The Dutch Safety Board has started an investigation into the Gelderseplein building fire in Arnhem, where two people were injured and two people died. During the course of the investigation, the Board will look at the design and use of the entrance hall and exit routes, the use of elevators during a fire, and the deployment and mobilisation of the firefighters.

Investigation publication

Clear need for more attention for the fire safety of residential buildings

In the night of New Year’s Eve 2020, a fire in a sofa in the entrance hall of a block of flats in Arnhem left two people dead and two injured. The fire was able to rapidly develop into a major fire that gave off large volumes of toxic smoke. The fire raging on the only escape route made it impossible for the residents to escape from the block of flats. These are the conclusions of the Dutch Safety Board presented in the report ‘Fatal building fire in Arnhem - Lessons for fire safety’.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, commented, “This investigation shows there is room for further improvement in the fire safety of furniture and residential buildings. In the Netherlands, we still impose no requirements on the fire safety of furniture. With regard to residential buildings, it is assumed there is always a safe escape route. The fire in Arnhem shows that this is not always self-evident.’’

Fatal fire

In the night of New Year’s Eve 2020, a family with two young children stepped into the lift in a block of flats on the Gelderseplein in Arnhem. At that moment, they were unaware that a fire was raging in the entrance hall on the ground floor. When they arrived in the entrance hall, they were immediately confronted by tremendous heat and clouds of toxic smoke. Because on the way down they had pushed the button for the third floor, the lift doors closed and the lift carried them back up to the third floor where they were later discovered by the fire service; for two of them, assistance arrived too late. The fire was caused by a light-grade firework set off in a sofa that had temporarily been left in the entrance hall by a resident.

Fire hazardous furniture

The majority of seating and mattresses are filled with plastic foam. This was also the case with the sofa that was placed in the entrance hall in the block of flats in Arnhem. Plastic foam can be easily set alight; the fire then develops rapidly and gives off large volumes of toxic smoke. This makes seating and mattresses extremely fire hazardous. In a number of European countries, requirements are imposed on the fire safety of furniture. The Dutch Safety Board calls upon the Dutch government to join these countries in imposing requirements on the fire safety of furniture.

Fire safety of residential buildings

There are many residential buildings in the Netherlands with just a single escape route outside. The presence of flames and smoke on this escape route represents a major risk for the safety of the residents. It is therefore of crucial importance that this single escape route be kept clear of obstacles, and fire safe. This is the responsibility of building owners. They must do more to live up to that responsibility. Municipal authorities must also actively supervise the fire safety of residential buildings. The Safety Board has therefore issued a recommendation to the Dutch Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations to ensure that the supervision of fire safety is improved.

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    Clear need for more attention for the fire safety of residential buildings

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