A managed response to a fire
Much technical data is available which discusses the risk of fire within buildings and the measures which are employed to prevent fires, reduce their growth and permit the safe evacuation for occupants, however, little formal guidance is available for building managers on responding to a fire.
Fire safety management has become increasingly important and this has been more widely recognised as guidance documents have been updated, initially BS 5588 part 12 was introduced and this was subsequently superseded by BS 9999 in which much credence is given to the management services. It is duly acknowledged that poor management in terms of fire safety increases the risk and consequently the reverse is accepted.
Designers, Engineers and Managers alike all understand that the risk of fire can never be nil. Regardless of the construction, systems and management we put into place we are all still aware that fires can and do occur, it is for that very reason that we have an emergency Fire & Rescue Service and this facility provides us with the last strand of our design redundancy. Whilst we must design to prevent fire, we must acknowledge that one day we may need the assistance of the emergency services. With this borne in mind, as Fire Safety Managers we must then consider how our knowledge can assist the emergency response.
As with many organisations, the Fire & Rescue Service has changed policies and procedures as part of a modernisation programme and to reflect the changing needs of society and the fire precautions arena. For example, historically, the majority of calls to the Fire Service came via the manual ‘999’ call, however the introduction of technology such as automatic fire detection has seen a significant increase in ‘auto diallers’ being used. Due to the number of these calls turning out to be false actuations, many Fire Authorities have changed their response to meet their own risk assessment needs. For example, Fire Authorities would struggle to defend deploying multiple 12 tonne Fire Appliances on blue lights to a building which repeatedly has false actuations of their fire alarm system. To reduce the risk to other road users, many Fire Authorities have changed their policy to a more measured response. Examples include the reduction of appliances sent on the pre-determined attendance, or the operation of the ‘drive to arrive’ policy, whereby appliances are deployed under normal road speeds. Some authorities have even adopted a ‘call challenge’ scheme whereby any calls originated via an auto dialler are challenged (during normal working hours) to ascertain if the fire signal is false, for example a system test. It is important that persons managing fire safety are aware of the local policy adopted by the relevant authority, although the requirement for a genuine emergency will almost always be the same, all fires should be confirmed by a 999 call regardless of automatic facilities in place. The 999 call can give far more details than any automated facility, primary considerations would include whether all persons were accounted for, this could then be followed by information such as the location and extent of the fire, all of these factors would assist the Fire Authority in generating the appropriate response, for example, saving and preserving endangered life is a key objective, so if not all persons are accounted for, this would immediately increase their response.
Having summonsed the Fire Service, management can still assist. Consider the location of your building, will it be seen easily, or would it be helpful for someone to assist directing the Fire Service? Anything that saves time will of course be beneficial to all parties. Consider a rendezvous point for a representative to meet the Fire Service, after all, you will know your own building far better than an emergency crew. There is an array of information you can provide and this will depend on your individual building and its use, however, typically, the following would be useful;
- Building plans, these should indicate access points into your building, escape routes and any internal fire-fighting facilities, consider laminating these plans for durability
- Rising mains, their inlets and outlets, particularly where there are multiple mains installed
- Building risks, for example, chemicals in use or stored, highly flammable / dangerous materials or the presence of compressed cylinders
- Fire alarm panel(s), where applicable, the location of these panel(s) should be available, these can give additional information on the location of the fire and any subsequent spread
- Access, are doors secure? Are keys available? If access is made available, the attending Fire Service will be able to move around the building freely
- Fire precautions installed, facilities such as gaseous suppression will be significant as it may be undesirable to open doors to rooms protected unless in a controlled manner. Smoke ventilation systems would also be of significant interest
- Fire-fighters switches for emergency use, e.g. discharge lighting installations such as neon lights
- Environmental considerations to be taken into account
- Business recovery / salvage plans
- The evacuation strategy in place and details of any areas still evacuation, for example persons with mobility impairments following a pre-determined Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP).
These considerations are far from exhaustive as buildings, their management and use are unique and each situation needs to be appraised on an individual basis. It is clear to see that a great deal of information could be useful in the event of a fire and the key to it is pre-planning. The vast majority of information can be produced prior to an emergency, in fact much of the information will be held already in the fire safety manual for example. Collation of this information into a file that is readily available in the event of a fire will greatly assist the Fire Services response.
It is clear that as with most managerial functions, planning is a key element, whilst a fire will be avoided at all possible opportunities we must not ignore its potential occurrence. Should a fire occur, having the correct information to hand at the arrival of the Fire Service increases the two main objectives of any fire safety design, life safety and property protection.
Lawrence Webster Forrest have consulted with a wide range of Fire Authorities and are able to assist in the collation and production of the necessary information and have the ability to converse with the Fire Authorities to ensure a clear and acceptable approach for all parties.
If you would like to know more – or would like to arrange an appointment with one of our senior fire safety advisers – simply call Peter Gyere on 020 8668 8663.