Timber-frame construction regulations 'need urgent review'

Published:  23 September, 2010

The Chief Fire Officers Association is calling for an urgent review of building regulations involving timber-frame buildings under construction after a series of fires.

The CFOA has said that large timber-framed buildings under construction "pose a significant risk to firefighters, construction workers and members of the public".

The use of timber-frame construction has increased significantly in recent years as an alternative to traditional building methods.

The comments came after a fire involving a timber-framed building, which occurred on 10 September and involved a four-storey complex under construction at Gershwin Road, Basingstoke, Hampshire. 

CFOA vice president, chief fire officer Peter Holland, said: “But for the tenacity and heroic efforts of fire crews responding from Hampshire, Surrey and Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Services, the consequences of this fire would have been much worse.”

The department for Communities & Local Government, which oversees the Fire & Rescue Service, is commissioning research into firefighting in timber-framed buildings and also fire spread within and beyond such buildings. 

CFOA also wants managers of building sites to be extra vigilant as most of these fires are started deliberately by arsonists.

UK Timber Frame Association (UKTFA) chairman, Geoff Arnold, has refuted concerns over timber-frame construction methods. Speaking in response to the Fire Statistics Monitor report, Arnold said: “Overall it’s a really positive move that CLG has incorporated specific research into fires in all building forms.

“Unfortunately, the report may have unintentionally damaged the perception among owners and specifiers for the most environmentally-friendly, high-performance and mainstream build method on the market.

“The data shows that of 34,783 dwelling fires in the UK, only 359 were timber frame - how can we knock timber frame as a construction method when the majority of serious fires in dwellings were something other than timber frame?”

Dave Berry, UKTFA fire consultant and previously fire service inspectorate to CLG, added: “The environmental benefits of timber-frame construction far outweigh the manageable risk of fire and we have to continue working with organisations such as the CFOA to prevent the fire in the first place.

“It would be helpful if the next report provided information on how fires in timber-frame buildings started and what subsequently caused them to spread. This would provide us with knowledge that we can use to further improve on-site security, for example. This data proves that fires in buildings have to be managed at every stage of the lifecycle - from construction to completion to occupation.”