Thesis: Fire Science

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Fire Science: Building Design, Construction Methods, And Collapse

In the construction industry, there are a lot of variables that can affect how fast something is built, the quality of it, and the cost -- and also how well it holds up and what happens to it in a fire. It is important to look at construction methods from the perspective of the past, present, and future to more clearly see this, because the way that a building reacts to fire has much to do with whether building codes are changed and updated. One of the most common types of construction all over the world is prefab construction. This has changed when it comes to how the prefab construction is addressed, but the basic idea of construction homes and business this way is still the same.

Since the United States does not have that much literature that deals with prefabrication methods of construction, other countries such as Britain will be discussed when it comes to the past, and the Hong Kong area of China appears to have the most research available when it comes to the present day. Of course, many of the concepts can be generalized quite easily to all countries where prefabrication methods and other types of construction methods are used, and fire is the same no matter what country it is burning in. Britain, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong, however, will make good case study examples for what has been done and what is being done now, as well as what may be done in the future when it comes to how buildings are constructed in an effort to avoid fire damage.

When many people, especially those in England, think about prefabrication construction, the images that come to them are bombed-out families, blitzes, the deprivation that comes with wartime, and the strong spirit of a people who are going to carry on and survive, regardless of what kinds of obstacles life has put in their way (Howell, 2003). Many of the people in Britain spent the war years in these ruined areas, living in single story homes that were built of cement and asbestos (Howell, 2003). Prefabrication became very important during that time. However, the prefabricated houses were only supposed to be around for 5 years (Howell, 2003). Many of them remained for up to 20 years (Howell, 2003). It was not until late in the 1960s and early in the 1970s that these were torn down and removed (Howell, 2003). Quite a few of them made their way to the coastline where they were put back together and used for vacation homes (Howell, 2003).

Those that did not need to be removed for specific reasons simply remained, and these were re-roofed and better insulated (Howell, 2003). Because they are made from cement they do not burn overall, but they also had flammable materials in them and the general issue with fire in these kinds of buildings was the idea of a roof collapse. The windows were double-glazed and central heating was installed when they were moved (Howell, 2003). Some of them are still around, and some of the people who live in them are fourth-generation family members of those who were there to witness the bombing (Howell, 2003).

Some of the original fences still stand, as well (Howell, 2003). They were built during the war and are made from welded together troop evacuation stretchers, which were constructed at that time from wire mesh instead of canvas or some other solid material (Howell, 2003). Wire mesh does not burn, and cement is also secure. Even though there were other flammable materials available and there was the danger of a roof collapse, most of these structures were very secure and relatively fireproof.

Many of the prefabricated homes that were constructed during the war came to Britain from the United States, but they were not new to British soil (Howell, 2003). Over a century before the war began, prefabrication methods for construction were being developed in Britain (Howell, 2003). In Staffordshire and Lancashire sectional-houses made from cast-iron were built beginning in the 1940s (Howell, 2003). These were created in the ironworks of those areas and shipped to Africa to serve as shelter for the missionaries living there (Howell, 2003). Some of these were very fancy -- almost palatial in scope -- with much ornamentation (Howell, 2003). They were advertised this way, and the missionaries were often made to feel that it was a sign of status and a mark of respect to have these kinds of homes brought to them in Africa (Howell, 2003). Being made of cast-iron, there was little fire danger.

Many of the prefabricated homes that lasted through the war have been around for 60 years or more, and there is concern that the 'modern' movement to create prefabricated buildings is not turning out construction that will stand the test of time the way that these older prefabricated homes did (Howell, 2003). This is true with fire, and also with the general idea of a home's ability to hold up to the elements. Allegedly, in 1997 the Deputy Prime Minister visited a plant where cars were assembled and he was greatly impressed by the speed, accuracy, and efficiency that this produced (Howell, 2003). This left him wondering why houses could not be built the same way and because of this the movement toward more prefabrication in Britain really got started (Howell, 2003).

Reports were written and much negotiation took place, but ultimately the contractors told those who wanted to build these houses that building the components off-site and taking them to where the house was being built would cost them twice as much as it would if they simply erected scaffolding on the job site and built the house using traditional construction methods (Howell, 2003).

This concern over cost and time is a very important one because it is something that construction companies and all other types of businesses constantly grapple with. They have to build a home that is safe from all kinds of problems, but they also have to make money -- and they are on a schedule, as well. Individuals must be able to make a profit for their business and they must be able to do things in a short amount of time and provide the goods or services to the customer, or the customer will likely go elsewhere for that transaction or certainly for transactions in the future. Because time and cost are so very important the building industry must look more closely at what it is doing or not doing with prefabricated construction methods and other methods for building homes and businesses, including safety. Looking at time and cost and how they can be addressed by prefabrication construction methods, however, brings the discussion to the present day and issues in other parts of the world.

Areas of the world such as Kuala Lumpur may seem like unlikely places to think about prefabrication and construction methods, but this is not the case. Unlike Britain, that does not seem to think of prefabrication as a good idea anymore, the residents of Kuala Lumpur believe that prefabrication is a good idea. There is a housing shortage there, and a shortage of manpower as well (Use, 2003). Because of this, prefabrication can help the housing industry stay active and help people in that area get back on their feet (Use, 2003). The problem, however, is that the quality of prefabricated construction varies in different countries, so the dangers associated with it -- including fire -- may be much more severe in one country as compared to another.

Citing the fact that prefabrication was popular in many developed countries across the world, the Deputy Works Minster of Kuala Lumpur, Datuk Mohamed Khaled Nordin, stated that far fewer workers would be needed this way and therefore many new homes and businesses could be built more quickly, despite the low number of workmen (Use, 2003). Conferences are often held for those who wish to learn the latest about construction methods and the builders in Kuala Lumpur are being encouraged to attend them so that they can network with others and gain understanding as well as work in other countries.

Chan and Chan (2002) have done much research into the prefabricated building industry and provided much insight for others who have begun to study the issue. Much of the housing boom in Hong Kong actually started in 1953, when there was a large fire on Christmas Day and many people were left with no homes (Chan, 1998). The construction methods that they had before this time were primitive and the materials that they used were very flammable, so total collapse and devastation of a building (or buildings) was easy and not surprising. A campaign was started to ensure that these people had somewhere safe and better to live as soon as possible, and the housing market has simply kept on growing with the expansion of the population (Chan, 1998).… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Fire Science.  (2009, May 7).  Retrieved July 23, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/fire-science/211050

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"Fire Science."  Essaytown.com.  May 7, 2009.  Accessed July 23, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/fire-science/211050.