Interview: Fire Protection in School Construction

The architect Thomas Ziegler from Munich reports on the latest developments and challenges in the area of fire protection in school construction. He also discusses the new construction of a high school that is the first school in Munich to follow a concept of open learning environments.

Interview Fire Protection in School Construction
Trudering High School is the first school in Munich to have open learning landscapes. (Source: Benno Steuernagel-Gniffke, München)

How has school construction changed over the past few decades and how has fire protection had to respond to these changes?

In the past, there were traditional corridor/classroom schools and hall schools from the 1970s with the largest open space focusing on a central assembly hall or recreation hall. Today we talk of learning environments with maximum openness and transparency, in which communication and the required retreats have become the focus of planners. It is essential here to integrate knowledge about preventive fire protection at a very early stage of the planning. At the very least, the position, dimensions and structural form of the entrances, approaches and stairwells already need to be defined at the tender/preliminary design phase. It is equally as important to define the fire compartments. In the case of specially designed schools e.g. for people with disabilities, for inclusion and various forms of adult education, it is imperative that building regulations are sensibly interpreted as the basis for the planning, as well as being important to apply for simplifications and deviations and to also make these acceptable for approval using compensatory measures. This means developing a safety goal-based fire protection concept with corresponding evaluation of the dangers and a risk assessment.

The interview was published in FeuerTRUTZ International, issue 1.2017 (January 2017).
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What needs to be considered when developing a fire protection concept for special constructions?

A particular challenge during the planning stage is often the lack of the required hallways with no fire load in accordance with the building regulations as the primary escape and emergency routes. A solution can only be found here by combining passive, active and operational/organisational fire protection. This raises the following questions: Where or how can electronic systems with their associated cables and junctions be sensibly integrated into the plans? How is the ventilation technology/overflow dampers being handled e.g. according to passive house standards? How and where are the results presented and what information system (analogue or digital) is being used?

How are the second escape routes achieved?

In Germany, the second escape route generally has to be provided structurally. Therefore, this requires at least two mutually independent stairwells, which, in the case of deviations from the regulations for the required hallways, are not permitted to be accessible from the same hallway. This results in compensatory measures using bypass escape routes with non-lockable doors, possibly escape balconies or, depending on the situation, an increased application of active fire protection by fitting fire detection systems.

How should schools with learning environments be assessed from a technical fire protection perspective?

These schools are characterised by openness, transparency, lots of daylight and multi-functional areas which in certain circumstances can be allocated to the corridor zones. The development of a professional and safety goal-oriented fire protection concept plays an important role here in supporting the architecture. It is necessary to evaluate the dangers and complete a risk assessment in order for the architect’s design ideas to gain approval and be ready for implementation.

How was this done during the new ­construction of Trudering High School in Munich?

For this project, I was already commissioned by the building authority to complete the specialist fire protection planning during the creation of the ­preliminary design and I accompanied the construction project right through to the handover. This high school for 1200 pupils is the first one in Munich to follow the new school typology with open learning environments.
This building includes a meeting/assembly hall that is also available for external use and an open recreation hall stretching over multiple floors with a neighbouring canteen and kitchen. Other functional areas are the triple-size sports hall with a grandstand for sports clubs and an underground car park.

Interview Fire Protection in School Construction
The second escape route was a special challenge at Trudering High School. (Source: Benno Steuernagel-Gniffke, München)

Which fire protection solution was developed for Trudering High School?

The preliminary design already had options for partitioning into individual fire compartments. The stairwells were cleverly inserted between the teaching buildings. An important design concept was the openness of the hallway areas, in some cases open over several floors.
The main task was to organise the escape routes in such a way that it did not limit structural flexibility and ­transparency. Compensatory measures had to be found to achieve the open design of the so-called play corridors and the fittings in the teacher and student cafés on the ground floor, which took account of the economic and functionally sensible use of ­elements from active fire protection.

Which compensatory measures were used precisely?

The building was equipped with a fire detection system for the early detection of fires and the resulting timely eva­cuation and firefighting measures. The use of independent extinguishing systems was limited to spaces with a particular risk of fire, including the open teacher and student cafés that have no technical fire protection in the form of partitions, and the kitchen. Localised water mist extinguishing systems were used here. Smoke curtains on the open stairwells can prevent smoke spreading across multiple floors because they are not used as escape routes. The cooperation of the users is indispensable for the operational fire protection measures. The duty to cooperate is defined in a comprehensive description of the fire safety regulations.

Interview partner: Thomas Ziegler has developed fire safety ­concepts for different types of schools for the Building Authority of the State Capital of Munich since 2009. He has worked at the architectural firm pbr zz, formerly Ziegler Zirngibl Architekten, for 20 years specialising in planning tasks in school and hospital ­construction. In 2005, he completed his ­specialist training as a Fire Prevention Planning Consultant and subsequently became an Expert for Preventative Fire Protection.

The interview was published in FeuerTRUTZ International, issue 1.2017 (January 2017).
More information about eMagazine FeuerTRUTZ International

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