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Sustainable Design International Limited

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Protection of People with Activity Limitations from Fire
in Buildings


eople with Activity Limitations

Those people, of all ages, who are unable to perform, independently and without aid, basic human activities or tasks - because of a health condition or physical / mental / cognitive / psychological impairment of a permanent or temporary nature.

Harmonized EU Vocabulary on 'Disability & Perception'
(April 2002)
Click here to Download PDF
(PDF File, 125kb)

Updated December 2004 - See Appendix IV in the
2004 Rio Declaration on Sustainable Social Development, Disability & Ageing



Fire Evacuation-for-All

Structural Fire Engineering after WTC 9-11 (NIST NCSTAR 1)


Disability Rights & Removing Physical Restrictions on Participation in Society

Disability - European Fire Research Project  2000 - 2004
(Belgium, Ireland, Italy & Sweden)



European Guideline Framework

Achievement of Equality of Opportunity & Social Inclusion
For Every Person in the European Union (E.U.)



International Conference Papers

Houthalen, Belgium
12th - 14th October, 1999

Protection of People with Disabilities
In or Near Buildings
During a Fire,
or Fire Related Incident

Click here to download PDF
(PDF File, 180kb)

3 Day European Symposium in Belgium - 1999

Notwithstanding the fact that different types of legislation have existed for many years in the European Union which require that buildings and places of work be accessible, a lack of purposeful resolve on the part of politicians and controlling authorities at regional / member state and local levels has ensured that, even today, countless barriers to that accessibility are still being erected in the 'built environment'. Furthermore, however, the non-existence of comprehensive technical guidance on protection from fire in buildings has resulted in the creation of a far more pervasive form of barrier to the full 'inclusion' of the elderly and people with disabilities into the economic, cultural and social life of the general community.

October 2001  -  View up West Street to the World Trade Centre Incident Site.  In overcast conditions, the 'post-fire' smell was very bad and, still, a lot of dust hung in the air.

October 2002 - After New York (9-11)

Presentation by C J Walsh in Sweden
Click here to download PDF
(PDF File, 3.01Mb)

2006 Update to this Presentation

'Fire Engineering Practice
After WTC 9-11 (NIST NCSTAR 1)'

WHO Guidance Note
(September 2001)

Psychosocial Reactions to Catastrophe
Click here to download PDF
(PDF File, 13kb)







Click here to go directly to the World Health Organization  -  Switzerland

New International Classification of Functioning,
Disability and Health (ICF)
While traditional health indicators have been based on the mortality (i.e. death) rates of populations, the ICF now dramatically shifts the focus to 'life' and 'living' - how everyone is living with his/her health condition(s) and how improvements can be made to ensure a productive, fulfilling life in society. This has implications for medical practice ; for law, social, economic, institutional, design and spatial planning policies to improve accessibility, equal opportunity and inclusion ; and for the protection of the rights of all individuals and groups.

Final Draft - Full Version
April 2001
  Prefinal Draft - Full Version
December 2000


Click Here to Download
(PDF File 732kb)

Adoption of ICF
22nd May 2001

Click Here to Download
(PDF File 4kb)


Click Here to Download
(PDF File 664kb)

Beta-2 Draft - Full Version
July 1999


Click Here to Download
(PDF File 587kb)


Click Here to Download
(PDF File 672kb)


Click Here to Download
(PDF File 586kb)




Related Papers from the
United States Fire Administration

Click here to go directly to the US Fire Administration & Click here to go directly to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission

   Consumer Product Safety Commission


  1. Establishing a Relationship Between Alcohol and Casualties of Fire (October 1999)

    Click Here To Download PDF
    (PDF File, 160kb)

    Executive Summary :
    Though the rate has significantly decreased, the United States continued into the late 1990's with one of the highest fire death rates in the industrialized world. Given the advancements in fire prevention, including public education, building design, consumer product safety, and sophisticated levels of the fire protection in this country, it is puzzling to many as to why this is so. In an effort to identify the underlying problem(s), researchers have been delving deeper into the extent to which human behaviour affects our fire losses.

    The connection between alcohol and the ignition, detection, and escape from the fire has been broadly examined by numerous medical and fire protection organization studies. A series of landmark studies undertaken by the Johns Hopkins University and the National Bureau of Standards in the 1970's were among the first to discover a definitive link between alcohol consumption and fire deaths. Many studies have now confirmed their general findings.

    Alcohol intoxication may increase the risk of initiating a fire by impairing one's judgement and co-ordination. An intoxicated individual who is smoking may also succumb to the depressant effects of alcohol, fall asleep and drop a lit cigarette on upholstery or clothing. Intoxication also acutely diminishes one's ability to detect a fire. Under the sedative effects of alcohol, an alcohol impaired person may fail to notice the smell of smoke, or fail to hear a smoke alarm. Escape from a fire can be hampered by the loss of motor co-ordination and mental clarity caused by alcohol, even when warning signs are heeded. Furthermore, burns are more physiologically damaging in the presence of alcohol.

    Several researchers have found that about half of all adult fire fatalities were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the fire. Men have been found to consistently outnumber women among fire casualties and do so with even greater disparity for fire victims under the influence of alcohol. In addition, the younger adult population ( ages 15 to 34 ) seems to incur the greatest number of alcohol impaired fire casualties. Drinking behaviours that are characteristic of various age groups and sexes may explain these findings.

    Studies have also provided conclusive evidence supporting the deleterious effects of chronic and acute alcohol abuse on the occurrence and recovery from burn injuries. Burn injury victims have been found to be disproportionately likely to have been intoxicated at the time of injury or known to be heavy drinkers. From a physiological standpoint, burn victims with histories of alcoholism tend to have longer hospital stays, more complications, and higher mortality rates as a result of their burns.

    Questions still remain as to the extent that alcohol affects fire losses. How do we explain the fact that some industrialized countries with some of the highest alcohol consumption rates per capita, e.g. Germany and the Netherlands, have relatively low fire death rates ? Researchers have suggested that alcohol related unintentional injuries have more to do with alcohol drinking patterns than the total amount of alcohol consumed per capita. Who drinks, where they drink, what they drink, and under what social, cultural, and religious circumstances they drink are perhaps more significant factors than the amount of alcohol consumed. A lone drinker at home is probably at greater risk of a fire emergency than a group of people drinking at a bar or restaurant. Moreover, the number of drinks consumed in a single sitting seems to matter a great deal.

    Alcoholics have a disproportionately high rate of fire fatalities relative to their percentage of the total population. Non-intoxicated fire victims also may be affected by alcohol : they may have been entrusted to the care of an alcohol impaired individual. These fire fatalities would not be reported as related to alcohol when blood alcohol levels ( BAL's ) are taken of victims only. As a result, the estimated number of alcohol related fire casualties as well as the magnitude of the problem may be underestimated.

    Smoking fires are the leading cause of fire fatalities. The incidence of such fatal fires is higher among those who are under the influence of alcohol and most smoking related fire fatalities have some connection to alcohol consumption.

    In summary, there is a clear connection of alcohol and fire fatalities. Unlike the connection between alcohol consumption and vehicle fatalities, the connection is not often referred to in prevention programmes, nor has much been done to address the problem.

  2. Fire Risks for the Elderly (October 1999)

    Click Here To Download PDF
    (PDF File, 152kb)

    Executive Summary :
    Older adults represent one of the highest fire risk populations in the United States. As a result of progressive degeneration in physical, cognitive, and emotional capabilities, older adults present unique challenges in the fields of fire protection, prevention, and safety. Complications associated with ageing increase the likelihood that an elderly person will accidentally start a fire and at the same time reduce his or her chances of surviving it. As the nation's elderly population grows, the fire death toll will likely rise in direct proportion to that growth unless measures are taken to ameliorate the risks associated with this group. The fire safety community must address the fire safety needs of older adults or be faced with the potential for a severe public health problem.

    The key findings of this report are summarized below :

    The Fire Problem and Older Adults
    People over the age of 65 are the fastest growing segment of the American population ;

    Over 1,200 Americans over the age of 65 die as a result of a fire each year. Older adults comprise over 25 % of fire deaths of all ages, and 30 % of fire deaths that occur in the home ;

    Fires and burns are a leading cause of deaths from unintentional injuries among older adults ;

    Residential fires injure an average of 3,000 older adults each year ;

    Fires caused by smoking are the leading cause of fire deaths in the elderly ;

    Fires caused by cooking are the leading cause of fire-related injuries in the elderly ;

    Elderly fire victims usually come in close contact with the heat source that starts the fire ;

    Adults in the age group between 65 and 75 have a fire death rate twice that of the national average ; between 75 and 85, three times the national average ; and over 85, four times the national average.

    Fire Risks

    The ageing process, with its associated illnesses and impairments, leaves a person vulnerable to a variety of accidental injuries, including fires and burns ;

    The likelihood of experiencing a severe disability increases with age. Impairments associated with the ageing process, such as blindness or deafness, predispose the elderly to accidental injuries, including fires ;

    Approximately 30 % non-institutionalized older adults live alone, placing them at higher risk for accidental injury ;

    Group assisted-living facilities and nursing homes pose unique fire risks to both their residents and firefighters ;

    Nearly 20 % of older adults live at or below the poverty line, and the relationship between poverty and fires is a compounding fire risk ;

    Many older adults take multiple medications, the interaction of which can cause a variety of side effects, including confusion, that may alter the decision-making process and increase the potential for accidents ;

    The impairments caused by the combination of alcohol and prescription drugs in older adults can be significant. Such impairments may lead to an increased likelihood of accidentally starting a fire, not detecting a fire, and not being able to escape a fire.

  3. Fire Risks for the Hearing Impaired (October 1999)

    Click Here To Download PDF
    (PDF File, 66kb)

    Executive Summary :
    Fire safety is a much overlooked problem among people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. They do not receive the same media, educational, or industry attention as the hearing population. Many advancements in fire injury and death prevention over the past century have not addressed the fire safety needs of the deaf community. The most significant of those inventions is the audible smoke alarm. Smoke alarms have been credited with saving thousands of lives from fires each year. Conventional alarms, however, work less well for those who cannot hear. Additionally, traditional fire safety messages do not address the unique needs of the deaf community. Fire safety messages more than likely will not reach this population due to the lack of effective distribution channels.

    By raising the level of fire safety awareness for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and for the surrounding population, we can eliminate many fire risks. Groups representing people with hearing impairments must collaborate with the fire service to educate each other and reduce the risks posed by fires to non-hearing people.

    The principal findings of this study are summarized below :

    Visual assessment is the primary means for people with hearing impairments to process information vital to everyday living. These individuals cannot rely on traditional audible smoke alarms. They require visual alarms equipped with strobe lights or vibration devices ;

    Vibrating beds and pillows have been developed to awaken people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and alert them to the presence of a fire. These beds and pillows are wired to a smoke alarm and vibrate when the alarm is activated ;

    A portion of the deaf and hard-of-hearing population is also blind or visually impaired. Visual strobe lights are ineffective for this group. A vibrating bed and pillow alarm must be used instead ;

    While specialized detection and alarm devices are available, there is a dearth of information about how to obtain them. In addition, these devices are often prohibitively expensive ;

    Many people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing are not aware of provisions in the Americans With Disabilities Act requiring that appropriate smoke alarms be provided by landlords, public buildings, etc. ;

    Public fire education is generally neither formatted for, nor directed to, people who are hearing impaired.

  4. Fire Risks for the Visually Impaired (October 1999)

    Click Here To Download PDF
    (PDF File, 79kb)

    Executive summary :
    Blind or visually impaired people are faced with many challenges, not the least of which is personal safety. Interaction with an environment one cannot see creates potential health and safety hazards. As a result, blind or visually impaired people are at increased risk of injury and death in the event of a fire. Depending on the severity of vision loss, they may be more likely to ignite a fire accidentally through common household activities, while they are less likely to extinguish or escape one. Further, a blind or visually impaired individual is highly vulnerable to sustaining burns by attempting to suppress a small fire.

    Practicing fire safety is the most effective means for a blind or visually impaired person to improve his or her chances of surviving a fire. For example, by planning and practicing an escape plan, a blind or visually impaired person can escape to safety, in the event of an actual emergency, with little time lost searching and feeling for an exit. The same general fire safety tips targeted at the seeing population address the needs of the blind or visually impaired. Unfortunately, blind or visually impaired people often have been overlooked by public fire education campaigns. Innovative mechanisms by which to disseminate these life-saving messages must be sought in order to raise awareness and foster fire safety practices in the blind and visually impaired community.

    The most important findings of this report are as follows :

    During an emergency, the senses on which visually impaired or blind individuals depend may be overwhelmed ;

    High-decibel smoke alarms make it difficult for the blind individual to process audible clues and instructions effectively ;

    Many buildings are not equipped with Braille or tactile signage for the visually impaired, hindering the individual's ability to escape because of lack of directions ;

    As they may not be able to process visual indicators of fire, individuals with visual impairments are at an increased risk for accidents involving fires and burn injuries ;

    Public fire education is not generally formatted for, nor directed to, the blind or visually impaired ;

    Practicing fire safety, rather than using improved fire technology, is the most effective means by which blind or visually impaired people can improve their chances of surviving a fire.

  5. Fire Risks for the Mobility Impaired (October 1999)

    Click Here To Download PDF
    (PDF File, 66kb)

    Executive Summary :
    People with mobility impairments are faced with many challenges in life. Personal safety, especially fire safety, is one challenge that many perceive as an obstacle. It does not have to be this way. By being aware of one's own special capabilities and following fire safety practices tailored to certain needs the mobility impaired person can lead a fire-safe life.

    Mainstream fire safety education and fire protection devices are designed primarily with the able-bodied person in mind. Thus, a scarcity of fire safety knowledge exists within both the mobility impaired community and the fire service. Both groups must work to educate each other to decrease fire-related losses and injuries.

    The principal findings of this study are summarized below :

    People with mobility impairments represent a segment of the population with one of the highest risks of dying in a fire ;

    The fire safety needs of people with mobility impairments are not addressed through mainstream public fire and life safety education ;

    Fire safety engineering has not adequately addressed the capabilities of people with mobility impairments ;

    Typical home construction may present people with disabilities with unnecessary impediments to escape ;

    The mobility impaired community is growing ; ?

    Mobility impairments hinder attempts by the disabled not only to escape fires, but also to confine or extinguish small fires.

  6. Firefighter Personnel Accountability System Technology Assessment (March 2000)

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    (PDF File, 560kb)

  7. Socio-Economic Factors & the Incidence of Fire (June, 1997)

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    (PDF File, 212kb)

  8. Fire Safety Checklist for Elderly People

    Click Here To Download PDF
    (PDF File, 284kb)

  9. Child-Resistant Lighters

    Click Here To Download PDF
    (PDF File, 73kb)

  10. Automatic Sprinklers (1997)
    A ten year study in Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

    Click Here To Download PDF
    (PDF File, 5,455kb)




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