Duisburg fire tragedy reminds us not to take fire safety for granted

Jun 6, 2016 | News

On May 17th a residential fire in an apartment building in Duisburg, Germany, took the lives of a mother and her two sons. 28 residents were also injured. The fire originated from an overturned candle in a ground floor apartment, and quickly grew to a size that caused the fire to impinge on the façade. Here the flames were propagated by the insulation cladding on the façade, and spread rapidly to the fourth floor before the fire brigade could contain it. The victims, as well as those injured, were affected by heavy smoke spreading up all floors in the early hours of the morning, while they were sleeping.

The Duisburg fire underlines two issues at the core of Fire Safe Europe’s campaign: the fire safety of building facades and smoke hazards from construction products. Unfortunately, the current European test and classification system for construction products fails to address these issues and to protect EU citizens from these significant fire and smoke hazards.

Façade fire safety

The EU lacks a harmonised fire test and classification for building façades. To address this, the European Commission is proposing a two-test solution, giving Member States the possibility to choose between a large-scale and a medium-scale test.

Even though the official fire report has not been published, initial reports suggest that the façade system used on the building in Duisburg was a significant factor in this tragedy. Until recently facade systems like this were approved in Germany according to the same medium-scale test included in the Commission’s proposal.

Fire Safe Europe is therefore calling the Commission to withdraw its current approach and develop one robust, performance-based large-scale test based on the needs and experiences of all EU Member States.

Smoke hazards

EU fire safety regulations and standards do not take into consideration the toxicity of fire fumes from construction products. Yet, the victims of Duisburg fire were overcome by smoke from the façade cladding three floors above the room where the fire started.

As the European Commission will soon launch a study on whether there is a need to regulating smoke toxicity under the Construction Products Regulation, Fire Safe Europe urges not to ignore what happened in Duisburg, and to take this opportunity to better incorporate smoke hazards from construction products into existing fire standards.

Better regulation for fire safe buildings

The recent Duisburg fire shows European citizens and institutions that they can not take fire safety in buildings for granted.

Better regulation, at both the European and the national level, is needed to relegate this kind of tragedies to the past and ensure that we all live and work in fire safe buildings.


Picture credits: by ZebraDS, via Wikimedia Commons