Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on January 2, 2018.

Risk Assessment

NFPA to release new tool to assess risk for buildings using combustible exterior wall assemblies


In January, NFPA will release a new risk assessment tool for authorities having jurisdiction—specifically, enforcers—to determine which buildings in their jurisdictions are at the highest risk for fires involving combustible exterior wall assemblies.

Exterior wall assemblies were blamed for the severity of the massive and deadly Grenfell Tower fire in London, which killed more than 70 people on June 14.

Facilitated by NFPA, the global engineering firm Arup developed the technical basis for the tool with input from experts in Asia and the Middle East—areas that had experienced major fires in these types of buildings before Grenfell—Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. It’s the first time NFPA has created a resource like this as a response to an emerging fire problem, according to Birgitte Messerschmidt, director of applied research at NFPA. “It’s really, really powerful,” she said.

On December 14, the six-month anniversary of the blaze, members of the royal family and British Prime Minister Theresa May were among the more than 1,500 people who attended a memorial service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in central London to honor those who died in the fire, Britain’s deadliest blaze in modern history.

In countless interviews published after the incident, witnesses, first responders, and residents of the 24-story apartment building described how flames leapt from floor to floor and around the sides of the tower at an astonishing speed, fueled by what has been widely reported as combustible materials sheathing the concrete building. The fire thrust the issue of combustible exterior wall assemblies, which include components like cladding and insulation, into the spotlight and led to investigations around the world to pinpoint just how widespread the problem potentially is.

The NFPA tool joins a list of several resources NFPA already offers on the fire hazards of combustible exterior wall assemblies, such as a tool that helps builders, facility managers, and others determine when to use NFPA 285, Fire Test Method for Evaluation of Fire Propagation Characteristics of Non-Load-Bearing Wall Assemblies Containing Combustible Components.

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: AP/Wide World