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Former fire fighter heads to the top in skyscraper safety

1st May 2017

A fire fighter who was forced to step down from front line duties due to eyesight problems is now heading for the top as an expert in protecting the new generation of skyscrapers – and the people inside.

Paul Blake – Altor Fire – 0333 939 8001.Paul Blake left school with limited qualifications yet is setting the high-tech standards internationally for tower block fire safety and evacuation.

His masters degree was earned by designing an evacuation strategy based around elevators that can be used safely in a fire. His Phd is about fire-testing construction materials and then computer modelling of tall building fire spread and evacuation, where tall means a kilometre or more!

Paul said: “People are moving from rural areas into the cities, there is a need for taller buildings, and for fire protection and evacuation. In London alone there will be 455 tall buildings going up in the next three years.”

After 10 years as a fire fighter in Cornwall and Leicestershire, Paul was diagnosed with the eye disorder kerataconus. He decided against a regime of annual medicals which would inevitably bring early retirement and, after working in motor parts and debt collection, set up Altor Fire in 2003 to deliver fire risk assessments and training. He developed his skills and experience and progressed to assessing buildings including offices, business parks and schools.

Completion in 2012 of his masters degree in fire and explosion engineering at Leeds University was a game-changer which saw Altor Fire move up to bigger projects. Paul is working on the design of a new warehouse for one of Hull’s biggest employers and on student accommodation for a major northern university. He also carries out high hazard risk assessments for chemical plants, steelworks and other industrial installations and now the sky – literally – is the limit.

In readiness for the rising demand for Altor Fire’s services Paul has commissioned three staff on a freelance basis and has moved the business from his home in Hull to a pod at The Deep Business Centre. He expects to embark on permanent recruitment as interest increases.

He said: “I’ve had three people helping me during the last year but I may need to take on some staff as well. The people at The Deep help me make sure my business runs efficiently, and it has really energised my company.”

The Twin Towers terror attack of 2001 and a fire in a 73-storey hotel in Dubai on New Year’s Eve, 2015 are ready and spectacular examples of the risks of building ever higher. Paul’s work involves modelling how fires can start and spread at such heights, and how people can get out alive.

He said: “When 9/11 happened a lot of people were evacuated from the buildings using the lifts. You could say they shouldn’t have done that but if they hadn’t they could still have been in the building when the tower collapsed. This is one example of an alternative evacuation strategy.

“In Dubai the fire started on a balcony light fitting and spread across the exterior façade. That’s the sort of thing that I am trying to model so that we can design evacuation procedures. With some tall buildings the external walling is not appropriate. Others might be designed correctly but because of the way a fire can spread with the wind and other factors at a higher level they end up not being effective.

“My masters degree research project was based on a building of 40 storeys but these days a tall building can mean anything up to 200 storeys – and the trend is towards buildings which will be more than one kilometre high.

“There are very few people who are pure fire engineers, even fewer who do computer modelling, and fewer again for tall buildings. In addition to the ground level assessments, I’ve been asked to speak at conferences about tall buildings in Spain and the United States. I expect a lot more invitations from all over the world in the next few years.”

For further Information contact Paul Blake – Altor Fire – 0333 939 8001



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