Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants
Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants


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Fire fighting hose reels

Hose-reels: Do we need them?

There is a growing trend for occupiers to remove the existing fire-fighting hose-reels from their premises. This is due to a number of factors:

Advice from local authority fire brigades based on the principle that they would prefer occupants of premises to vacate a building where there is a fire as soon as possible and not remain in a position of danger whilst they try to tackle the fire. Although it is expected to provide some form of fire fighting equipment and appropriate training for those members of staff who may be expected to use them, hose reels may be considered to present more problems than solutions to dealing with a fire.

The indisputable fact that a person employing a firefighting hose reel as their extinguishing media of choice may be encouraged to remain in a place of significant danger for a period of time which is undefined and potentially infinite, comes with additional hazards and risks to the safety of the operator.

When one uses a portable fire extinguisher, it is not possible to extend the time of use beyond that which the contents take to discharge. For a standard 2kg CO2 or 9 litre water or foam fire extinguisher, this is a matter of minutes. They are designed to quench a small fire and prevent it from becoming a larger conflagration which may spread to other parts of the building. Furthermore, they are designed to be used by trained persons who have limited knowledge of fire fighting and who cannot be expected to at as if they were fully trained firefighters.

If it is expected that a person, such as a Fire Warden or other trained person, in the workplace, should be provided with anything other than a portable device, then a number of other considerations regarding their training and safety must be taken into account. 

Once a fire fighting hose reel is put into use, there is no time limit imposed as to how long the user may remain, attempting to fight the fire. If they are not successful in an immediate knock-down of the fire whilst it is still relatively small, they may well become tempted to continue their efforts until they have got control of the situation. What they may not realise is that all the time the fire is burning, large amounts of toxic and asphyxiant gasses are being given off. This is contaminating the very air that they are trying to breathe whilst attempting to extinguish the fire. In many cases, these gasses are odourless and colourless. The effects they are having on the person using the hose reel may go undetected until it is too late. At the same time, their visibility is becoming more and more restricted. If they are able and do decide to withdraw, they may find that they can no longer see their way out of the building. 

The only way to safely allow the use of such an extinguishing media is to provide suitable training and breathing apparatus for each person expected to use the hose reels. We are then moving from the realms of ‘first-aid fire fighting’ and into the definition of a works fire brigade. Once breathing apparatus is used, then it must be regularly tested, maintained and its use practised. As you can see, this is far from what was originally intended as a quick-fix solution to preventing small fires becoming big and out of control. 

Management of Legionellosis control: Many occupiers have found that the extra work and expense involved in the periodic flushing and testing of fixed pipe systems where Legionella may be present or to prevent such contamination, far outweighs any benefit to be gained from keeping them operational. The cost implication of such maintenance and testing far outweighs the benefits of such a system. This is particularly valid when one considers the other reasons given above. 

These factors must be balanced against the requirement to have such an installation kept in operation by the conditions contained within a local building act, which cannot be over-ridden. 

The maintenance of some sort of alternative fire-fighting media such as fire extinguishers or sprinklers. This must provide appropriate and adequate cover for the fire hazards and risks within the building. 

How to go about removal stage by stage: 

Firstly, one must consider why the fire fighting hose reel was required to be installed in the first place. It is likely to have been a design requirement due to a local act such as the London Building Acts 1939, S. 20 or it may just be part of the design of the firefighting installations and provisions as part of the overall fire fighting strategy for the premises in question. 

In such cases as ‘section 20’ premises, it will be necessary to seek the permission from the local authority building control to gain their agreement for the removal. They, in turn, will need to assess other factors such as what you are proposing to provide in their place. They will also want to now what the fire brigade say about the proposal. It will be wise, therefore, to ask the fire brigade beforehand so that you can go to the building control officer with the answer. Invariably, the fire brigade will be happy for the firefighting to be left to their operational crews and for the risk to individual premises employees to be kept to a minimum. 

So, having gained the provisional approval from the fire brigade and then having received permission from the building control officer to go ahead, a full survey of the existing fire fighting arrangements should be carried out. An assessment of what is provided and what is required should be completed which will lead to a gap analysis of the required firefighting facilities. This report should then be presented to the local authority building control officer for approval. 

Once this is received, a programme of increasing the portable fire fighting equipment and then removing the fixed fire fighting hose reel equipment may be implemented. 

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

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