The Tall Buildings Challenge

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IFSJ Managing Editor Duncan J. White catches up with Russ Timpson, Managing Director, Tall Building Fire Safety Network, ahead of this year’s Tall Building/High Rise Fire Safety Conference

Ahead of the 8th edition of the Tall Building/High Rise Fire Safety Conference, which will take place on 15–17 April 2024 in Indianapolis, US, alongside FDIC, the event’s managing director Russ Timpson tells all about why it is a must-attend for building safety professionals.

Could you introduce yourself and your role in the industry?

My career in the fire industry started with Kent Fire Brigade which I joined in 1990.

Kent FB had some interesting challenges including responding to ship fires in the channel and the construction of the channel tunnel.

During my time as a firefighter I was given the opportunity to study fire engineering at South Bank University.

Graduation led to opportunities in wider industry starting with head of safety for Virgin Atlantic Airways.

In response to the Burger King Fire at Heathrow Airport, I was offered the role of Head of Fire Strategy with Airport operator BAA.

After five years with BAA I decided to start my own fire consultancy business.

I have built and sold businesses within the fire sector  since 2004.

During this time, I become particularly interested in Tall Buildings.

This led to the formation of the Tall Building Fire Safety Network in 2009.

What inspired the inception of the Tall Building Fire Safety Network (TBFSN), and how has it evolved since its establishment?

When considering the issue of tall building fire safety prior to 2009, it become clear to me that there were several issues that demanded investigation, challenge and innovation.

TBFSN established terms of reference that were based on sharing knowledge, case studies, best practice and innovation.

From the early days of informal meetings and networking, we have now progressed to a web site (, YouTube channel, training and international conferences.

Can you share the journey and the milestones achieved by this conference over the years?

Early conferences/events were very simple affairs with small numbers of interested people meeting to discuss issues and seek peer ‘reassurance’.

I had been running the South Branch if the IFE CPD programme so has become experienced in pulling events together.

As we progressed we got speakers to prepare presentations and themed events were developed.

Over this time, several large Tall Building Fire Occurred and we managed to get details and case studies.

These proved very popular, and we started getting people attending the events from outside the UK.

One of our steering panel was Prof. Ed Galea from the University of Greenwich.

Through his position at Greenwich we hired a large lecture room and ran our first International event. We invited speakers from around the World to attend.

After two very successful conferences we were approached by FIREX in London to run our conference as part of IFSEC.

This proved to be very popular, as delegates could attend the conference and also visit the exhibition.

2022 was our biggest event after Covid with delegates from twenty eight countries attending.

We started our conference archive and this is now packed with presentations and data from the conferences.

How do you ensure the agenda remains comprehensive and addresses the most pressing issues in tall building fire safety?

Having now done this for several years, I have managed to develop an extensive network of Tall Building / High Rise contacts from around the World.

I often speak to people about issues they are dealing with and considering. This provides an invaluable insight into current and emerging issues.

Obviously, major fire in Tall Buildings attract a lot of attention and we respond as soon as we can to get details and information when they happen.

This usually highlights a particular issues, such as combustible cladding. I have also developed good relationships with industry press and media which helps.

It is also important to maintain my own personal CPD, which means I attend and listed to webinars, podcasts and interviews.

How does the conference facilitate meaningful connections among delegates from diverse backgrounds and geographies?

It is so important that we do not limit our horizons to our own country. Meeting, debating and learning is a vital aspect of conferences and training.

We developed the Tall Building Fire Safety Network group on Linkedin and this has 1500 members from around the World.

Our flagship training course; Tall Building Fire Safety Management is a five day intensive training course.

Since 2011 we have trained over 1250 people and we remain in touch with them via social media. This is a great forum for answering questions and capturing best practice.

What are some innovative technologies that will be showcased or discussed at this year’s conference?

This year’s programme is a wide ranging programme which will cover the latest academic experimental work on cladding façade systems, fire testing of green walls, fire command systems and lots of content on high rise firefighting.

There will be discussion on the use of BA above fire zones in high rise buildings.

Technology must play a role in keeping firefighters safe in this scenario.

Two conference sponsors will be show casing their products at the event; Lifeline Fire Hose and Tablet Command.

What do you believe will be the most hotly debated topic this year?

No question: EV’s and Lithium Ion Batteries. We have to find practical solutions to this international challenge.

Many Tall Buildings sit atop sub surface car parks. Tall building owners are under pressure to provide charging facilities.

This challenge has to be progressed and SOP’s and equipment must be developed.

How does the conference intend to address the balance between architectural innovation in tall buildings and fire safety standards?

In the UK we are having a big debate about how many staircases Tall Buildings should have.

This debate is coming to a head with the recent requirement (within 30 months) to adopt a two staircase doctrine for Tall Buildings.

Several developers are saying this requirement is disproportionate and excessive. It will be interesting to debate the merits different stair configurations.

What emerging trends or challenges do you foresee in tall building fire safety, and how is the conference preparing to address these?

Certainly the sustainability challenge will feature large in new schemes for Tall Buildings.

The net zero target will need to be met by increasing insulation on buildings, including timber construction, use of PV panels and Green Walls.

Modern methods of construction will add complexity, not simplify.

The fire industry must be at the table as part of the discussion, not following behind with a bucket and spade picking up the mess.

The 8th International Tall Building High Rise Fire Safety Conference will play its part in this process – I hope to see you there.

The 8th International High Rise/Tall Building Fire Safety Conference will is taking place on 15–17 April 2024 in Indianapolis, US, alongside FDIC, supported by organisers Clarion.

This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of International Fire & Safety Journal. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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