The LWF Blog

Fire Safety for Facilities Management Personnel – Fire Detection & Fire Alarms – Part 181

December 19, 2022 12:55 pm

Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF) is a specialist fire engineering and fire risk management consultancy whose aim is to give information on best practice in fire safety for facilities management personnel through this blog series. In part 180, looked at fire hazard signs and prohibition signs and at the regulations covering signage. In part 181, we begin to look at fire detection and fire alarms and why they are needed in many types of premises.

In all premises, it is required by law that there is a means of providing warning of fire to all occupants. In very small premises, such as a one-room office or shop, it may be sufficient for the person finding a fire to shout ‘Fire!’

In slightly larger premises, such as small single-storey buildings, it may be sufficient to install manually operated devices, such as turn handle rotary gongs.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) order 2005 contains a requirement that there is a suitable fire detection and fire alarm system in place to protect where necessary to protect relevant persons from fire.

In practice, the likely readership will be concerned with those buildings large enough to require an automatic fire alarm installation, capable of alerting building occupants, indicating the fire location and even automatically summoning the Fire Service.

A manual fire alarm system has manual ‘break glass’ call points which are the only way of triggering the fire alarm signal. An automatic system is designed to detect fire through automatic fire detectors, placed in positions by the system designer to ensure an early signal is obtained. The use of an automatic fire alarm system does not mean it won’t incorporate manual ‘break glass’ call points, they are usually combined to cover all eventualities.

In all premises where people sleep (aside from their own homes) there is a need for extensive provision of automatic fire detection. For example, hotels, hostels, residential care premises and houses in multiple occupation.

It is sometimes the case that an automatic fire detection and alarm system can be used to mitigate shortcomings in fire protection measures, particularly when involving means of escape. The thinking behind this is that the fire detection system and fire alarm system will alert building occupants much more quickly than they would become aware without an alarm system and allow them to use the means of escape provided, before the issues which might make the route impassable arise.

However, each case should be looked at on its own merits and it certainly is not as simple as putting a fire alarm system in a dangerous building and calling it good.

The insurers of a building may insist on the installation of an automatic fire detection system in a building for property protection purposes. The idea is that an early alert to a fire can lower the potential damage and therefore the payout expected from the insurer. For this reason, a discount in premium is often offered when automatic fire detection is installed throughout the premises.

In part 182 of this series, LWF will begin to look at the design codes affecting fire alarm installations. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact LWF on freephone 0800 410 1130.


Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 35 years’ experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings.

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