Fire Guidance

Changes to fire legislation, standards and brigade procedures

The Fire Industry Association (FIA) has issued some guidance for FMs on fire safety obligations, covering relevant legislation and standards.
This article looks at recent changes to some of the fire protection standards that an FM will come across and at changes to how the Fire & Rescue Services are attending premises.

The standards related to fire alarm systems and fire extinguishers have recently been amended or revised
For fire extinguishers, BS 5306-8 ‘Fire extinguishing installations and equipment on premises Part 8: Selection and positioning of portable fire extinguishers – Code of practice’ has been revised.

A significant change is that in the past, when carrying out the annual service of fire extinguishers, ‘knowledgeable’ service technicians would have advised the customer of the changes and where the premises current coverage differs from that in BS 5306-8. There is now a link between BS 5306-3 the service standard and BS 5306-8 that make this check part of the annual service visit.  In future, after this review, there should be a discussion on how to bring the premises in line with the new recommendations.

There is now guidance on fire risk and fire hazard which aligns with current risk assessment standards.  As such, there is a stronger link between your risk assessment and provision of extinguishers. In addition there is new guidance on environmental considerations within the premises where consideration should be given to the impact of the fire extinguishing media on the processes within the building.

When sections of a building are unoccupied, the standard recommends are that there should be consideration of extinguishers in those areas in order to protect the means of escape if it’s through those areas.  These standard have also ensured that the distances that you have to travel before you find an extinguisher are shorter.

Powder extinguishers
Historically ABC powder was considered the go-to general purpose extinguisher, specified for use everywhere.  New guidance now requires that for enclosed areas there should be a risk assessment done to consider the impact on visibility and health when using powder extinguishers.

The guidance has been clarified for Class A extinguishers.  It is recommended that two Class A extinguishers are on each floor.

Cooking oils
New standards confirm that cooking oils are a class on their own.  If you have catering facilities and use cooking oil then a Class F extinguisher should be recommended.

In line with the changing environmental requirements the Code of Practice is aiming to be ‘future proof’.  If you manage facilities that use, store or dispense fuels you will know that there is a move towards the use of biofuels.  The increasing amount of ethanol in fuel will require specific alcohol resistance foams (AR Foam).  BS 5306-8 recognises this and recommends that AR foam is used if the amount of ethanol in the fuel goes above 10%.

Fire alarms
‘the bible’ of the fire alarm industry, BS 5839-1, has been revised and was published in May 2014. Whilst it wasn’t a major revision, the changes will have an impact on the facilities you manage. The changes were made for two main reasons:

  • to take into account the findings of the Rose Park care home fire
  • as a result of research on high ceiling fire detection.

There were also some small updates to legislation and standards referred to in the code.

The first noticeable change is in the title which has been adapted to make it clear that BS 5839-1 is for non-domestic properties (domestic properties are covered by BS 5839-6).

The standard now recommends that where occupants of a building are going to need assistance from staff to evacuate the building (e.g. in residential care homes and hospitals) the fire detection and fire alarm system should be addressable if the facility has the capacity to sleep more than ten people.  This is similar to a conventional system except that the control panel can determine exactly which detector or call point has initiated the alarm.

Other changes include:

  • recommendations that residential care homes should have automatic transmission of alarm signals to an alarm receiving centre
  • if a staff alarm in a care home is present, there should not be any delay in summoning of the Fire & Rescue Service when the fire alarm system operates, but there may be a delay in the general alarm signal, provided all staff are made aware of the fire alarm signal
  • there should also be no filtering of alarms from care homes, this is different from all other facilities where the code recommends that where an investigation period is employed, the Fire & Rescue Service ought not to be called until the outcome of the investigation is known (except in residential care homes where it is necessary to summon the Fire & Rescue Service as soon as the fire alarm system operates).

Zone plans
The pictorial view of your fire alarm system is important because this is what the Fire & Rescue Service will look for when they arrive at your premises to find out where the fire is.  BS 5839-1 now reinforces the recommendation to have one.  The FM is responsible for ensuring that the zone plan is kept up to date, especially if it references areas by name, such as shops etc.

Work done by FIA and the Building Research Establishment ( BRE ) of high ceiling detection has been incorporated into the code so now you can use aspirating detection systems at similar heights to beam detection thus widening your choice of detection type.

The FIA strongly recommends that fire protection systems be properly maintained by personnel that can prove their competence. The new standards make that link and the FIA recommends that the best way to prove competence is through membership of a scheme such as the ‘Portable Fire Extinguisher Service Technicians Scheme’ from BAFE or BAFE SP203/ LPCB ‘s LPS1014 for fire alarms. Similarly there are competence schemes for fire risk assessors and passive fire protection systems that can be called upon by facilities managers.

The FIA believes that building owners should consider the use of more fire protection in buildings that are critical to the community.  The FIA feels 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 these buildings surviving or not in the event of a fire.

FRS’s attendance policy
FMs should be aware of the local Fire & Rescue Service’s attendance policy for automatic fire alarm signals. In many cases Fire & Rescue Services will not attend an unconfirmed signal from a commercial building.
A confirmed signal is where a person has seen evidence of a fire and relayed that information to the alarm receiving centre who in turn will call the relevant Fire & Rescue Service and confirm that there is an actual fire. If you’re not aware of the attendance policy of your local fire and rescue service then you should go their website and look for the details.
There are a number of variations on attendance policies and these include whether the building is managed or not, whether there is a sleeping risk, the time of day and the day of the week. So you need to read the attendance policy carefully to see whether when the automatic fire alarm goes off you will receive a visit from the big red fire engines!

Some Fire & Rescue Services are now considering charging for attendance at false alarms and given these austere times this is more likely to be the case in future. The FIA has a dedicated website with regard to the management of false alarms and this can be found here.