NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - 54

One result of this inertia is that we
do not have detailed data about these
fires: the types of exterior assemblies
that were used, what kind of fire testing (if any) those assemblies had been
subjected to, how the fires started and
spread, the types of safety regulations
that may have been in place, and more.
Without that level of detail, we are
unable to make a convincing case for
jurisdictions to institute new or more
stringent testing methods, or to help
create regulations that would lead to
unsafe products being removed from
the market. Relying on media reports
also prevents us from gathering data on
the small fires that do not develop into
large disasters due to fire safety provisions working as they were intended.
The information we are getting is
skewed towards disaster and provides
few lessons about what works compared to what doesn't.
If we hope to properly address this
significant global threat, this needs
to change, and soon. According to the
Council on Tall Buildings and Urban
Habitat (CTBUH), there are presently

719 buildings taller than 150 meters, or
492 feet, under construction around the
world, some of which will most likely
include combustible exterior walls. This
number will only increase, as rapid
urbanization worldwide will see seven
out of 10 people living in cities by 2050,
according to the World Bank.

THE RISE OF FACADE SYSTEMS
Less than a year before the Grenfell
Tower fire, NFPA Journal published an
article that contained a foreboding and
sadly prescient statement about the
threat posed by combustible exterior
wall assemblies. In his "International"
column for the magazine, Donald
Bliss, then the NFPA vice president of
Field Operations, wrote that "in every
country I've visited for NFPA, fire
protection professionals are discussing fires involving improperly tested
exterior façade assemblies on high-rise
buildings. They agree that there is no
easy solution to correct this unsafe
condition in hundreds, if not thousands, of existing high-rise buildings
worldwide." Bliss went on to say that

TORCH TOWER

STILL
BURNING

Numerous
fires involving
combustible
exterior cladding
have occurred
worldwide since
the disastrous
Grenfell blaze.
Here are just
a few.

these fire professionals "also agree that,
while it is fortunate that no loss of life
has occurred in these fires, it is only a
matter of time before an exterior façade
fire extends into a building, trapping
occupants and firefighters."
The concern voiced by Bliss and
other fire professionals around the
world-and the primary reason for the
increase in high-rise façade fires-was
the introduction of combustible materials into these façade systems. The
energy crisis of the 1970s sparked a
demand for insulation of buildings to
save energy used for heating, and the
desire for energy-efficient buildings
has increased ever since. One outcome
of these efforts is that the thermal
performance of exterior walls has
improved significantly over the past
50 years. But with the introduction
of combustible materials into those
exterior assemblies, that performance
boost has come at a cost.
There are several ways to make an
insulated exterior wall. The most frequently used systems include external
insulating façade systems and external

YUANSHENG INTERNATIONAL
8.4.17
TORCH TOWER
Dubai, UAE
This wasn't the first
time the 84-story
residential tower
experienced an
exterior fire; it was
also the site of a
similar blaze in
February 2015.

2.1.18
YUANSHENG
INTERNATIONAL
Zhengzhou, China
Combustible exterior
panels contributed to
the fire spread on this
high-rise office tower.

4.5.18
TAKSIM ILK YARDIM
HOSPITAL
Istanbul, Turkey
Following a fire that
seriously damaged
the 14-story hospital,
a Turkish engineering
expert told a media
outlet that "more
than half of Istanbul's
buildings have similar
low-quality and highly
flammable cladding."

5.15.18
ZEN TOWER
Dubai, UAE
An electrical short
circuit and discarded
smoking materials
were both suspected
in a fire that started
with outdoor furniture
on a balcony of the
residential tower
and spread to the
exterior of the
15-story structure.

Sources: Media reports

54 | NFPA JOURNAL * M A Y / J U N E 2 0 2 0

Building Facades feature_05.20 FINAL.indd 54

5/2/20 4:16 PM



NFPA Journal - May/June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of NFPA Journal - May/June 2020

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