Joint venture at cutting edge of fire safety research
Ulster University and engineering firm Efectis combine at fire testing facility
The recent Grenfell Tower tragedy in London and the revelation that five recently built schools in Leinster had failed fire safety audits have brought the need for rigorous enforcement of fire safety standards into sharp relief.
The launch in August 2017 of Ireland’s first commercial accredited fire testing facility by Ulster University is all the more timely in this context.
Efectis UK/Ireland Ltd is a joint venture between Ulster University’s world class FireSert research centre and Efectis Group, a leading international fire testing and engineering company with 16 offices and laboratories across Europe. The new company will offer fire testing and accreditation services to construction products manufacturers as well as the broader construction sector on the island of Ireland and further afield.
While Efectis will operate independently of Ulster University, it will make use of its best-in-class testing facilities and research resources.
FireSert (the Institute for Fire Safety Engineering Research and Technology) is internationally recognised as a centre of excellence for fire safety science and engineering research. Its mission is to enhance public safety and the competitiveness of industry through performance prediction methods, measurement technologies and the development of fire safe materials.
The institute can trace its origins back to the 1980s when a team from Ulster University’s School of the Built Environment established a fire testing research centre in an industrial estate in Carrickfergus, close to the university’s Jordanstown campus. Its director Prof Ali Nadjai joined in 1994 from the University of Sheffield, where he had engaged in fire research.
“I joined to assist in creating a state of the art research facility for the future”, Nadjai says. “We brought people in from many different places and succeeded in winning a prestigious £5.7 million (€8.5 million) grant from the UK government and other funding agencies.”
Today, FireSert’s facilities include a 600sq m (6,460sq ft) burn hall which allows full-scale fire research to be undertaken, a large-scale combination wall and floor furnace, as well as intermediate- and small-scale furnaces.
These facilities are complemented by a fire dynamics and chemistry laboratory furnished with the latest testing equipment, as well as extensive dedicated computer facilities for modelling fire growth, smoke and toxicity.
A specific set of laboratory facilities is also available for the investigation of human behaviour in fire.
Research efforts also focus on the behaviour of fire’s impact on structures.
“The state-of-the-art infrastructure and equipment at FireSert are making a major contribution to the study of how fires develop, how structures respond to fire, how people react to fire and how to model fire and fire-related phenomena including building evacuation,” says Nadjai. “Students from across Europe and the world are attracted to, and benefit from, the fire safety engineering training offered at FireSert.”
“The new joint venture will allow FireSert to focus its research on fire science whilst Efectis UK/Ireland will concentrate on third-party assessment of products and buildings and assist government bodies with fire safety issues,” says Talal Fateh general manager of Efectis UK/Ireland. “One of our main objectives is to be the main centre for construction fire safety on the island of Ireland and help to prevent similar tragedies to Grenfell Tower and to guarantee the safety of Irish buildings like schools and other public buildings.”
The establishment of the new venture is very much market led according to Efectis UK/Ireland executive director Seán Nelson.
“It can be quite difficult for manufacturers to get their products tested and accredited to fire safety standards. At present, we are hearing about firms being told there are six or even nine month waiting lists for testing and we have even heard of companies sending products to Malaysia for testing. The joint venture will help meet that demand on the island of Ireland as well as overseas. ”
Efectis UK/Ireland is already up and running from the FireSert facility in Jordanstown is actively recruiting additional staff. “We already have enquiries from Irish firms and from Europe”, says Fateh. “We hope that this is just the first step and that we will move into other forms of industrial testing in future.”
Ireland’s first commercial accredited fire testing facility, at Ulster University.