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Hird, D., Perry, M.D. and Nash, P., 1955. EXPERIMENTAL FIRES IN 'BACK-TO-BACK' HOUSES IN BIRMINGHAM. Fire Research Notes 150


In the latter half of the nineteenth century large numbers of terrace houses of the 'back-to-back' type were built in many of the industrial towns in the United Kingdom. Although some of the houses have been demolished and more are due for demolition there are considerable numbers of them that are likely to be occupied for many years. The incidence of fires in this type of dwelling is no higher than in other types of house of traditional construction but since there is no separate staircase (Figure 2) escape must be made through the downstairs living-room and there is a great risk of the occupants being trapped should fire occur. There are 26,000-27,000 back-to-back houses in Birmingham and of these about 17,000 are of the three-storey type. There have been five serious fires in these dwellings in the last twenty years and as a result thirty-six lives have been lost. The Housing Committee of the City Council of Birmingham have been looking for means of improving the chances of escape in the 11,000 back-to-back houses in municipal ownership and they considered that an escape hatch should be fitted in the party wall of the top floor and that a simple fire alarm should be fitted in the living-room. To test the efficiency of these proposals the Housing Management Committee decided to carry out full-scale tests on three-storey houses due for demolition. The Joint Fire Research Organization was invited to assist in this work. In the event of fire in the living-room of these houses it was considered that the times available for escape are likely to depend very much on whether the door to the staircase is left open or closed. In view of this two tests were planned, one to be carried out vrith the door open, and the other with the door closed. The conditions known to affect escape during a fire are the air temperatures, the state of the atmosphere and the visibility. It was decided therefore to start the experimental fires in the living-room and to take measurements at these three conditions at key points in the houses.

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