Operators: Millions spent every year on fire safety at Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral, photo: Ondřej Tomšů

Attention has been focused on fire safety elsewhere following Monday’s devastating blaze at Paris’s Notre-Dame. The Czech equivalent, Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral, is prepared for such an eventuality, its operators say, with millions of crowns being spent on fire prevention measures every year.

St. Vitus Cathedral,  photo: Ondřej Tomšů
The construction of St. Vitus Cathedral was initiated by Charles IV in the 14th century, Bohemian monarchs were crowned and entombed there, it houses the Czech crown jewels and it dominates Prague’s skyline.

For these reasons, the largest and most important church in the country holds a similar place in the hearts of Czechs as Notre-Dame does for the French.

The terrible blaze at Paris’s iconic cathedral has put St. Vitus Cathedral in the spotlight, with the operators of Prague Castle quick to offer the public reassurances about its fire safety.

Vratislav Mynář is the chancellor of President Miloš Zeman.

“Every year the Office of the President invests over CZK 20 million in the maintenance, renovation and operation of St. Vitus Cathedral. In the last three years, we have put CZK 10 million into fire safety measures. Allow me to say, also, that with the security measures we put place at the entrance to Prague Castle we are trying to minimize the risk of arson attacks on the whole castle complex and of course the cathedral.”

Martin Pospíšil,  photo: ČTK / Kateřina Šulová
Martin Pospíšil is directly responsible for fire safety at the country’s best-known religious building. He says that, just as in Paris, the Prague fire service have clear instructions regarding what to save first at St. Vitus Cathedral.

“Understandably, the Fire Protection Act states: evacuation of people, animals and then property. There’s an evacuation plan for visitors placed around the building, and we have also drawn up a plan for the evacuation of valuables.”

Mr. Pospíšil points out that St. Vitus Cathedral can hold up to a 1,000 people and such moments would represent the biggest challenge if evacuation were required. He also says that fire prevention measures must be adapted to the limitations of the Gothic structure.

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
“It’s not possible for us to shoehorn a modern fire system into this space. Imagine how St. Vitus Cathedral would look with sprinklers overhead. In this it’s very similar to Notre-Dame. What we try to do is separate high risk areas, such as maintenance rooms and electricity substations, so that if there is a fire it won’t spread to the historical parts of the building.”

St. Vitus Cathedral is fitted with a total of 145 fire sensors. Three pipes in the upper part of the building are capable of delivering over 1,200 litres of water a minute and 70 special sprinklers protect the wooden roof of the building’s large tower.