The History of Flame Retardant Fabrics and Fire Safety
Fire retardancy is said to date back to ancient Chinese and Egyptians civilisations where the Chinese were said to apply an alum and vinegar solution to wood, then covered in clay which delayed the spread of a fire. This same technique was used by the Romans hundreds of years later to protect the boats of their Empire. [Source: An Assessment of the Use of Flame Retardant Plastics for Museum Applications]
Meanwhile, in Egypt reed and grass which were used as roof coverings were soaked in sea water before being placed. The mineral salts from the water crystallised during the drying process and these then acted as fire retardants.
The method of including alum and clay was commonly used throughout history and most noticeably used in the mid-1600’s to reduce the flammability of theatre curtains around the world. [Source: Handbook of Fire Resistant Textiles edited by F. Selcen Kilinc]
Putting out fires during the Great Fire of London.
Helping to prevent the risk of fire spreading, fire extinguishers were first introduced in around 200 B.C. where Ctesibius of Alexandria invented a hand-help pump designed to put water onto a fire. The Romans, similarly, used bucket chains (or buckets passed from person to person) to put fires out.
In these early days, although the chemistry and physics of flame retardancy wasn’t understood, they continued to find ingenious ways of preventing fires through these solutions. It was only until the 1800’s, actually, that a chemical understanding of flame retardancy began to take shape. French chemist and physicist, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, most notably known for his discovery of boron, a fire retardant which chemically transforms the materials of which it treats.
Though revolutionary, the chemicals would wash out of fabrics easily meaning they were useless for clothing or items that needed to be laundered.
Since then, the evolution of science and technology has meant that there are now a number of flame retardant and fire resistant materials for many applications. Very different from fire resistant, flame retardant fabrics are designed to burn slowly and many times, self-extinguish, whereas a fire resistant fabric is designed to resist burning altogether such as the protective clothing worn by firefighters.
Flame Retardant Fabrics
Flame retardant fabrics nowadays tend to be treated with a chemical additive in order to meet the strict regulations of care homes, hospitals and workplaces around the UK.
In a Home Office report, there were around 496,000 incidents attended by fire and rescue services in 2014/2015 whilst 41% of fatalities in fires across England were 65 years old and over. Fires where a smoke alarm were not present accounted for 30% of fires and 46% of fires happened between the hours of 4pm and 10pm. [Source: Home Office Fire Statistics England, 2014/15]
To ensure care homes and healthcare establishments are protected against the risk of fire, it’s important that they are equipped with flame retardant fabrics to reduce the spread of fire. This includes products such as flame retardant bedding, curtains, pillows and filled goods.
It’s vital to check that the products being purchased have been created to meet British and European safety standards and have undergone significant testing to ensure they are fit-for-purpose in a demanding and challenging environment.
The Whitakers range has been developed from hundreds of years of manufacturing experience and since 1789 the brand has established a prestigious client base, working with healthcare establishments, care homes and social housing to transform the standards of comfort, safety, and quality.
The brand is renowned for its developments in specialist flame retardant textiles that meet British and European regulatory standards. We are proud to supply our Whitakers range to leaders in healthcare throughout the UK.
As a qualified journalist, Anna dedicates her time to reading, writing and lots of research. When she isn't glued to the computer screen, she likes documentaries, cats and writing about herself in the third person.