Fire safety is more than just math

In the summer of 2018, Station Noord was opened, one of the stations on the Amsterdam North-South line. The station is a place where 40,000 travelers meet every day, and dozens of subways and buses stop. In other words: a place where fire safety is a top priority! But how is this arranged and what is involved? Albert Werkman, senior fire safety consultant at Antea Group, looks back and shares his experiences.

For years, various consulting firms and architectural firm Benthem Crouwel juggled the design of North Station and the adjacent bus station. The design that was there had already been licensed. But as one often sees in practice, such a design is overtaken by time. In this way, new principles were gradually added to the design. From 2012, a new building decree also applied to the partially adopted design. Fortunately, there were already a number of well-thought-out fire safety plans for the station when the Metro & Tram Service in Amsterdam municipality knocked on our door in 2017 with the request to fill in the last gaps and dots. In other words: to see it all through again and to update the fire safety plan where necessary.

A fragmented puzzle

That meant I had a huge amount of information on my desk in the form of dozens of designs, subdesigns, reports, surveys, and analytics. A very fragmented puzzle that we knew we could reuse a large part of the old puzzle pieces of. But there was also a part that might not be relevant anymore. For what did an extra escalator hole in the platform’s vacuum mean for smoke and fire development? Or how should we demonstrate that the central reception area and the underlying bicycle cellar could be designed as one fire cell, but still offer similar fire safety?

We then went through all the puzzle pieces, put them next to each other and recalculated and validated parts where necessary so that everything fit again.

Fire sectioning essential

Of all these puzzle pieces, a few proved to be crucial. One such crucial piece in the puzzle was the fire section of the station building. Station Noord has three levels with the passage, the distribution hall and the platforms. These are designed as one undivided fire section. This is a room of 5,600 square meters with a steel roof. According to the performance requirements of the building order, however, you may not build fire sections of more than 1,000 square meters. It is possible to build such a large room, but you must demonstrate that you provide equivalent fire safety. Because several changes had been made to this haldesign, the rationale was therefore re-examined. For example, to see if there was a need for new fire / smoke simulations.

One such crucial piece in the puzzle was the fire section of the station building

bicycle cellar

There were also changes in the bike cellar. In previous designs, it was a two-room version. In the light of social security and aesthetics, the architectural firm had a strong preference for one large space of 1,800 square meters. We should therefore also demonstrate equivalence for this space.

We did this on the basis of escape routes, material use, accessibility and fire-fighting water systems. We also investigated solutions, such as a fireproof roller screen that divided the bicycle shed into two compartments in case of fire. This screen turned out not to be necessary for closer inspection, as the basement is made of concrete. This already resulted in a low permanent fire load. The fire load in the basement also turned out to be relatively low, and the design provided adequate escape routes.

To the fire department

As a fire consultant, you have all sorts of calculation models at your disposal to test all such conditions. In my optics, fire safety is more than just calculations. After all, especially in a public building like a subway station, you have to deal with more stakeholders. They must also support the plans and be able to see if all initiatives live up to their requirements and wishes. To ensure this, we held consultations with all stakeholders: the architect, the competent authority and the fire service. As expected, they were not eager to make new changes (again). But during the hearing, it became more and more clear that a lot of attention needed to be paid to the process.

Therefore, we went to the fire department and just asked what they would like to see reflected in the fire safety plan in relation to fire safety. What did the changes mean for them, and what did they find important? It was precisely this open question that led to a constructive discussion. We have then jointly reviewed the design and the critical points and looked at sufficient space for parking spaces, extinguishing water, installation of dry fire extinguishers and fire hydrants, but also material use in the bicycle cellar. This resulted in some minor changes to the design. It gave the fire department the opportunity to think along and reconsider the plan in its entirety.

Agree

The design thus complied with the 2012 building order, the rules in the field of fire safety and the client’s additional design requirements. In addition, thanks to good cooperation, we ensured that all the prerequisites for an optimal repressive deployment of the fire brigade were in place. This ultimately ensured that agreement was reached on the changed design and that construction of the station could begin.

Albert Werkman is a senior fire safety consultant at Antea Group

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