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Fire chiefs launch new evacuation guidance

08 May 2018

NEW GUIDANCE on evacuating high-rise buildings has been launched by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), providing essential advice for building owners, their professional advisers and the fire and rescue service.

The document is titled ‘Guidance: To support a temporary change to simultaneous evacuation strategy in purpose-built blocks of flats’. It focuses on introducing a ‘simultaneous evacuation’ strategy in purpose-built blocks of flats which is where all parts of a building are evacuated at one time, in the event of a fire. The guidance applies to premises in England and Wales.

This guidance replaces NFCC’s Waking Watch/Common Fire Alarm guidance, published in early October 2017. NFCC made a commitment to review this guidance with external stakeholders to ensure it was still fit for purpose. As a result, it has undergone some amends, based on feedback to make it clearer and more user-friendly.

A simultaneous evacuation strategy is only put in place following a comprehensive risk assessment, carried out by a competent person.

It also sets out the context and decision-making considerations in moving from a Stay Put strategy to simultaneous evacuation policy. It also includes further guidance on ‘Waking Watch’, which uses trained staff to assist with detecting a fire and raising the alarm.

The guidance applies to purpose-built blocks of flats where a ‘Stay Put’ policy was part of the original design but has cladding similar to that found at Grenfell Tower. In addition, the cladding will have failed the large-scale tests commissioned by the government and carried out by the Building Research Establishment (BRE).

A simultaneous evacuation strategy should only be a temporary measure until any risks have been rectified.

NFCC protection committee chair Mark Hardingham said: ”Following the Grenfell Tower fire, we worked extensively on producing advice and guidance to ensure the safety of residents living in high-rise buildings. This was especially important for building owners and also to help put residents’ minds at ease who live in buildings with cladding with similar properties to that found at Grenfell Tower. 

“This updated guidance gives fire and rescue services and building owners comprehensive advice and guidance in how to introduce this policy. However, a simultaneous evacuation strategy should only be a temporary measure due to several factors, including the number of people who may need to be evacuated.”

Mr Hardingham also thanked the wide range of stakeholders who worked on this vital piece of guidance. It has been developed specifically for high-rise residential premises, but it may be applied to other building uses – such as a hospital or hotel. It also outlines that local fire and rescue services must be informed if this strategy is to be put in place.

NFCC says that it supports the principle of a Stay Put strategy whenever possible, as it has been proved over many years to be safe for residents of purpose-built blocks of flats.

NFCC also supports the ‘Fire safety in Purpose Built Block of Flats’ guidance, which was developed by a wide range of stakeholders. The NFCC says the guidance remains appropriate for all purpose-built blocks of flats.