Fire safety evaluation of ecclesiastical estate : the development and application of a fire safety evaluation procedure for the property protection of parish churches.


The environment in which we live relentlessly threatens to decay or destroy our built cultural heritage through climatic and man-made means. Fire presents the most severe threat to the fabric and content of historic buildings. The destruction, when it occurs is extremely swift, the loss caused is often complete and the indirect damage from smoke and water can also be significant. The incidences of fires in churches is currently exceeding those in all other historic building types. This trend is destroying irreplaceable national treasures as arguably, England and Wales contains the greatest collection, in terms of number and antiquity, of ancient parish churches in the world. This thesis presents an investigation into the fundamental principles underlying fire safety in parish churches. It identifies that the danger to life from fire is not high, due to the fact that the natural layout of churches facilitates good evacuation routes and travel distances. The threat to church property, however, is considerable as churches generally possess very limited fire safety measures. In addition, problems of building isolation, restricted access and limited water supply means that early intervention is unlikely. Such evidence prompted the need for a decision making tool to aid the custodians of churches in the management of fire safety and in the allocation of scarce resources. The aims of this thesis were to develop a prototype fire safety evaluation procedure for the property protection of parish churches and to examine, using a sample of churches, the effectiveness of the methodology. This has been achieved by developing a 'points scheme' technique to enable the judgement on the adequacy of fire safety to be undertaken. The work involved assigning numerical values to qualitative descriptions of events, techniques and processes by a group of experts representing the interests of those involved in the use, management, and preservation of churches as well as fire safety engineering. The opinions gathered were brought to a consensus in a series of Delphi group meetings, through discussion and matrix manipulation. A 'collated norm' was established, from a collection of fire safety guidance documents for places of worship, against which technical value judgements are made and the acceptable level of fire safety is adjudicated. The procedure is unique in its evaluation configuration, in that it balances the level of fire safety against the vulnerability of property fabric and content. The assessment is undertaken through an 'observational survey'. This is conducted by an expert, knowledgeable in ecclesiastical building construction and fire safety, observing all parts of the building and making judgements on the adequacy of eighteen identified fire safety components. Features of the building which are highlighted through the assessment as being a high fire risk can receive a more in-depth survey, beyond the scope of this evaluation procedure. The practical operation of the evaluation procedure has been tested on ten churches. The outcome shows a broad spread of results. An independent qualitative observational assessment by experts support the outcome of the evaluation procedure in nine out of ten cases. Preliminary repeatability application trials have also been conducted. They showed an encouraging level of consistency, illustrating further that the developed procedure is of positive value and utility. The versatility of the evaluation procedure enables a direct link to be made between potential improvements in the assessment score and the actual cost of making fire safety improvements. This facility enables decision makers to evaluate fire safety upgrade options.





Research Institute