The LWF Blog

Building Design | Fire Strategy at Conception

August 14, 2013 10:14 am

Designing a building without including fire strategy at conception is like a beautiful cart with no horse. If you have a concept and wish to achieve open spatial planning, for instance, the consideration of fire strategy too far along the line may lead to traditional fire safety requirements placing obstacles to the original design.

The main features of a fire strategy document and its evolution are the focus of this week’s discussion.

In some instances, fire safety measures have been, especially historically, somewhat of an ‘after thought’.  Whilst it is acknowledged that fire safety features will never be the starting point of a project – taking precedence over factors such as spatial requirements – fire safety should certainly be one of the earlier considerations.

The primary reason for this is that fire safety precautions should be adopted in accordance with the project brief as opposed to creating barriers.  If fire safety is considered too late, this may lead to fire compartmentation being introduced at the latter stages of a design, thus not realising the design objectives.  

Alternative fire engineering solutions can be provided if a fire engineer is consulted about a project at the design stage. This approach ensures a fuller understanding by all relevant parties and should ensure the project brief is achieved.  Similarly, when designs are considered, fire engineers can provide advice on alterations that could bring benefits elsewhere, the adoption of fire engineered strategies can lead to less intrusive fire safety precautions which could bring savings to a project, in terms of both capital and ongoing costs.

LWF typically undertakes an ‘Initial Fire Safety Review Report’, which will raise the primary requirements for fire safety; for example, the number of staircases required, the fire safety systems proposed (automatic fire detection, sprinklers, smoke control etc) and requirements for structural fire resistance.

Items which are likely to have significant impact on cost are also raised at this stage.  This report will ensure the development aspirations are taken into full consideration and advise, where necessary any modifications that need to be made.  This type of report has numerous advantages; it effectively sets out the fire safety measures at the earliest possible stage which ensures all stakeholders are aware.  For example, should sprinklers be advised within this report, this will have significant implications for the Service Engineers as well as Structural Engineer, and being aware of such requirements at an early stage is paramount.  

Advantages can also be gained in terms of the approving authorities, by gaining outlining agreements in principle at the earliest stage; the approvals process should be relatively simple.

The main focus of the initial fire strategy report would include the following:

 Means of warning and escape

 Internal fire spread (structure)

 Internal fire spread (lining)

 External fire spread

 Access and facilities for the fire service

Where compliance with codes of practise cannot be achieved, the fire engineer will provide options for consideration.  As with most elements of design, particularly engineering, it is likely that there will be more than one way to achieve the same result. 

As with all construction based disciplines, a fire engineer progresses their strategy as the project evolves and will add details to all of those areas discussed within the initial report.  The ‘Fire Strategy Report’ will include calculations to justify the design and typically these will be in areas such as smoke control, evacuation modelling etc.  

The fire strategy also provides a performance specification for other disciplines to develop; a clear example of this is fire resistance.  The fire strategy may state that a given corridor is required to achieve 60 minutes fire resistance, this could be achieved in a number of ways (dry lined/masonry construction etc.) with the exact method adopted typically decided by the architect rather than the fire engineer.  The advance consideration of fire strategies therefore allows the architect more choice, rather than less in situations where it is considered at a later stage.

In addition to the physical fire safety requirements, the fire strategy document goes beyond the ‘bricks and mortar’ and details the main fire safety management requirements.  Management of the building must be considered as part of the overall approach as this can be used as a risk reduction tool.  Fire safety management will also consider features such as the evacuation strategy in place, ensuring that occupants have adequate knowledge (and training where applicable) to ensure a safe evacuation in the event of fire.  

Fire engineering techniques are commonly used to assist architects by providing solutions for ambitious, large-scale designs. LWF have been working with their clients for over 25 years to produce innovative and exciting building projects. If you would like further information on how LWF and fire strategies could assist you, please contact Peter Gyere on  or 020 8668 8663.

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