Construction Fires and Cathedrals

Today in Security: Cathedrals and Construction Fires

After the fire raged hot and high enough to bring down significant parts of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, the country's president, Emmanuel Macron, said the cathedral will be rebuilt within five years and called for donations to assist its reconstruction. While critics are skeptical of the 2024 estimate, supporters of the cathedral from around the world already donated almost $1 billion in less than 24 hours, media outlets reported.

According to TIME, restoring the Catholic cathedral, which took more than a century to originally construct, could possibly take decades.

The Paris Fire Brigade is investigating the building's current structural integrity, while a separate probe is looking into the cause of the fire, which is expected to be both intricate and lengthy, according to USA Today.

Security Management reached out to members of the ASIS Fire & Life Safety Council for insight into what the investigation might reveal.

Bo Mitchell, president of 911 Consulting, notes that if the fire started due to the simultaneous renovation and construction activities occurring on 15 April—Parisian firefighters said the fire may have been connected to the renovations—"then there was not enough discipline regarding the implementation of safety procedures."

Jeffrey Sarnacki, a consultant with Skylight Global LLC, agrees, given that buildings with significant wooden furnishings and structural elements contain fuel loads that could result in devastating fires. "All occupied facilities must have a tested and trained Emergency Action Plan that directs evacuation for all occupants," Sarnacki says. He adds that no building is immune from fire and any facility undergoing construction work should have plans in place to regulate heated construction activities and techniques.

In the United States, the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration hosts a large number of regulations and guidelines, including fire prevention plans, for construction and renovation projects, given the risk of construction fires. According to The New York Times, places of worship present unique opportunities for such fires given the proximity of open flames, sparks from welders, and other hazards near scaffoldings and flammable materials. 

Recently in the United States, individuals attempting to target churches were arrested. On 11 April, a suspect in Louisiana arson investigations was apprehended. The man, whose father works in law enforcement, was arrested in connection to fires set at three historically black churches in the state.

In New York, a New Jersey man entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral with gas cans was arrested on 17 April. According to the New York Police Department, the man was carrying four gallons of gasoline, lighter fluid, and butane lighters into the Manhattan landmark.