19,000 smoke detectors and around 80 missions a year
Not many people know the INTERSCHUTZ site as well as he does. Olaf Dudda is head of the company fire brigade and fire protection officer at Deutsche Messe in Hannover, Germany. At the age of 52, this dedicated firefighter is already very much looking forward to the next INTERSCHUTZ in June 2020. In our interview he allows us a look behind the scenes.27 Nov 2019
If a fire breaks out at INTERSCHUTZ, who’s there to put it out?
The fire brigade assigned for the event. We’ll be having four firefighters and an emergency firefighting vehicle from the Hannover Fire Service stationed at the North Fire Station right on the exhibition grounds.
They’re on call 24 hours a day in case of an emergency. And we also have a fire engine from the city, but they usually stay parked at the main entrance to the venue unless called into action.
Deutsche Messe used to have its own fire brigade. What has changed?
A while back, we at Deutsche Messe entered into a cooperative agreement with the City of Hannover owing to the fact that we were no longer able to provide enough young firefighters from within the ranks of our company.
From then on, the Hannover Fire Brigade took over the job of fire protection on our premises, meaning deployment in case of fire alarms and the provision of firefighters for our events. These emergency forces are assisted by our security staff, who have the necessary familiarity with the grounds so as to direct the city’s firefighters to the right places via the most efficient routes.
But you are indeed still on site at the grounds. What exactly is your job?
Our cooperation is set up in such a way that Deutsche Messe still officially has its own part-time fire brigade, of which I am the head. In addition to my duties as the company’s fire safety officer, I’m responsible for planning firefighting duties and instructing external staff about the prevailing conditions at each event. In case of an emergency, I or one of my three deputies are available to the emergency services as advisors.
How big is the area you need to cover, and what are the potential hazards you face? How many smoke detectors are there, and what kind of firefighting equipment is available?
The Hannover exhibition grounds are about one square kilometer in size. This includes halls and pavilions ranging in size from around 1,000 to some 31,000 square meters. Our fire protection concepts were drawn up at the earliest possible stage, as part of the building permit process, with the main focus on early fire detection.
For this reason, more than 19,000 smoke and heat detectors of diverse types have been installed on the site. In the areas where exhibits are on display there are also roof flaps or fans for smoke extraction, which are directly controlled via the fire alarm system. As a rule, we can open about two percent of the roof area in each case. Many buildings and halls also have their own sprinkler systems.
What kind of case occurs most typically, either before or during a trade fair?
The typical case is that no actual fire is found despite a fire detector having been activated. The exhibition grounds can be seen as a sort of non-stop construction site, with something constantly happening somewhere.
Besides our own ongoing efforts to make the exhibition halls better and more attractive, there are also a great many stand construction firms and service providers working on site at any given time. We use our fire detectors to monitor this huge "construction site" where lots of activities produce dirt, dust, exhaust fumes or steam, thus sometimes leading to false alarms.
Where does the steam come from?
The steam mostly comes from the many kitchens in our restaurants as well as at individual exhibition stands. Altogether, we get about 80 alarms every year, and almost all of them are false alarms. That sounds like a lot. But under the given circumstances, that’s actually not at all a lot. Rarely is there a real fire.
Is there a certain trade fair at which or a particular sector for which alarms are more frequent?
No. Our technical support teams provide full assistance at every step of the way, so during planning, setup and dismantling.
They are in touch with every exhibitor beforehand to ensure that all legislative and internal requirements are met, and later also verify that everything has been implemented as planned and approved, also with regard to fire safety. All events staged on our venue meet the same high standards for safety.
If you had one wish vis-à-vis stand builders and exhibitors, what would it be?
That they more rigorously honor the smoking bans in the halls, especially during the assembly and dismantling periods.
What was your most spectacular mission on the exhibition grounds?
A burning earthmover next to our high-rise office building. In addition to putting out the fire, our main task was to protect our employees from smoke inhalation inside the building. Smoke which had entered the building through open flaps additionally triggered a fire alarm in the building, and this led to all the flaps of the building’s smoke and heat extraction system being opened, which of course only made things worse.
What does INTERSCHUTZ mean to you?
It means we can relax a bit, peaceful in the knowledge that there are so many experts on the grounds, so what could go wrong? At INTERSCHUTZ, whenever the fire service arrives on the scene, whatever issue triggered the alarm has typically already been resolved by experts attending the show.
And what are you most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to getting together with fellow firefighters who share my passion for protecting and helping people, animals and property in the event of an emergency. In addition to the new technical highlights, there will certainly be many new and interesting meetings and contacts from around the world.
This will be really great, and probably not such a quiet week after all. And with my old fire brigade team there’s going to be a night out after work. That’s what I’m looking forward to the very most.
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