I want to ask a question about Fire Safety which is frustrating us.
We're 30 flats in Oxford. The big block has 28 flats on four floors, using 4 separate internal staircases. The small block has two flats at 1st and 2nd storey level, sharing an external staircase. The block was built in 1996, the flats are compartmentalised, and all the fire doors into common areas are in good shape.
We are flummoxed that all the advice from ARMA and the like says residents should stay put in the event of a fire. This to us defies common sense for a block or our dimensions.
Before we issue instruction to residents, we would like to be check whether there has been any change to the stay put recommendation?
Modern purpose-built blocks of flats normally have a Stay Put Policy (SPP) due to the construction of these buildings, whereby flats and communal areas have been compartmentalised in construction i.e. concrete and fire-resistant material, under Building Control.
In England there is a large proportion of housing stock used as flats that is not purpose-built, but conversions. This means that it can be difficult to achieve the required compartmentation standards. Where this is the case, an alternative policy called a ‘Simultaneous Evacuation’ (SEP) is normally in place.
Each property should have a current Fire Strategy, which documents the design overview of how a fire can impact on that building. The principles of the SPP are based on the ability of a building to contain a fire for a period of time. An Emergency Plan should be documented within the Fire Strategy document. Consultation with the local fire authority also helps to understand the ‘policy’ required.
A typical SPP will normally have the following elements;
If a fire breaks out in your flat, leave immediately, close the front door behind you (a self-closer will assists here) and make sure to alert the Fire & Rescue Service (F&RS)
If a fire breaks out in a common area, any people in that location (the common area ‘compartment’) should leave immediately and alert the F&RS
The rest of the occupants in the building should ideally stay inside their flats and should be safe to do so unless the F&RS instruct them to leave specifically. If they do want to evacuate the building, then they shouldn’t be prevented from doing so, but this may impede the F&RS whilst tackling the fire i.e. ‘congestion’ on the communal escape routes
A suitable and sufficient Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) should be carried out, periodically. Breaches to compartmentations, during repairs or refurbishment, compromise the Fire Strategy and need to be actioned to prevent fire spread to the rest of the building. Compartmentation failure will normally be noted i.e. building works damage within risers _ lowered ceilings / unfit communal fire doors i.e. vandalism, misuse, wear & tear / flat front doors are fire resistant and fit for purpose. FRAs normally pick up on such breaches.
To conclude, the generally established process of deciding between a SPP or SEP is based on a review of the following three factors which often can only be assumed;
The adequacy of the entire buildings original construction, that it was constructed or altered to meet building regulations at the time and had been subsequently signed off by building control
That any built-in safety measures added at construction have never been, and will never be, compromised, this includes leaseholders areas, which ordinarily form the majority of the building and are often outside of the scope of both the fire risk assessors and freeholders/managing agents jurisdiction (flat front doors are normally an issue here)
That there are no hazardous materials, or potentially explosive items stored in the leaseholder areas that might compromise the entire building
Brad Parker, Managing Director at Future Fire Systems