Fire risk management
Published on 30 May 2024
Fire risk management
Pubblicato il 30 May 2024

The manual Risk Preparedness: A Management Manual for World Cultural Heritage, published by the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM) in 1998, is a very useful tool for owners and managers of historical-artistic collections to understand the best procedures for preventing and mitigating the major risks that can affect cultural heritage.

In this article, we will see in detail the indications that the manual identifies for fire risk management.

Fire risk mitigation procedures

Fire is one of the most dangerous threats to cultural heritage, as its impact is potentially destructive and can seriously threaten the integrity of a collection and the building in which it is stored. This risk, however, can be significantly reduced by following some precautions.

First, you need to ensure that potentially dangerous behaviour that could start a fire is not permitted inside the conservation building. This indication may seem banal, but strict control over internal staff and visitors is the first step to ensure the protection of cultural heritage.

It is then advisable to minimize all flammable materials and potential sources of ignition. This objective can be achieved by prohibiting the use of certain devices and behaviours inside the building. First of all, smoking must be strictly prohibited and the ban must be applied to all those who enter the museum and to all areas of the building, both public and private. Then there must be strict control over all electronic devices that can be introduced and used by staff such as portable heaters, water kettles, and many others. In fact, if not properly used and maintained, they can be very dangerous and easily start a fire. It’s also of utmost importance to pay maximum attention to the different materials that can be preserved within the restoration laboratories, if present. In fact, restoration may require chemical solutions and reagents which can be extremely flammable. It is therefore advisable to carry out frequent checks on these materials.

Directly linked to the second point is the third recommendation: carry out frequent maintenance of all systems that may represent a risk. This activity is of fundamental importance and should be carried out according to the timing and methods established by the relevant legal regulations. A large part of fires, in fact, come from an overload of electrical systems due to the use of devices that are not properly maintained or used incorrectly.

The ICCROM manual then adds a question by dedicating its attention in particular to historic buildings. These, in fact, due to their often wooden structures and the lack of cutting-edge technological systems, are considered more at risk of fire. In particular, for this type of building, it is advisable to regularly inspect the electrical systems, to diagnose any malfunctions, and to avoid all those activities that may increase the fire risk in the structure, such as for example the installation of a kitchen for the restaurant inside the museum.

Measures to increase fire resistance

Scientific research and new technologies on the market have made giant strides in this sector, and the systems for fire risk management are disparate. In any case, it is advisable to use some measures to improve the resistance of the building and the collection to fire.

First of all, it would be a good idea, where possible, to use fireproof materials for the construction of conservation structures and to provide for the compartmentalisation of spaces. These two measures can really make a difference in the event of a fire and allow you to significantly reduce the speed with which flames can spread inside a building.

Furthermore, it is essential to provide a fire detection and alarm system and an automatic shutdown system suitable for the purpose. The extinguishing systems, both manual and automatic, can be of different types: it is a good idea to evaluate, with the support of a restorer, which is the best type of extinguishing agent to use on the preserved heritage to avoid damaging it further in the event of a fire.

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  • Valorizzazione del patrimonio culturale e del paesaggio
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