips, and falls.
  • Electric shocks.
  • Crane & hoist operations.
Apr 26, 2022

What are the standards for high-rise buildings? ›

The definition for a high-rise building according to Section 202 of the 2021 International Building Code (IBC) is a building with an occupied floor more than 75 feet or 22,860 mm above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access. 75 feet is roughly about 7 stories, with a 10 foot allowance per floor.

What is the danger in high-rise building? ›

These are buildings where a lot of people live, sleep, are in need of care and/or cannot escape quickly or easily in case of a fire emergency. The risks of losing lives due to a fire are high within this category of buildings.

What is the rule of thumb for stair pressurization? ›

The minimum permissible pressure dif- ference is 0.10 in of water (25 Pa) when all stair doors are closed or not less than 0.05 in of water (0.125 Pa) when any three doors are open. As an alternative to the maintenance of 0.05 in of water (0.125 Pa).

What is the purpose of stairwell pressurization? ›

Purpose of stairwell pressurisation

The pressurisation of stairwells is engineered to prevent smoke and heat from leaking past closed doors and infiltrating stairwells. The systems control air pressures to restrict smoke and heat movements.

What are the structural measures for preventing the passage of flames and smoke? ›

Any breaches in fire compartments must be filled using an intumescent sealant. when exposed to high temperatures. This fills any gaps and prevents the passage of smoke and flames. Any openings between compartments, such as doors, windows, joints, pipes, and ducts, must be fireproofed.

What does OSHA require facilities must provide for fire safety? ›

OSHA requires a minimum-rated 10B fire extinguisher be provided within 50 feet of the point of job site use of more than 5 gallons of flammable or combustible liquids or 5 pounds of flammable gas.

What is the OSHA standard that addresses fire protection and prevention in the construction industry? ›

1926 Subpart F - Fire Protection and Prevention | Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

What is the most common fire protection system? ›

Water. A fire suppression system that relies on water is the most common type of fire suppression system, and most people choose to have them installed in businesses and buildings.

How to fight fire in a high-rise building without a standpipe system? ›

You can pull hose to a window and deploy from there. This is a viable option, just make sure to use an apartment next to the stairwell. If the fire floor is untenable, deploy from the window on the floor below directly into the stairwell.

What is the acronym for high-rise firefighting? ›

Safety Tips For High-Rise Fires

The old standby for high rise operations is the acronym, ALS-BASE. Attack, Lobby, Staging, and BASE help approaching units know where to start and what to do once they get there.

What tools might be brought to a high-rise fire? ›

Let's take a moment to explore each recommended piece of equipment and what it does:
  • Standpipe Elbow.
  • Pressure Gauge.
  • Valve.
  • Spanner Wrenches.
  • Chocks.
  • Reducers and Increasers.
  • Pipe Wrench.
  • Heavy-duty Bag.
Jan 9, 2023


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