PREVENT participants share their success stories from Trogir, Croatia

From losses suffered due to fire at the Kasubi Royal Tombs, Uganda, in 2010 and 2020 to the severe damage to the National Museum of Brazil in 2018 and Notre Dame in 2019, fire risk has continually proven to be one of the greatest threats to heritage worldwide.

As heritage professionals, how many of us engage with fire risk specialists? Considering the high risk of fire and its devastating permanent damage, how can heritage institutions change their approach to fire risk management?

Unlike the risk posed by many other hazards, we can mitigate the loss of cultural value caused by fires. We can reduce fire damage by collaborating with relevant stakeholders and experts.

Capturing these vulnerabilities and delving into institutional realities, the PREVENT – Mitigating Fire Risk for Heritage course was designed as a participatory and multidisciplinary learning opportunity that looks at all sources of fire, both natural and manmade. It is based on workshops and field surveys carried out by ICCROM and its partner organizations and is led by fire risk prevention specialists, cultural first aiders, firefighters and emergency response agencies.

Prevent Map Groups from eight countries participated in the PREVENT 2021 course

Conceived in the framework of the First Aid and Resilience in Times of Crisis (FAR) Programme of ICCROM, the PREVENT international workshop took place from 15 to 19 November 2021. It brought together cultural heritage professionals and fire experts from eight countries to engage in virtual, scenario-based learning about fire risk behaviors and how to prevent fire in heritage places. The workshop included presentations, interactive group activities and an online game for planning fire risk mitigation. A 3D virtual exercise simulating a fire in a museum concluded the activities. The 2021 PREVENT workshop was designed and implemented in partnership with the Estonian National Heritage BoardEstonian Rescue BoardEstonian Police and Border Guard BoardCorpo Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco - CNVVF and the Swedish National Heritage Board

Post-workshop, from November 2021 to May 2022, the teams collaborated to implement case-specific projects in their contexts. They carried out a fire risk assessment and implemented fire risk mitigation measures in eight countries, including Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Ireland, Israel, Nigeria and Palestine.

The results of the project implementation phase exceeded expectations. One such team from Trogir, Croatia, shared their experience and success story.

A success story from Trogir, Croatia

“Grab sheets” produced by Jasna and Marin using guidelines from Historic England. Source: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Croatia and the Public Fire Brigade of the City of Trogir. “Grab sheets” produced by Jasna and Marin using guidelines from Historic England. Source: Ministry of Culture and Media of the Republic of Croatia and the Public Fire Brigade of the City of Trogir.

The Republic of Croatia faces a difficult issue with forest fires: most notably along its coast. With hopes of mitigating fire risk in their country, PREVENT participants Jasna Popovic, Head of Croatia’s Conservation Department at the Ministry of Culture and Media, and Marin Buble, Deputy Commander of the Public Fire Brigade of the City of Trogir, developed an in-person workshop within the framework of their follow-up project from PREVENT, called, "Reducing Fire Risk in the Historic City of Trogir." The workshop’s goal was to create an emergency response plan for the city.

With over 20 participants, Jasna and Marin’s workshop brought together professionals from the cultural heritage sector, civil defense, the fire department, local police and the Red Cross, in addition to representatives from the civil protection headquarters, the city's department for social activities, city council, the city museum and the security team of the cathedral and the collection of sacred art.

In the workshop’s initial phase, Jasna and Marin presented the participants with three extremely useful risk assessment documents that they made: one focused on Trogir’s historic core, another an operational response plan and, lastly, an art evacuation plan (from the local Museum of Sacred Art of St. Lawrence Cathedral). Participants learned about object prioritization and salvage and rescue and were presented with "grab sheets" developed following Historic England’s guidelines.

Marin and Jasna lead the workshop. Source: The City of Trogir Marin and Jasna lead the workshop. Source: The City of Trogir

The second phase focused on a fire and rescue scenario-based exercise conducted at the Museum of Sacred Art of St. Lawrence Cathedral. The simulation highlighted the importance of interagency coordination when protecting cultural heritage in a fire emergency. The workshop ended with a discussion of the necessary next steps to develop Trogir’s emergency response plan. One of the key outcomes was the decision to integrate the city’s existing platforms – such as its “Marked by Masters” branding, which links historic customs to the everyday lifestyle of its citizens, and “I tebe se pita!” (“Your Voice Matters too!”), a participatory budgeting scheme – into the emergency response policies.

Marin emphasizes that they have received positive feedback and enthusiastic engagement from the Trogir community. The local police department requested more information and even committed to providing guidance on heritage-related security issues during crises. Marin says that he and Jasna will “continue to be the engine of this process.” Their next plan of action is to conduct a roundtable with the Civil Protection Headquarters in Trogir.

“One significant step forward has been taken by the Ministry of Culture and Media due to this project. It has already been decided that this knowledge and experience will be shared with other conservators as soon as we finish the most demanding activities for the PREVENT course. Since the emergency response plan has been tested and proven to work, we can now turn it into a template and share it with other heritage professionals. I cannot stress enough that all of this would not have been possible if it hadn't been for continuous support from the PREVENT Team, the Ministry's Directorate for the protection of cultural heritage and the collaboration of Marin, who is a fire risk specialist. It is going to be more work, but I very much look forward to extending the team.” – Jasna Popovic

Jasna and Marin’s workshop in Trogir is one of the many success stories that came out of PREVENT. All nine teams will present their successes at an international symposium this October. The teams will share their stories of change on the ground and their experience mitigating fire risk in their local contexts. The upcoming symposium will initiate the next PREVENT course, opening the door for more groups to seek interagency coordination in their pursuit to protect cultural heritage from fire.

In conversation with Jasna Popovic and Marin Buble