The essential guide to righting the wrongs of fire safety and fireproofing in residential tower blocks.

Fire safety is entering a new era of enlightenment.

It’s taken a while to get here and there’s still a way to go, but it’s being realised that it’s not something that can just be swept under the carpet.

Property developers, in particular, are factoring in fire safety and fireproofing more than ever before, with increasingly stringent processes and assigned experts to advise the best courses of action for all future builds.

Residential buildings are getting taller and taller, as cities like London continue to build upwards. There are 76 tall buildings (more than 20 storeys high) due to be completed in London alone in 2019.

 

But what about the older buildings still standing?

 

There are approximately 100 towers and apartment blocks across England and Wales which have failed fire safety checks since 2017, but in truth this is just the tip of the iceberg.

These 100 towers failed tests measuring compliance with the standards set by the Regulatory Reform Order (RRO), but an additional 300 high-risers in England are found to have Grenfell-style cladding.

From inadequate fireproofing, including insufficient cladding and fire door considerations, to ill-equipped fire safety equipment and limitations to escape routes – there are many areas that need addressing.

The most common failures in apartment buildings included a lack of sufficient fire separation between rooms and floors, limited signage for emergency and exit routes, as well as failing to have an up-to-date Fire Risk Assessment (and adhering to the recommendation of an assessment).

Fire and Rescue Services are upping their game when it comes to spot checks, with hefty fines on the rise for those failing to meet adequate fire safety requirements.

As a result, the number of developers taking it upon themselves to undergo fire safety audits is also, understandably, on the rise to ensure the building’s they’ve designed and built remain safe in years to come for inhabitants.

And the good news is there are experts out there who can help.

 

What’s the solution to poor fireproofing?

  1. Get a Fire Risk Assessment.
  2. Install a wireless fire alarm system.
  3. Solve the underlying fireproofing design issues.

 

1. Get a Fire Risk Assessment.

 

Don’t wait for it to be flagged by a Fire and Rescue Service spot check or a weary resident. For the many buildings out there, there isn’t the option to scrap it all and start again. A Fire Risk Assessment will determine what issues relating to fire safety need to be resolved; each with the level of risk and its priority level marked clearly for your understanding of what to do next.

We recently helped a major UK property developer who realised the lack of adequate fireproofing within their residential blocks, and following this realisation they forked out £50k a week to employ firewatchers to patrol the building (effectively acting as a human fire alarm)…that was before they came to us.

It’s best practice to have a Fire Risk Assessment on an annual basis.

 

2. Install a wireless fire alarm system.

 

Once you know what you’re dealing with, you’ll have a better understanding of the level of complexity involved and the time it might take to put it right. If, like the property developer we recently helped, the building materials and design need improvement, then you’ll need a reliable (and fast) solution in the interim.

You could pay £50k a week for firewatchers. Or you could employ Wire-Free Experts to install a wireless fire alarm system.

The beauty of a wireless fire alarm system is that it can be quite easily and quickly installed. We installed 14 wireless fire alarm systems (across apartment blocks up to 19 storeys high) in just 5 weeks, including planning and design time.

And not only that – because they’re wireless devices, they can be easily removed and repositioned, so you can choose to keep them or take them out once the building’s fireproofing has been addressed.

You’ll have found your reliable temporary solution that could continue to incorporate part of your long-term fire safety solution – the choice is yours!

Read the case study here.

 

3. Solve the underlying fireproofing and fire safety issues.

 

This’ll take a fair bit of time, consideration and planning, but once done it’ll mean the fire safety groundwork is in place to keep the building (and more importantly, the occupants inside) safe, should a fire break out.

In the meantime, having implemented Step 2 with a wireless fire alarm system, you’ll have the peace of mind to implement this final, all-important step with due diligence.

This step could involve measures to improve any or all of the following:

 

Architect with a helmet on peering over floor plan drawings

 

Fireproofing/passive fire protection (a design measurement, which sits dormant)

 

  1. Cladding (to use non-combustible minerals for the insulation layer rather than combustible foam).
  2. Compartmentalisation of walls and floors with adequate fire-resistance between them (fire doors also fall within this category).
  3. Clear means of escape including considerations taken to stairwells on each level (plus adequate signage indicating fire exit routes).

 

Active fire protection (responsive systems to extinguish a fire or provide an alert)

 

  1. Sprinkler installation within the communal areas (you can also get these installed on the outside of buildings).
  2. Installation and maintenance of dry risers (empty pipes located at ground level for use by the Fire Brigade to connect their water source to, pumping it up to the numerous floor levels in the event of a fire).

 

A prerequisite for fire safety…

 

Each apartment should have its own smoke detectors fitted; usually these will be mains connected and if set off, it will sound in the apartment directly affected but nowhere else.

However, if you’re in a 20+ storey apartment building with a fire started on level 7, slowly working its way up – you want to be able to alert those above and below. With Step 2 implemented, this’ll mean a heat detector is installed on the ceiling behind the front door of each apartment, which is connected to the fire alarm system located within the communal areas.

The heat detector will not be set off by smoke (so no need to worry about sounding the alarm and evacuating the building because someone’s burnt their toast), but by heat.

They’re meticulously designed to respond when its in-built thermistor goes beyond 58°C. Once that happens, the sounders within the communal areas on each level will omit 100db of sound, which is reduced to approximately 70-80db from inside the apartments (taking into account that fire doors reduce the sound by around 20-30db) – but don’t worry, that’s definitely still loud enough!

 

We’re experts in wireless installations.

 

Need a Fire Risk Assessment or advice about implementing a wireless fire alarm system? Call us on 01277 724 653 or email help@w-fp.co.uk.