Retired firefighter Henry Landis is leading the study, which aims to save more from being lost. He believes listed properties are up to three times more likely to be affected by fire but says this is not fully recognised in current regulation and fire safety practice.
His research will examine fire incidents at 375,000 heritage buildings over the past 12 years. “We’ve all seen what happened at Notre Dame in Paris, and the emotion it has generated not just in France but around the world,” said Landis, who served with Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service for 30 years and is now a part-time PhD student in Fire Risk Engineering at GCU.
“People felt the same about the Art School fire in Glasgow, and there are many other examples up and down the land when historic properties are burned. These are more than just buildings; they are a tangible connection to our past and those who have gone before us. We need to do more to take care of our heritage, and my research aims to change the way we think about fire risk in old buildings.”
The study aims to merge Ordnance Survey buildings data and data representing every building listed by Historic England with records of about 600,000 incidents attended by fire and rescue services annually in England back to 2009. About a third of all incidents attended are fires.
Landis expects that the research, which will take several years, will provide evidence necessary to tighten regulations and make sure good practice in looking after our heritage is shared more widely.
He said: “I am never going to be able to pinpoint which buildings are going to burn down next. But I would hope to spot patterns – like the number of fire incidents affecting historic buildings which are being renovated, like Notre Dame Cathedral. That appears to be a common theme, but looking through news reports is currently of more use to researchers than the official fire data. If my study can help change things, then I will have made a real difference now, and also for people who will continue to enjoy these buildings in the future.”