Annual Conference and AGM 2019

Hampshire Fire & Rescue Head Quarters 22-23 March 2019.

After weeks of preparation, meetings and discussion the Conference weekend arrived. What a fantastic venue, with 3 large conference rooms at our disposal fitted with state of the art communications and Hi Tech visual display system meaning that presentations were viewable simultaneously in every room. There was plenty of space for the delegates in the lecture room as well as 2 rooms where we had exhibitors displaying their products and services, and where they could easily interact with the visitors. Tables had been arranged for discussion groups and a separate lunch area where endless tea and coffee was available. By far the most exciting venue we have had the privilege to have used.

The conference started on Friday morning with the opening address from Andy Bowers – Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, Chief Fire Officer, who explained that we were the first group to use their brand new premises and was looking forward to working with NSMT in the future. By reducing fires in thatch in their region, it would relive resources in other areas. A call out to a thatch fire required a minimum of 6 appliances with a likelihood of up to 70 fire fighters to tackle the blaze and rescue of property. This costs on average £45,000 to the Fire and Rescue Service and up to £500,000 to the insurance companies per major fire!

Our Chairman followed with his welcome before Matthew Owen-Farmer and Mark White led an in depth presentation, Fire in Thatch – consequences and Fire Fighting about the method and systems put in place in the event of a thatch fire. The use of CAFS – compressed air foam system and fire breaks form an essential first stage in getting a fire under control. But difficulties in finding access to more remote properties and water sources loses vital time in setting these preliminaries in place. Questions from the floor showed the need for better information and sharing across services, so the task of tackling a fire is not delayed. All services in attendance were keen for a central database with property detail to be established. With the help of thatchers and home owners and the Fire Services this database will give details of access, type of thatch and whether multilayer or thatched to the Dorset Model and whether there is a home owners action plan to call on. The database will be expandable to accommodate more specific information as it is needed or available.

A visit to the purpose built Burn Area followed where a small section of thatch was set light to demonstrate how fire in thatch spreads. In the event of a brand settling on the thatch long enough to start a fire it would show little sign of being lit. With the help of a blow torch we were able to speed this process. The fire was lit in the middle of the sample and observed to spread slowly down the thatch toward the eave, this then spread along the eave line before traveling up the slope towards the ridge. Experienced firemen agreed that this is how it often happens in full scale incidents. When the fire was extinguished it was revealed that not only had the fire been spreading down the thatch, but it had also eaten its way through the thickness and spread on the underside then up and along the ridge.

The sample burnt had a flexible fire membrane between the thatch and the timber structure which had gone brittle and would crumble with little effort, whereas, in a previous recent test (as shown on the Fire Service Training video), a similar test roof with fireboard burnt for an hour or more with little damage and the roof was still intact once the thatch was removed.

Charles Harris talked to us about the fire risk in heritage properties and showed us slides of some of the losses of 2018. It is so difficult to address the risk involved with these properties as they were designed to have air passages incorporated to keep the fabric of the building dry. Air passages behind panelling and ducts for plumbing all create their own problems in the event of a fire.

The fire can be fed through these passages providing the needed oxygen to enhance combustion. The force behind this can move the heart of the blaze quickly through the property.
It is a fine balance between risk reduction and the compromise of the property’s heritage integrity. Once the Heritage is gone it is gone forever. Although a painstaking recreation of a lost asset may be technically accurate, it is still a pastiche and of little heritage value.

It is 25 years since the inception of the Dorset Model and Robert Heaton gave a presentation of how it has developed with the last updates being published in 2014. The Dorset Model is a system designed to enable new build properties to have thatch when built closer to a boundary than 12m. It is a system which creates a physical barrier insulating or rather isolating the interior of the property from the thatched roof from fire. This barrier has to be a rigid board which maintains its integrity for at least 30 minutes and preferable 60. This affords the fire service an element of safety in the event of a fire. The micro porous board should also be water resisting so the fire can be tackled effectively with lower risk of water damage to the fabric and interior of the building.

The Dorset Model is due for review and consideration will be given to retro fitting for older properties and the use of newer types of fire barrier. This review is expected to result in a 5 year plan.

Marjorie Sanders has been recording incidents of fires in thatched properties with records going back to 1964. In the last 10 years there have been 567 serious fires. The source of this information is through a google search facility which flags up fires recorded in the press often with photographs, time of day and the day of the week. By far the greatest numbers of fires are during February to May and more often on Wednesday and Thursday being reported to Fire and Rescue in the mornings. The photographs show that chimneys form the focus of fires and, in many photos, the thatch is multi-layered and the chimney has some form of spark arrestor of bird guard fitted. Also, within the reports, woodburning stoves are a common denominator. NSMT do not recommend the fitting of enclosed fires in properties with a thatched roof.

There are many other ways of reducing the risk of fires which are highlighted in the NSMT publication ‘Fire Prevention in Thatched Homes’. A well maintained chimney is most important along with the use of appropriate fuels. In order to check the condition of a chimney it is necessary to remove some thatch from around the chimney. If this is the case, then a record should be kept. By identifying and labelling the layers on the roof and the corresponding samples removed, photographs can be taken. The records can be kept in your customer file and the samples bagged and replaced in the roof. Often the straw from the upper layers can be reused to build up around the chimney after proper repairs have been carried out. Please be aware that work to chimneys has to be carried out in accordance with building regulation and may need listed building consent.

Oliver Edgar of HETAS talked to the conference about chimney construction in relation to thatched properties. This encompassed building regulations and insulation to chimneys and the structure of HETAS membership, highlighting the levels of integrity expected from their members and the support they can offer.

The chimney pot in the photo became this blocked in just a few weeks through burning in appropriate fuels!

Serena Sumner introduced us to ‘Wood Sure’ Not for profit organisation providing certification for wood fuel suppliers/producers of Firewood, Briquettes, Pellets, Woodchip and Hog fuel (Hog fuel is an unrefined mix of coarse chips of bark and wood fibre. Hog fuel is any type of wood by product or waste that can be burned for fuel but can’t be categorized as chips, shavings, bark, or sawdust. They have recently introduced the Ready to Burn initiative for firewood. Burning the appropriate fuel: Reduces particulate emissions (less smoke); Burns more efficiently in old or new appliances; Burning drier wood reduces environmental
impact in any appliance old or new; Burning dry wood reduces problems with chimneys and appliance maintenance.

Working Together – the future is looking good.