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What To Do When You Don’t Have Billionaires To Save Malta’s Iconic Buildings: A Guide To Fire Safety On Historic Buildings

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Last month, the world watched as the iconic Notre Dame burned and billionaires lined up in the greatest charity pissing contest the world has ever seen. With a building symbolic of European architecture and culture crumbling before our own eyes, Lovin Malta wondered what exactly could happen to historically important Maltese buildings that are yet to be converted into apartment blocks.

So whether you’re in love with your own historic home, obsessed with a particular building, a government department fearing for your safety, or just waiting for a relative to die to make some money, here’s everything you need to know.

Speaking to Lovin Malta, Firetech explained how while modern buildings are designed from the outset to allow occupants to leave quickly and easily in the event of a fire, adopting this system to historic buildings presents a more difficult challenge.

This is all the more apparent when the introduction of fire doors, fire alarms, firefighting and evacuation sign can have a disastrous effect on a building’s character and historic interest.

“Risk assessment and the development of a strategic approach to fire safety measures can lead to more sympathetic solutions,” Firetech said.

Is the protection of property even part of fire safety?

Two main factors should always be considered when it comes to fire safety; the protection of persons either living, working or visiting the premises, and the protection of the building fabric and its contents.

Currently, the only requirement in law concerns the provision for life safety and adequate means of escape, and not the protection of property.

This means that it is the fire department who will be primarily concerned with ensuring that optimum standards are achieved for the provision of means of escape and for the inclusion of means for fighting a fire.

Guides to fire safety standards do exist, but these are based upon prescriptive standards that are founded on generally deemed to satisfy criteria applied to the main factors of design for life safety, such as the provision of exits, protected routes and maximum travel distances.

These standards have no real scientific basis, Firetech said, but rather have evolved over time and are considered appropriate for most building types and occupancy.

So what should you look out for?

When designing fire safety for any building, two very specific categories emerge: ‘passive’ protection measures which rely on physical barriers to restrict the development or spread of fire, and ‘active’ fire protection measures including, for example, fire detector and extinguisher systems

With regards to historic and listed buildings, the identification of cable routes is actually as important as the installation itself. Where it is not possible, a strategy for chasing and concealment should be agreed, which takes into account the need to minimise damage to fine finishes, not least because repairs by a specialist craftsman can be expensive.

An alternative is to avoid hard wiring between units by specifying a radio-linked system, in which each unit transmits data by radio frequency to a receiver.

However, with Firetech’s experience in such installations, the benefits of reduced wiring can be offset by larger, more intrusive units required to incorporate radio equipment; by the cost of maintaining the system and replacing batteries; and by the effectiveness and reliability of signal integrity.

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