Fire Protection in Blocks of Flats Â– Pt One - An introduction to structural fire protection
Structural fire protection within a block of flats is perhaps the most effective tool against fire spread, damage to the building and potential loss of life. A new-build block will adhere to all current fire safety legislation and guidance and, in theory, this will guide the design and provide adequate fire protection.
Within older blocks, it may be that the construction adhered to benchmarks which were considered adequate at the time of construction, however, with the passage of time and empirical data, changes in how we use buildings, technological advances as well as current thinking, existing stock may fall below current standards. It may be that these blocks do not pose an unacceptable risk to life and the fire risk assessment process will assess and prove that. However, in some cases, the fire protection provision provided may not be acceptable and changes are required.
Upgrading of fire protection can often be accomplished through the normal maintenance process in many cases and if effective compartmentation has been retained, this is often the case.
Compartmentation is based upon the premise that the fire protection of walls, floors, ceilings and self-closing external flat and communal area doors are maintained and that this will limit the spread of fire between dwellings, or between flats and the common areas.
Effective compartmentation within a block of flats allows use of the ‘stay put’ policy of evacuation. Simply put, this means that fires which most commonly ignite in an individual dwelling would be contained within that flat, and that it would not spread to other flats or to the common area. This would allow for the evacuation of the residents of the flat of fire origin, with neighbouring flats being able to stay safely in their own flat, deemed to be a place of relative safety.
Shared ventilation or heating ducts are rarely seen, however, the potential for fire spread in these cases is considerable and would pose a greatly increased risk. It would be essential, therefore, for those blocks which contained older systems such as this, to be upgraded and for a suitable standard of fire protection to be installed.
The aim of a fire risk assessment is to pinpoint areas which may pose an unacceptable risk to life and so to provide a safe environment. It may be that while an older block’s fire safety provision does not meet current standards, that it is impractical or unreasonable to expect that all changes are made immediately. If a significant risk is established however, a realistic solution needs to be put into action to remedy the situation.
It may be that residents themselves have affected the fire safety provision of the block, without realising that their changes are detrimental. A commonly seen example is one where residents replace their flat front door with one they consider more aesthetically pleasing and that this new door is not fire resistant and does not meet the current standards. Indeed, residents have been known to remove the self-closing devices from the front door of their flat so that they can leave it standing open if they wish. This kind of departure from fire safety standards should be remedied immediately. The door should be replaced with one that meets the current standards and is fire resistant, smoke-sealing and with intumescent strips. The door must, of course, be self-closing.
Earlier forms of fire protection legislation stated that interior doors within flats must have self-closing mechanisms too, however this is now not a requirement and if residents have removed those mechanisms, it would not be perceived as an increased fire risk.
Next week’s blog will continue on this theme and will look in more detail at third party certification and compartmentation. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own block, your new project or your fire risk assessment, please contact Peter Gyere in the first instance on 0208 668 8663.
The Complete Fire Safety Management Platform is the only fully comprehensive online fire risk assessment and fire risk management platform. Our aim, at CFSM, is to make the process of becoming fire safe, straightforward and, to use our expertise in fire risk assessment and fire safety management to guide you through each step, resulting in your premises meeting all legal, insurance and ethical fire safety considerations.