Generally speaking, archives, museums and libraries have a low level of baseline fire risk, since the materials in the exhibits do not spontaneously ignite. Even so, such institutions face great challenges when it comes to fire protection, since these buildings often have outdated electrical equipment, and defective electrical systems can create real fire hazards. For example, in 2004, a defective electrical cable connection in the Duchess Anna Amalia Library in Weimar led to a disastrous fire. The smouldering fire had remained long-undetected behind a wall panel; by the time conventional smoke detectors were able to detect the fire, it was already fully developed. For many books and works of art, it was already too late - they were destroyed forever by fire and extinguishing water.
This example illustrates the main problem in archives, museums and libraries: if a fire does occur, the damage is often catastrophic. Easily flammable materials such as paper, cardboard, wood and textiles are perfect fuel for the flames, and in this case, they were irretrievably destroyed. At the same time, many archives, museum repositories and libraries store written works and exhibit items densely packed in dry rooms. Once a fire starts, it will spread in a manner of seconds. Preserving liquids used in wet collections, such as alcohol or ethanol, are also highly flammable substances and can act as accelerants. And even small quantities of smoke or soot are enough to cause irreparable damage to delicate documents and artefacts.
For all of these reasons, standards for fire protection are especially high in libraries, museums and archives. Smoke detectors need to detect fires as quickly as possible, while they are still in the incipient stage, so that they can be prevented from spreading. Conventional point-type smoke detectors are usually not up to this task, as they are only capable of detecting fires that have already developed to a certain extent. Extinguishing fires using sprinkler systems is problematic as well. They only react once a fire has spread, and although they do put it out, the extinguishing water can severely damage or destroy works that had been spared up until that point. Many archived documents are the only surviving records of historical events, construction regulations or cultural heritage, which makes preventative fire protection absolutely essential. The path to ideal fire protection in museums, archives and libraries includes active fire prevention in the form of a WAGNER OxyReduct® oxygen reduction system, combined with early fire detection using WAGNER’s TITANUS® air sampling smoke detectors.
The Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus (City Gallery in Lenbach House) protects its art collection using an intelligent, state-of-the-art system solution combining fire prevention and early fire detection.
OxyReduct® with VPSA technology is effective not only in terms of safety, but also as regards low operating costs.
Patrick Dixon, Head of Construction and Technology at the British Library