Fire simulation performed at Epping Fire Station, Cape Town, to reduce impact of fires in informal settlements
The City of Cape Town continues to look at all innovative and feasible options to reduce the risk and impact of informal settlement fires. These fires are especially devastating due to the lack of access ways for basic and emergency services and dense configuration aiding the rapid spread of fires. An innovative product was tested today during a simulated burn event at the City of Cape Town’s Epping Fire Station with the aim of exploring products that can potentially help to reduce the scale of informal settlement fires.
The simulation comprised six structures in total, including five made from corrugated iron and one from wood to imitate typical real life conditions. The Mandoval vermiculite-based cementitious product, Tekrok C, was sprayed onto two of the corrugated iron structures and onto the wooden one.
The remaining three corrugated iron structures were not sprayed with the product.
The structures were constructed in late May 2021 and the relevant ones coated with Tekrok C. The formal test was delayed by COVID-19 lockdown restrictions but has also enabled the team to assess the impact of weather conditions on the plastered structures.
Tekrok C is currently an approved passive fire protection product primarily used to provide protection in petrochemical installations. It is therefore particularly adapted to environments with high fire loads and rapid spread of intense heat.
The primary purpose of the plaster is to minimise the effects of any fire. This is achieved by substantially limiting the ability of the fire to spread from within any structure where it emanates as well as significantly reducing the ability of a fire to spread from one structure to another. Tekrok C therefore acts like a firebreak, providing time for affected residents to evacuate a fire-affected area, and allow for the longest possible time for the fire services to attend to the scene and extinguish the blaze before it spreads too severely. Significant other benefits are that applying the product does not require the structure to be moved or relocated for application. This is important as often residents do not want to relocate, or there is no space in the informal settlement for relocation while an area is being treated with a fire-retardant product.
In addition the spray seals the usual gaps in a structure rendering it substantially waterproof. It also provides insulation benefits in both summer and winter conditions. The plaster can also be painted.
The burn lasted approximately one hour before being extinguished and in this time, the uncoated structures took approximately 15 minutes to burn to a point of collapse while the plastered corrugated iron structures withstood the burn and effectively resisted the transfer of the fire from the uncoated structures. The effect was the same for the wooden structure. The weather conditions were mild with a moderate breeze. In strong wind conditions, which are the conditions of most severe informal settlement fires, the results are expected to be similar.
Innovation, partnerships needed to tackle informality
“With the growing informality in South African cities, including in Cape Town, the City continues to look at all innovative and feasible options to reduce the physical and emotional trauma caused by fires in informal settlements. The City has been hit hard by national budget cuts already and diminishing budgets are set to continue at a time when informality is growing. Prevention is absolutely key. We must look at new ways to prevent the risk and the scale of fires. We must look at what is available and feasible and what can make a real difference to the lives of our residents. This brainstorming initiative to test what is out there is vital as we need to enhance the health and safety of our most vulnerable residents through partnership and collaboration. We welcome feasible proposals and we thank Mandoval for their enthusiasm and dedication to this test and to all the City departments that have collaborated to turn this simulation into a reality,” said the City’s Executive Mayor, Alderman Dan Plato.
The City’s Fire and Rescue Service does a tremendous job in the shortest possible time to attend to informal settlement fires. However, the density and lack of access for emergency services in the densely populated informal settlements remain a huge concern and challenge when attending to fires. Our Disaster Risk Management teams are also on the ground 24/7 to educate residents about the dangers of leaving open flames unattended and driving awareness about what to do in the event of a fire but prevention through technological innovation is the way to go. The simulation has shown us that this plaster product could be used to delay the spread of informal settlement fires, giving affected residents a better chance to escape the flames or by applying it to a row or section of structures that could act as a firebreak in very densely populated settlements. As a city, we will continue to do everything in our power to prevent fires and reduce the risk to life and property. This is part of our ongoing research. We’ve evaluated many options over the years. Any option we pursue going forward will be done in accordance with a competitive bidding, transparent process,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.
“Between the current 2021/22 and 2023/24 financial years, the allocated capital budget for City of Cape Town human settlements projects is approximately R3,3 billion in total. Of this, almost R2 billion is foreseen to be spent on formal subsidy housing, while approximately R1,3 billion is earmarked for informal housing and new accommodation types to address growing informality.”
“Over this medium term, more innovative and partnership-driven approaches will be vital as the demand for affordable housing in Cape Town, as in other cities in South Africa, is acute. New ways of delivering are required that do more with less as national government funding reduces and that draws in more partners from across the housing sector.”
“Since 2012, we’ve created more than 60 000 housing opportunities and transferred over 17 000 title deeds. We are ready to tackle the challenge as a collective: As a society, we are only all as strong as our most vulnerable neighbour. The City is positioning itself at the forefront of new interventions to increase the supply of affordable housing, while addressing spatial transformation and enabling liveable, integrated neighbourhoods across the city as well as upgrading informal settlements to improve the health and safety of our residents. It is in the best interest of all who live in Cape Town that all residents are accommodated in safer, healthier environments. Collaborative brainstorming initiatives such as this one is what is required, testing out options and applying it in our communities to improve the living conditions of our residents,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Human Settlements, Councillor Malusi Booi.
Mandoval Vermiculite’s product – how it works
Tekrok C is a specially formulated fireproofing plaster designed to withstand the extreme fire conditions associated with the petrochemical industry. Tekrok C has also been formulated to withstand moderate resistance to impact, most industrial chemicals and can be used indoors and outdoors in extreme weather conditions without any deterioration. It comprises a lightweight additive “Vermiculite” and “Portland Cement” as the binder with further additives to enhance the method of application to create the correct consistency for spraying or for a multiple of fire protection applications.
Tekrok C is an SABS approved, factory premix material thus ensuring absolute consistency in the blending of the various chemicals providing the end user an absolute assurance in material quality and fire resistance. The coating also has the advantage of creating additional water proofing and insulation during cold and heat conditions.
‘Our company has been in existence for 75 years and in the forefront of many of the leading passive fire applications used throughout the world. We are proud to have been able to develop another first for the sector and grateful for the support received from the City of Cape Town to get this extensive trial successfully completed. We look forward to working with the authorities, fire services and communities to identify opportunities to apply Tekrok C and providing residents with improved comfort and security,’ said Andrew Lashbrooke of Mandoval.
Source: City of Cape Town Media Office
Video: Bruce Sutherland, City of Cape Town