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NFCC calls for additional escape staircases in new high-rise residential buildings

19 December 2022

THE NATIONAL Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has released a statement calling on the Government to make it a requirement for all new high-rise residential buildings over 18 metres (or seven storeys) in height to have more than one fire escape staircase. In England, there is currently no maximum height for residential buildings with only one staircase.

The NFCC is urging the Government to adopt the following changes for high-rise residential buildings over 18 metres or seven storeys:

*all new buildings must have more than one protected staircase

*all existing buildings must be retrofitted with sprinklers

*lifts in existing buildings should be installed or replaced for use in an evacuation

Across England, many people live in high-rise blocks of flats with a single staircase. In an evacuation, this means that the same escape route used by residents is also used by firefighters carrying firefighting equipment, and potentially also assisting elderly, disabled and/or vulnerable people to safely evacuate the premises.

Single point of failure

Gavin Tomlinson, chair of the the Protection and Business Safety Scrutiny Committee at the NFCC, said: “In the event of a fire, a correctly designed second staircase removes the risk of a single point of failure, in turn buying critical time for firefighting activities and providing residents with multiple escape routes.”

Evacuation may not always be necessary, as it’s often safe for residents to ‘Stay Put’ in the event of a fire. However, Incident Recording System data on mass evacuations shows that, from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2022, the London Fire Brigade reported 154 instances of where ten or more people evacuated from a block of flats of at least six storeys. This means nearly 8,500 residents chose to evacuate buildings rather than ‘Stay Put’, either before, during, or after the Fire and Rescue Service arrived on scene.

The NFCC’s recommendations could be reinforced by amending the Building regulations or the key Government guidance (ie Approved Document B).

Updated workplan

Mark Hardingham, chair of the NFCC, added: “The Government should be commended on the improvements it has made, such as banning combustible cladding and requiring sprinklers at 11 metres. However, we urge the Government to now publish an updated workplan for the review of Approved Document B in order to afford regulators, the public and the wider fire safety industry confidence that it’s still committed to reform.”

England is an international outlier, with countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia all having height limits. Even within the UK there’s inconsistency as buildings over 18 metres tall in Scotland are required to have multiple staircases.

*Read the NFCC's position statement on single staircases in residential buildings