Is it time for Fire Alarm Evacuation Systems to be fitted in High Rise Blocks?

Is there a Plan B should Compartmentation Fail?

Following the fire at Grenfell is it time for a fire alarm system to be considered to evacuate a tall residential building in the event of fire compartmentation failure?

Listening to the testimonies from the Fire & Rescue Service at the enquiry, it became apparent that they were not prepared or had any strategy in place to evacuate the floors above the eleventh should the fire compartmentation failed as it did with tragic consequences.

When the first firefighters arrived at the scene, a “Stay Put Policy” was in place, advising residents to stay put to allow the fire and rescue service to tackle the fire from within the building and from outside. However, after a short period of time (approximately 30 mins), it became apparent that the fire had gone beyond the flat of origin and the fire compartmentation had failed. However, many have criticised the Building Regulations for not having an alternative plan should the “Stay Put Policy” fail.

Reviewing the Building Regulations and Approved Document B, there is no provision such as a fire alarm or evacuation system that allows the Fire and Rescue Service to evacuate the building. Had such a system been installed and a backup policy in place, the Fire and Rescue Service would have been able to make an early decision as soon as they realised the residents on the upper floors were in danger.

Fire Alarms or Evacuation System

A retrofitted fire alarm or evacuation system can be easily installed in existing high-rise blocks using wireless technology. A wireless fire alarm sounder with beacon can be installed within each flat, with the controls for the system being locked away with access only to the Fire and Rescue Service. Using wireless will enable the system to be quickly installed with minimal disruption to the residents and the everyday operation of the building. It would also be advisable to install an addressable fire alarm system, as this will allow for the programming of the cause and effects using the control panel software and enables easy identification of the detection. The outputs (Sounders, Beacons and Relay Interfaces) can enable the system to automatically follow a predefined format should the Fire & Rescue Service be unable to operate the system manually.

Heat detectors could also be installed within the lobby of each flat, should more than one heat detector activates within a specific area and time, the system can be programmed to automatically activate the floors above.

As things stand, there are many resident blocks facing a similar situation relying on a “Stay Put Policy”, but with defective fire compartmentation. Having a way to evacuate the residents is surely something that must be considered and implemented as quickly as possible.