Sir, The media description of what could have been a major fire incident at Mountjoy Prison (December 18th) is a stark reminder that the reality of the Stardust fire is still with us.

The abiding focus of the enforcing authorities whether they are dealing with prisons or places of assembly is to ensure that the building will protect the occupants in case of fire or other misfortune (e.g., progressive collapse, sick building syndrome, etc.) The performance specifications which guide these authorities, and professional engineers like myself, are contained in the Building Regulations the exclusive statutory objective of which is purely design and construction. The generic term applied to the inherent ability of a building's structure and arrangement to perform is known as passive defence".

The concentration of effort on this aspect of occupant protection is misguided as could have been otherwise demonstrated on December 18th had the courageous actions of those who rescued the prisoners in what were certainly, the threatening conditions, not been successful. An example of how resources are wasted can be found in the deeds of responsible officials who will readily summons a building owner for not having obtained a fire safety certificate for the erection of toilets, but cannot decide whether the removal of an access door in a moderately sized room in which there are two other (designated) exits will materially affect the satiety of the occupants

The time has long come for those who frame our laws and regulations to realise that buildings, new or old, occupied by people must be provided with appropriate safeguards to guarantee their protection in case of fire or other emergency. The presence of exits, and other mandatory (design and Construction) features, cannot be totally relied on, because life safety does not depend solely on any one of these safeguards additional measures are necessary in case any one safeguard becomes ineffective due to some human or mechanical failure

The historical facts clearly show that a life can be lost, or an injury suffered, in a building not because the design and construction was not suitable, but because errors are made in terms of its services and operations. The generic term applied to this aspect of building safety is known as "active defence". Yet nothing has ever been done in law, or indeed otherwise to strongly support the use of this superior form of protection against known emergencies

All one has to do is consider the intellectual methods and technical procedures used he ensuring the safety of those working/sleeping on offshore oil/gas production platforms. Yours, etc., (Fire Safety Engineer), Flower Grove, Killiney, Co Dublin.