Five ways to improve fire prevention security measures

We believe that we need to take further steps to reduce these accidents, and we propose to implement a package of measures.

Ramón Sánchez Fernández
Director for Building Engineering 
Engineering and Infrastructure


In recent weeks, we have witnessed true tragedies in Spain with several fires in buildings as protagonists. On February 19, we learned of the death of three elderly women from smoke inhalation and burns of varying degrees due to fire at a seniors home. The investigation seems to point to the most probable cause of the fire being the explosion of a battery or electrical failure in the room where they were sleeping. However, it is suspected that fire protection and evacuation measures did not function properly, leading to this tragic ending.

On February 22, we witnessed the total combustion of two apartment buildings in Valencia in the span of just a few hours, with the sad result of 10 deaths and 138 homes consumed by flames.

The causes of the fire are unknown, but what we do know so far is that it spread very rapidly through the ventilated outer walls, also aided by the supply of oxygen provided by the strong winds that day. These events make us think that something is failing in our building stock. According to the report "Fire Victims in Spain in 2022" by APTB and the Mapfre Foundation, in that year there were 33,000 fires (requiring firefighter mobilization) in buildings in Spain, setting a record of 214 deaths, of which 176 occurred in homes.

This statistic draws attention to the number of deaths in homes, where typically -and inexplicably-, there are no fire detection systems. These systems are only installed in garages or high-risk premises. Half of the victims in care homes are senior residents, the living room is the riskiest area, and the most frequent cause of death is smoke inhalation. Secondly, unfortunately, nursing homes appear, with 16 deaths in 2022. The fire protection measures required for these types of facilities should be the same as those for a hospital, as both infrastructures are occupied by people who mostly require attention.

Among these measures are the installation of smoke detectors in rooms, portable fire extinguishers no less than 15 meters away, and manual alarm buttons in corridors and circulation areas. In high-risk areas, there are additional detection and extinguishing measures. Experience shows us that these measures are very useful in hospitals but insufficient in the case of nursing homes, whose residents have especially reduced mobility and lower cognitive abilities.

Finally, data show that in other buildings where fire protection measures are more sophisticated (automatic fire detection and extinguishing, alarms connected to firefighters), the number of victims is very low (five deaths in 2022), although the risks are high. For all these reasons, at Sacyr, we believe that we need to take further steps to reduce these accidents, and we propose to implement a package of measures:

1.    In nursing homes, install automatic detection and sprinkler systems. Ensure that proper system maintenance is carried out.
2.    In newly built residential buildings, regardless of the building's height, install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors inside the homes, as well as manual extinguishers on all floors.
3.    In existing homes, install smart smoke and carbon monoxide sensors. Use NextGen funds to expand these systems.
4.    Identify ventilated facades with insulating materials that react to fire. In these buildings, proceed to modify the facade or install automatic detection and extinguishing systems.
5.    Simplify and unify the vast amount of fire regulations that exist with the aim of conveying to the sector the importance of active and passive fire protection measures.

We need to make an effort to reduce the number of fire victims in our country.

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