Although we have made immense progress in our ability to reduce the risk posed by fire, we can and do continue to learn and apply the lessons from those fires that do occur.
It is important to recognise that flame retardants – invaluable as they are – are only one component in fighting the threat of fire. Reducing fire’s capacity for damage and injury demands a combination of applied science and effective regulation.
Major incidents such as blazes are routinely the subject of inquests, not only to discover the cause of the fire but also to discover what could have been done to improve the safety and protection of people and property. Post-accident investigations, such as those into the crash of Swissair Flight 111 or the fire at the Harrow Court tower block in Stevenage in the UK, directly led to changes in regulation related to the fire resistance in the materials used.
However, the recommendations from such inquests are not restricted to flame retardation alone. They recognise that fire safety requires a multidisciplinary approach. For example, the inquest into the fire on a British Airtours aircraft in 1985 led to industry-wide changes in aircraft design. It proposed revisions that included not simply greater use of flame retardants but also changes to the seating layout near emergency exits, floor lighting, fire-resistant wall and ceiling panels, more fire extinguishers and clearer evacuation rules.