Fire Safety: Make sure your building isn't a risk

Since September, there have been further developments with regard to talking unwanted fire signals; in February 2012 the Government gave Fire and Rescue Authorities the power to go to public consultation on whether to charge for attendance at automatic fire alarms. This would apply to ‘persistent offenders’ at non-domestic premises activated by proven malfunctioning or badly installed equipment. The idea being that this will encourage businesses to properly maintain their fire alarm systems and fire safety management, resulting in reduced time and money lost by fire services.

It is not yet known how the charging would work or who would be responsible for paying the bill: the Alarm Receiving Centre or building owner? The FIA estimates that these invoices will be £350 or more per attendance depending upon where the premises is located and how many fire engines are called out.

Many people attribute false alarms to a malfunction in the alarm system but in reality, most false alarms are due to poor premises management. The FIA is very concerned about the changes in brigades’ attendance policies as lives, property and jobs could be put at risk. The Association is particularly concerned that fire alarms may be turned off to avoid a charge due to persistent false alarms, which could prove devastating for fire safety.

The rationale of the Building Regulations in the UK is that, ‘in an emergency the occupants of any part of a building should be able to escape safely without any external assistance’ (Approved Document B to the Building Regulations). Often the building designer or the owner may want to go further and increase the level of fire protection installed in the building.

Portable Fire Extinguishers
In 2008, the FIA carried out a survey into the usage of portable fire extinguishers which showed that 80 per cent of the fires fought with them were successfully extinguished and that in 75 per cent of cases there was no need to call the fire and rescue services. Based on these findings there is no doubt that portable fire extinguishers play a very important role in the preservation of life and property. Portable fire extinguishers can reduce the risk of a small fire, for example, a fire in a waste paper bin developing into a large one. In particular, for educational premises they may mean the difference between a complete and no evacuation.

The safe use of a fire extinguisher to control a fire in its early stages can significantly reduce the risk to other people in the premises, allowing people to assist others at risk or who are particularly vulnerable. Training must be supplied to people who would be expected to attempt to extinguish a fire. All staff however, should be familiar with the location and basic operating procedures of the portable fire extinguishers provided, in case they need to use it.

All fire safety equipment should be installed and maintained by a ‘competent person’. Under the Fire Safety Order, a person is to be regarded as competent where he/she has sufficient training and experience or knowledge to enable them to properly assist in undertaking the preventive and protective measures. A competent person should be able to advise on the number of fire extinguishers required for the risk in the premises; the appropriate locations (i.e. on escape routes at each floor level) and suitable signs to indicate the location of extinguishers may also be necessary.

Portable fire extinguishers are tested, tried and trusted and evidence from the market proves that they are successful in dealing with small fires. Their installation could save lives, property and preserve the ongoing success of the educational premises.   

The FIA strongly recommends that portable fire extinguishers be properly maintained by personnel that can prove their competence through membership of a scheme such as the ‘Portable Fire Extinguisher Service Technicians Scheme’ from BAFE.

The FIA believes that building owners should consider the use of more fire protection in buildings that are critical to the community. The FIA feel that the value of keeping these buildings operational far outweighs the small additional cost of an extra level of fire protection. Extra fire protection could mean the difference between school buildings surviving or not in the event of a fire.

Further information