Fire safety car parks top priority due to electric vehicles

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The regulations regarding fire safety are a topical issue in both the Netherlands and Belgium. Increasingly, experts and government officials are openly expressing their concerns about the fire safety of high residential buildings and underlying car parks. The latest chapter involves charging electric vehicles in these car parks. This phenomenon can pose a lethal hazard as the lithium ion batteries used in them can spontaneously combust during charging.

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Supporting concrete structure

In both the Netherlands and Belgium, fire safety requirements are becoming more and more stringent. Belgium often takes an even stricter line than the Netherlands. Fire safety also plays an ever greater role in the construction and renovation of car parks. Peter Staal, Manager Parking at Bolidt: “Especially now that electric driving is gaining ground so rapidly, we see that fire safety is a key theme on the agendas of architects, construction companies and car park operators. Cars catching fire in car parks is nothing new, but the risks that come with the use of lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles are unprecedented. If such a battery ignites, flames tend to spread very quickly and create an extremely hot fire. The temperature can rise to as high as thousand degrees Celsius or higher. This is so hot that the fire can damage the supporting concrete structure and cause the car park to collapse.”

At the back of the car park

A growing number of safety experts are pleading for the underground charging of electric vehicles to be prohibited. The independent Dutch research organisation TNO is currently examining how electric vehicles in car parks are taken into account in the construction regulations of other countries (worldwide). The Dutch Institute for Safety also wants to restrict underground charging and will soon issue new guidelines that underground car parks will have to comply with.

Part of this will be to exclusively provide charging points close to the exit of car parks to allow the fire service easy access. Staal: “The charging bays for electric vehicles are often located at the back of the car park or on the lowest level. But there are other aspects that are important, as (fire) safety always involves a combination of measures. Think, for instance, of a good sprinkler system, a proper smoke exhaust ventilation to remove toxic gases and the prevention of cracks and gaps in the ceiling that could cause the insulation material to catch fire. And, not unimportantly, a fire-retardant flooring system.”

Flame-retardant additives

Innovation is embedded in Bolidt’s DNA and this is also reflected when it comes to fire safety. The theme has been high on Bolidt’s agenda for over 20 years, with in-house specialists in the R&D Center in Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht continuously working on the development and further improvement of the flooring and marine decking systems. Particularly in the cruise ship segment where fire safety is a top priority, as it is in the entire maritime sector, Bolidt has gained a great deal of relevant knowledge and experience. Staal: “We use this in our flooring systems for car parks as well of course. So we are proud to be able to demonstrate, as one of the few, that our systems comply with the highest fire safety rating, classes Bfl-s1 and Broof(t1), for synthetic flooring. 

These certifications represent excellent performance in terms of flame spread, smoke production and energy/heat released in a fire, which we mainly achieve by incorporating special flame-retardant additives into our flooring systems. As a result, our customers can be assured that choosing Bolidt flooring means making maximum use of the options available for fire safe car parks.”

Strict regulations

Fire safety in car parks will no doubt receive due attention in the media for some time to come. Especially given the growing number of charging points in car parks under apartments, shopping centres and hospitals and the huge increase in electric vehicles. Although the exact number of underground charging stations in the Netherlands is currently unclear, Dutch parking platform Vexpan thinks that there are 50 to 100 publicly accessible underground car parks with charging facilities. According to homeowner organisation VvE Belang, 300 to 400 thousand charging stations are located under apartment blocks. Staal: “Serious numbers that require strict regulations, especially knowing how complex it is to extinguish fires involving electric vehicles and considering the possible consequences of a fire in an underground car park. That is why at Bolidt we will continue to focus maximum efforts on innovation. In our R&D Center, we examine and test every technical possibility to contribute to the further improvement of fire safety in car parks with our flooring.”

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