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Freelance journalist

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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
May 24, 2022

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The Video Surveillance Report 2023

Fire safety

Global fire menace is ‘enormous’ but can be tamed, says leading fire expert

The loss of lives, property and heritage and the damage to health and society are among the scourges that are caused by fire, and it is lower and middle income countries that are paying the price. This was the message from Brian Meacham, who gave the keynote address on the first day of the 7th International Tall Buildings Conference in May, held alongside FIREX International in London.

Meacham – who as a fire engineer has undertaken work for governments, NGOs and corporations internationally – said that although the conference was there to talk about tall buildings, this has to be done in the context of fire safety overall. The Decade of Action for Fire Safety – launched last October by the International Fire Safety Standards Coalition (IFSSC) – aims to stabilise and then reduce the level of fire fatalities, injuries, economic cost and environmental impact around the world by 2032. The initiative’s five pillars of action are:

  1. People: setting out the actions that can help people understand fire
  2. Products: reduce fire hazards associated with appliances, contents and building components, such as reducing the use of open flames
  3. Structures: actions such as legislation to reduce fire hazards of structures including planning, design and operation
  4. Infrastructure: action to support firefighting infrastructure such as fire services
  5. Communities: facilitate sustainable and fire resilient communities

Meacham said that while fire losses for high income countries were not as significant – with the clear exception of events such as the Grenfell Tower and Notre Dame fires ­– losses were regularly substantial for middle and lower income countries. The problem was becoming particularly acute in rapidly urbanised and densely populated areas in developing countries.

Fire safety initiatives under way

Fortunately, we are not starting with a blank sheet of paper, said Meacham, as there are lots of initiatives out there such as training and education and developing safer appliances (Japan, for example, has had success with auto shut-off stove burners). And in countries and regions where there are no, or insufficient, regulations, IFSSC standards can be brought in as a baseline. But while government action is important, so is private sector engagement such as with insurance companies.

But why a ‘decade of fire safety action’ – is it any more than just a collection of words? asked Meacham. Can we put actual timelines, actions and measurable metrics in place? The Decade of Action for Fire Safety will use potential indicators that can be captured to monitor progress and evaluate outcomes. “I can point to a number of safety initiatives, such as the Decade of Action for Road Safety, which was highly successful – especially in developing economies.”

He then outlined the performance based Common Principles in a building’s lifecycle, which are:

  • Prevention – Safeguarding against the outbreak of fire and/or limiting its effects
  • Detection and Communication – Investigating and discovering fire followed by informing occupants and the fire service
  • Occupant Protection – Facilitating occupant avoidance of and escape from the effects of fire
  • Containment – Limiting of fire and all of its consequences to as small an area as possible
  • Extinguishment – Suppressing of fire and protecting of the surrounding environment.

“It’s a global problem,” summarised Meacham. “The loss of property, heritage and society is enormous. If we can’t mitigate this, the cost to society will become unsustainable.”


2023 Fire Safety eBook – Grab your free copy!

Download the Fire Safety in 2023 eBook, keeping you up to date with the biggest news and prosecution stories from around the industry. Chapters include important updates such as the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 and an overview of the new British Standard for the digital management of fire safety information.

Plus, we explore the growing risks of lithium-ion battery fires and hear from experts in disability evacuation and social housing.


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