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Essex company directors sentenced and fined over illegal waste wood operation 15/04/2021

TWO COMPANY directors have been in the dock at the Old Bailey for operating an illegal waste wood operation in Essex. One director was ordered to pay £50,000 in fines, compensation and legal costs while the other faces a five-year ban as a company director.

By a unanimous verdict, Finbar Francis Breslin (formerly of Patent House, London E14 6NU and now of County Donegal, Republic of Ireland) was found guilty in his role as director for causing Prime Biomass Ltd to commit the offence of operating a regulated facility without a permit.

Presiding Judge Bate said that Breslin had been the front man before passing a sentence of conditional discharge for two years and imposing a five-year director’s disqualification order against him.

Also by a unanimous verdict, Mehmet Mustafa of Highlands Road, Bowers Gifford in Basildon, Essex was also found guilty for his part in the same crime. Judge Bate sentenced him to a fine of £4,000 and a compensation order of £30,000 to the victim who was left with the abandoned wood waste. Further, Mustafa was ordered to pay a contribution towards the prosecution costs in the sum of £16,000.

A third director was acquitted by a majority verdict.

Five-week trial

The hearing follows on from a five-week trial held at the Old Bailey back in October and November 2018. The Environment Agency prosecuted the trio of directors for storing and treating waste wood in excess of the 500 tonne limit allowed by the waste exemption they had registered, causing a substantial dust contamination to neighbouring businesses, a fire risk to the local environment and also passing on the costs to the landowner by abandoning the waste.

The Old Bailey heard that the company directors of Prime Biomass Ltd had contracted with a Swedish company to supply recycled waste wood. The basis of the contract was that waste wood would be supplied to the company site at Dover’s Corner Industrial Estate, New Road, Rainham, Essex RM13 8QT, treated and then moved to another location before being exported to Sweden.

In January 2013, Mustafa registered a T6 exemption on behalf of Prime Biomass Ltd. This exemption allows a company to chip, shred, cut or pulverise waste wood and waste plant matter to make it easier to store and transport or to convert it into a suitable form to use. In this case, Prime Biomass Ltd was allowed to treat or store no more than 500 tonnes of waste wood at its site in any seven-day period.

When Environment Agency officers visited the site in September 2013, Breslin admitted that the site contained 1,200 tonnes of waste wood which was in breach of the T6 exemption. An agreement was made that the company would reduce the waste. By 30 October 2013, some efforts has been made to reduce the waste wood pile. However, on two visits in November 2013, the amount of waste did not appear to have reduced. On subsequent visits, Environment Agency officers quantified that the waste had increased again.

Mustafa and Breslin were interviewed under caution. Mustafa suggested that Breslin was principally in control of the site. Breslin told officers that Mustafa managed the site. Come February 2014, Prime Biomass Ltd was in liquidation and the directors had abandoned the site leaving the waste wood in situ. The waste wood remained there until late 2018 when the site and other surrounding land was sold for redevelopment.

Ignored advice

Ruth Shaw, case officer from the Environment Agency, said: “We visited the site on numerous occasions, but the defendants continued to ignore our advice on how to comply with their exemption and run a site within the rules. Further visits to the site revealed an increase in illegal activity with even more waste on site, in turn causing a serious fire risk and dust nuisance to the neighbouring community.”

Shaw added: “Their actions showed blatant disregard for local residents and businesses and put the environment and local amenity at risk. Waste crime can undermine legitimate businesses, which is precisely why we work closely with companies to help them comply with the law. In cases like this where individuals consistently operate illegally, we have no hesitation in prosecuting them as we want to make sure that waste crime doesn’t pay.”

In May 2020, the Court of Appeal upheld convictions against both Breslin and Mustafa.

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EUSAS European Conference details role of Artificial Intelligence in optimising fire safety 15/04/2021

THE EUROPEAN Society for Automatic Alarm Systems (EUSAS) recently organised a successful online European Conference focused on the topic ‘Artificial Intelligence in Fire Detection and Security: Without the Hype’. The event showed once again the importance of technological development for a business sector committed to the protection of life.

The conference opened with a discussion on what Artificial Intelligence (AI) really is. The general concepts as well as the history and starting blocks of AI were detailed. Also, the current application fields for AI in ‘Smart Living’ as well as important requirements for the realisation of intelligent ‘Smart Living’ services were presented.

A focal point for the fire industry was the series of presentations on the benefits and opportunities realised by AI for fire detection.

AI and fire safety

In his presentation, Guillermo Rein (Professor of Fire Science at Imperial College London’s Department of Mechanical Engineering) detailed an innovative fire protection system that combines building sensors, computer modelling and AI. Dubbed ‘The Fire Navigator’, this system aims to forecast the movement of a fire inside a large building, providing Fire and Rescue Services with essential information about flames and smoke ahead of time.

‘The Fire Navigator’ bridges the gap between fire safety and Building Information Modelling by making use of the data already produced by high-rise building sensors such as smoke and heat sensors. A fast and simple cellular automated model assimilates sensor data and, via inverse modelling and genetic algorithm techniques, uncovers the fire’s ignition, location, time, flame spread rate and smoke velocity. A test case involving synthetic data was shown for a real iconic building in London.

‘The Fire Navigator’ concept would be particularly suited to the protection of higher risk buildings like high-rise residential blocks and hospitals, or otherwise key infrastructure such as tunnels and power plants.

Sensor technology

Paul van der Zanden (general director of Euralarm) elaborated on the connection between AI and the fire industry, adopting an holistic approach by defining AI as “technology used to add value and/or improve the outcome of an existing or new process/system”. The fire industry has a wide scope and covers many aspects. Within Euralarm, fire safety is seen as an ecosystem and, therefore, should be part of the development process.

Assuming that everything is accounted for in the design to prevent a fire from starting, there’s still a chance that a fire incident will happen. A key factor which defines the impact from this incident is time. The timely detection of, and sensitivity to, unnecessary alarms are related. Both factors can be improved by using new technologies including AI.

Can the sector use other future spin-off developments from the AI world for its own positive progression? The introduction of the new sensor technologies available could be one of these spin-offs. Using an example from AI sensor technology development, Paul van der Zanden showed how the future fire detection can be enhanced and moved to the next level.

AI-related vulnerabilities

In his presentation, computer security specialist Ibrahim Daoudi of CNPP presented the vulnerabilities related to the use of AI on security/safety products. There are mainly three categories of vulnerabilities. The first category consists of adversarial attacks where the aim is to generate data sufficiently modified to mislead the model. The second category concerns physical attacks. This is based on adversarial attacks, but applied to real objects. The third category is all about the traditional attacks on information systems leading to the poisoning of the model itself or its training data. All three were discussed and explained.

Using temporal information is crucial for detecting smoke in video sequences. During his delivery, Andreas Wellhausen of Bosch Sicherheitssysteme GmbH outlined work conducted on temporal approaches based on deep learning as applied to video smoke detection. Two methods were outlined.

First, a combination of convolutional neural networks and long short-term memory networks. The second method centres on inflated 3D architecture which consists of 3D convolutions. These are two state-of-the-art approaches to extract spatial and temporal information from video sequences. A new way in which to detect and localise smoke within such sequences was presented. This is known as ‘cell-wise classification’. Furthermore, the advantages of temporal approaches over convolutional neural networks methods, which are commonly used for detection problems in computer vision, were shown.

Training AI on synthetic data

Philip Dietrich of Bosch Sicherheitssysteme GmbH analysed the idea of using synthetic data to train deep learning systems for video-based smoke detection algorithms. Compared to real data, gathering a large-scale database is significantly easier for synthetic data. It was described how deep learning networks can be trained on synthetic videos. The results were compared with real data.

As a means of bridging the domain gap between real and synthetic data, the concept of domain adaptation will be introduced. By forcing networks to extract similar features from real and synthetic data respectively, potential artefacts in synthetic data may not be learned by the network. Experimental results support the hypothesis that domain adaptation improves the generalisation on real data.

Legislation and outlook

While the rapid adoption of AI creates exciting new opportunities for industry and individuals alike, it also poses an important question: ‘Do current laws apply to AI?’ Tadas Tumėnas of Orgalim discussed if and how this new technology should be regulated. He outlined the state of play in Europe in relation to AI, focusing on its definition which should be the essence of the EU legislative framework. Tumėnas also presented the European Commission’s work related to AI.

In the last presentation of the online event, Lance Rütimann (chair of the Fire Section of Euralarm) said that, if the fire safety industry doesn’t take on the task of working with legislators, regulators and standardisation bodies in defining the aforementioned regulatory landscape, then someone else will.

The use of AI to protect lives and assets makes good sense. Understandably, the path ahead is not ultimately clear and there are many, many questions to be asked and answered on this subject. The fact that the work diligently conducted by members of the fire safety industry makes the world a safer place for millions of people is arguably the best motivation to set the focus on a new horizon.

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Grenfell Tower Inquiry raises issues on lack of regulation for fire risk assessment providers 15/04/2021

BACK IN late March, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Module 3 discussed the status of regulation within the professional fire risk assessment service market. This adds to the larger issue of the current landscape of fire safety and the ability of organisations to fulfil specific tasks to a competent standard.

In the Module 3 Opening Statements delivered on Monday 29 March, James Maxwell-Scott QC speaking on behalf of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea)  stated: “Industry practice is likely also to be relevant to your consideration of the fire risk assessments carried out on Grenfell Tower. In an ideal world, fire risk assessments would always be carried out by someone of the calibre of Mr (Colin) Todd or Dr (Barbara) Lane, but this is not an ideal world and it was never intended that the task of carrying out fire risk assessments be reserved to qualified fire safety engineers.”

Maxwell-Scott continued: “For it to have been, the Government would have needed to pass legislation regulating the sector. In fact, the sector was and remains completely unregulated. No qualifications are required by law. No training is required by law. There was and is no bar whatsoever to anyone seeking to go into business as a fire risk assessor.” [Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Day 114, 29 March 2021 (Opus 2 - Official Court Reporters Transcript)]

BAFE has been involved in the activity of the Fire Risk Assessment Competency Council/Fire Sector Federation and the formulation of its recently-published ‘Guide to Choosing a Competent Fire Risk Assessor’ which cites the BAFE SP205 Scheme as a quality option of providing evidence of competency for organisations delivering fire risk assessment services.

According to BAFE, what’s needed is stronger regulation. Evidence of defined competency should be required to deliver such an important life safety service.

Hackitt Working Group WG4

The Hackitt Working Group WG4 is also considering detailed competence requirements for fire risk assessors to be part of a qualifications process. UKAS-accredited third party certification has been called for to be mandatory for fire protection services for some time. BAFE fully supports this.

Lewis Ramsay QFSM, Board director at BAFE, commented: BAFE and the UKAS-accredited third party certification market are prepared and ready for mandatory evidence of competency measures to be introduced. We strongly believe that third party certification of fire risk assessment organisations is of vital importance and should be required by law.”

Ramsay went on to state: “The BAFE SP205 Scheme on Life Safety Fire Risk Assessment outlines the need for an understanding around the limitations of an organisation’s abilities to provide fire risk assessments for buildings of particular scopes. Assessors being used under these stringent requirements should be appropriate if this became a compulsory requirement as competent providers must refuse work that they are not capable of undertaking.”

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AFOA webinar focuses on managing airport rescue and firefighting services during COVID-19 pandemic 15/04/2021

THE AIRPORT Fire Officers Association (AFOA) recently held a webinar on managing airport rescue and firefighting services through the COVID-19 pandemic. The online event was attended by upwards of 100 delegates including airport fire officers and emergency planners from across the UK.

Notably, the information-sharing exercise highlighted the importance of strong partnership working and communication with staff, training providers and other agencies (including regulators) in order to adapt to the enormous challenges presented by the pandemic and also inform future resilience planning.

Dublin Airport Fire and Rescue Service provides domestic fire and medical response for the airport’s facilities, including an operational emergency ambulance. Its crews comprise 100 staff on four watches, 25 of whom are trained paramedics. During the webinar, Gerry Keogh (chief fire officer at Dublin Airport) explained what procedures were put into place to keep this vital transport hub open for essential travel and twice-daily deliveries of medical supplies during the pandemic.

When the Government’s advice changed to ‘Stay at Home’, all non-essential airport staff stayed at home. Health Service information desks for passengers still travelling were set up at the airport. The staff manning these desks were not medical professionals, so if passengers presented with symptoms of COVID-19, they were sent to an isolation room where airport ambulance crews were tasked with evaluating them.  

Ambulance crews in full PPE responded to over 100 such episodes. After each call-out, crew members had a shower and a full change of uniform was required in a new decontamination room established back at the airport’s fire station.

The daily checks now required all appliances and the ambulance to be fogged and sanitised. Social distancing measures were quickly put in place across the station. As you can imagine, this new way of operating necessarily created a significant amount of additional work.

Critical stage

At one critical stage between mid-March and mid-April last year, a number of firefighters contracted COVID-19 and were off duty. Contingency plans had to be made for a scenario where an entire watch was out of action. Military resources were also placed on standby and a call was nearly made to activate those resources.

A Fire and Rescue crew from Cork Airport was drafted in, based at a remote location airside, and worked very well for a number of weeks. The crew members isolated in a local hotel and did not come into the station. No switches were allowed and neither was overtime working permitted. A series of 21 additional Health and Safety measures were introduced at the station which subsequently proved to be successful in preventing the spread of the virus.

Fire training has since resumed with selected risk-assessed drills. All paramedics have now been vaccinated and asymptomatic testing takes place for all staff every Thursday. Pleasingly, there have been no further cases of COVID in the Dublin Airport Fire and Rescue Service since June 2020. Some staff members have experienced issues with fatigue and a new medical term called ‘long COVID’ which has required some adjustments to working patterns.

Warton Aerodrome experience

Based at Warton Aerodrome on the Fylde in Lancashire, BAE Systems (Operations) Ltd operates civilian flights as well as being a designated base for the manufacture and testing of Hawk and Typhoon aircraft.

A total of 24 Fire and Rescue staff located at the site also provide the medical response for 7,500 on-site staff. During the AFOA webinar, chief fire officer Kieran Merriman shared his key learnings from the past 12 months.

On 18 March last year, BAE Systems suspended all corporate air travel and evacuated the site within three hours. Staff working on key Government contracts were designated keyworkers and remained at the location.

An emergency planning centre was established comprising staff from the security team, the Fire and Rescue Service and senior managers. From a business continuity perspective, it was important to avoid cross-contamination between crews. That being so, a ban on covering holidays was introduced.

BAE Systems consulted with its clinical governance provider who was very helpful regarding PPE advice. The workplace was made COVID-secure with new cleaning procedures and the disinfection of cabs. Much of this procedural work will now remain in place, playing a long-term role in infection control at the station and helping to prevent the spread of seasonal flu, for example.

A major challenge to social distancing was the layout of the fire station with its common walkways so a second fire station was set up. Carrying out such a project in the middle of a pandemic and ensuring it was both COVID-secure and met all operational requirements was an enormous task.

Key detail of the project

Thermal image temperature screening and cleaning stations were introduced and guidance issued to staff members in digestible formats such as presentations so that they knew what to expect when coming to site. Being ‘wrapped in cotton wool’ was a quite an alien experience for them, but ultimately resulted in some positive changes to workplace culture.

A Degradation Plan was devised to give clarity and confidence to staff on what to do if departmental managers became incapacitated. This now forms an important part of the Business Continuity Plan going forward.

Recruiting staff in a pandemic also presented challenges. Selection testing could not be carried out at the site in the usual way. Instead, online psychometric tests were used to rank candidates. This new approach represented an improved method of selection, although making use of remote interviewing procedures and evidence from training records proved to be a somewhat less reliable means of assessing candidates’ physical and practical aptitude.

Training was adapted using the 20% easement guidance from the Civil Aviation Authority. External induction training was replaced with a local training course and all training was subject to risk assessments to limit exposure. Laptops were issued to enable individuals to complete e-Learning and reduce the infection risk of shared IT.

Training exercises took longer due to the additional PPE required (half face mask respirators are required for drivers spending time in appliance cabs, for example). All of these changes required a good level of understanding and partnership working with the International Fire Training Centre as well as Trade Unions, BAE Systems Health and Safety consultants, management and regulators alike.

There is now a rigorous four-stage process to approve anyone applying for a residential training course which creates additional workload. However, some of the changes made to training protocols have resulted in cost-efficiencies and will be taken forward post-pandemic.

During the pandemic, BAE Systems supported the UK ventilator challenge, flying 3D-printed parts to engineers for manufacture. The company also kept open a vital airbridge and supported the defence of other nations which afforded the crew members a real sense of pride and achievement.

Civil Aviation Authority input 

Civil Aviation Authority inspector Andy Fraser used the webinar as a platform to remind all delegates that Version 1.6 of Easements for Rescue and Fire Fighting Services at Licensed or Certified Aerodromes now resides on the AFOA website. This document is a concession based on COVID-19 impacts and covers both financial and operational necessities. It’s not a safety initiative.

Visits by the regulator will gradually be resuming. There are two types: Public Health Visits and Assurance Restart Visits, the latter of which will involve rescue and firefighting services. Fraser encouraged the continuation of emergency planning meetings and discussions in the meantime.

*A full recording of the AFOA webinar can be accessed here

**Formed in 1988. the Airport Fire Officers Association is a technical body dedicated to promoting and maintaining the professional image and status of airport Fire and Rescue Services within the UK and Ireland, ensuring continued communications between them through an ongoing dialogue and sharing of knowledge and Best Practice on all relevant technical and operational matters. Membership is open to airport fire officers of all ranks as well as local authority liaison officers, manufacturers, training providers and equipment suppliers with whom AFOA regularly collaborates on projects. Further information is available online at www.afoa.org.uk

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FIA launches survey to gauge impact of Brexit on UK’s fire sector 15/04/2021

THE FIRE Industry Association (FIA) has been working diligently on promoting the interests of the UK’s fire sector in relation to Brexit, focusing its attentions towards issues including the introduction of the UKCA mark and exporting scenarios. Now, the Trade Association is keen on asking its members and the wider industry for their views on how Brexit is impacting businesses.

In order to do so, the FIA has devised an online survey in a bid to elicit answers on general questions around the Brexit scenario, including an idea of how helpful Government guidance has been to date and also how the UK Conformity Assessed (UKCA) marking requirements are directly affecting solution providers in the marketplace. There are 28 questions to be answered in total.

Essentially, the survey’s objective is to understand the extent to which businesses have found it easy or difficult to adapt to changes in trading goods and/or services and the movement of their people in the time period since the ratification of the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement on 1 January 2021.

“In these unprecedented times,” comments the FIA, “it is difficult to distinguish between the impact of the pandemic versus Brexit on businesses and the economy. That’s precisely why we would appreciate it if you could help us by completing the survey.”

The link to complete the questions on the Survey Monkey platform is here. All details provided will remain confidential. The FIA never shares survey participants’ details with any third parties. Those participants who leave their details with the Trade Association will be entered into a prize draw to win a £50 Amazon voucher.

Participants are urged to complete the survey even if on some questions they answer ‘Don’t know’. Such responses are permissible in the survey. Indeed, such answers may be equally as valuable as others in the overall analysis.

*Survey results will be published in a detailed report in June which will be available to view on the FIA’s website

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Removing the Obscurity Behind Sheltered Housing Fire Standards 13/04/2021

WITH NEW fire safety legislation demanding a renewed focus on safety in all residential settings, Karen Trigg explains why care home and sheltered housing associations must absolutely prioritise the maintenance of fire doors.

By necessity, the regulations and standards associated with fire safety and sheltered, assisted and social housing are robust. Yet the responsibilities towards those standards, and subsequently, fire safety equipment such as fire doors can often leave people vulnerable as previous episodes have highlighted.

Fire doors in particular are an essential defence against fire and smoke and, in the event of a fire, afford building occupants the necessary time to evacuate safely or otherwise allow the Emergency Services to reach them. However, in order to work effectively, such doors must be installed by an expert and maintained properly from that point onwards. There are no exceptions to that rule.

This is particularly important in care homes and sheltered living scenarios where there are multiple – and often vulnerable – occupants, and in social housing developments where many susceptible tenants may be resident. The standards those buildings must meet are reiterated in the new Fire Safety Bill and the Building Safety Bill, both of which suggest a renewed focus on the safety of occupants in all residential settings.

Robust legislation

Often, residential settings such as care homes and sheltered living developments require extra thought being put into the safety of occupants. With ease of movement and general building safety high on the agenda, fire safety considerations must be part of the mix.

When it comes to care homes, fire safety inspectors have been known to reprimand ‘Responsible Persons’ over blocked fire door exits, fire doors having been wedged open and keeping fire doors locked. In some cases, inspectors have found fire doors that are incorrectly fitted. That’s not to mention potential maintenance issues.

In fact, it was last year that the Care Quality Commission issued a warning to care home managers that fire safety legislation has to be followed at all times despite concerns over the spread of Coronavirus, pointing out that propping open fire doors to avoid people touching door handles compromises fire safety.

Care home and sheltered housing providers are already responsible for the safety of their residents and legally obliged – under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – to ensure that buildings and their people are safe.

The aforementioned Fire Safety Bill seeks to amend the Fire Safety Order and clarifies that the ‘Responsible Person’ or duty holder for multi-occupied residential buildings must manage and reduce the risk of fire. This includes considerations around the structure and external walls of the building, the entrance doors to individual flats and the fire doors for domestic multi-occupancy premises. Fire and Rescue Services will be able to take enforcement action against non-compliant building owners.

The Building Safety Bill will make sure that the individual responsible for safety carries out their duties properly and also serve as the catalyst for a new national regulator for building safety, ensuring that occupants are safe and enforcing higher standards for all buildings. With that in mind, where should those with fire safety responsibilities make a start?

Necessary checks

The importance of a compliant fire door in a fire safety situation simply cannot be overstated. Available in various ratings from FD20 to FD120, fire doors will provide anything from 20 minutes to 120 minutes of protection against a fire, but in order to do so they must have all the necessary components fitted and working correctly.

As well as thorough risk assessments, it’s key for building managers to inspect their fire doors on a continual basis, ensuring that maintenance is carried out quickly and professionally should this be necessary. Simple checks – inspecting certification, gaps, seals, hinges and closure, for example – can provide a level of assurance that fire doors are functioning as intended.

Fire doors are tested as a complete assembly to BS 476 Part 22 or EN 1634-1. All of the hardware and associated furniture, including the door hinge, the frame, intumescent seals, the wall sealing, latch or lock and door leaf must achieve the stringent EN classification codes and Health and Safety requirements.

At the installation stage, the door must be fitted correctly, avoiding any loose fitting and ensuring elements such as screws are secure and tight. It’s vital that fire doors close completely, shut tight and engage the latch by use of their own self-closing device. In the event that fittings have become loose, the ‘Responsible Person’ at the facility must ensure maintenance is swift and that the doors are once again operating as they should be.

Finally, each fire door must have a minimum of three hinges. These must have a CE stamp and meet BS EN 1935 to achieve the necessary safety standards. Door closers must close from any angle, overcoming any obstacles such as seals, latches and air pressure.

In addition, mechanical door closers have to meet BS EN 1154. If delayed action mechanisms are employed, these should be certified for use on fire doors. Certification labels and ‘Fire Door, Keep Shut’ signs are also key in providing vital information for building occupants and can be used by building managers for traceability purposes. ‘Wear and tear’ should be routinely checked, so too locks and latches which should be secure and without movement when the latch secures into place.

Taking responsibility

Vulnerable people reside in care homes as well as sheltered and social housing situations. Such residents are dependent on safe living conditions and the responsibility for owners to provide the necessary levels of safety simply cannot be avoided.

Today, it’s more critical than ever for specialist housing associations and their facility managers to realise that even the smallest of changes to hardware and furniture can have a major impact on the effectiveness of a fire door. They must determine to prioritise safety checks and scheduled maintenance periods in order to reduce the risks associated with fire. Doing so is an obligation that’s both moral and legal in nature.

Karen Trigg is Business Development Manager at Allegion (UK)

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Blaze destroys hundreds of rented units at self-storage Manchester warehouse 15/04/2021

ACCORDING TO the Business Sprinkler Alliance, a fire that occurred in late February and which ripped through hundreds of rented units at a three-storey warehouse facility in Manchester has once again “brought into sharp focus” the wider impact of fire and the “vulnerability” of unsprinklered buildings.

No fewer than 125 firefighters and 25 fire engines were called to battle what was described as “a significant blaze” at the self-storage Tameside facility located on Holland Street in Denton on Sunday 21 February. Firefighters were required to use ground monitor water jets and an ultra-high pressure fire hose to tackle the flames, which eventually spread to adjoining industrial units. Three aerial appliances were employed to tackle the blaze from above.

Plumes of smoke emanating from the fire impacted the nearby M67 motorway, with a section of that roadway between Junctions 1 and 2 having to be closed off. Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service crews worked tirelessly to bring the blaze under control, remaining on scene through the night to damp down small, smouldering pockets of fire.

Thankfully, there were no injuries, but the wider impact for the hundreds of people who had rented units at the location and have now lost stored goods will be felt long after the fire was extinguished.

Tameside storage facility customers included Rebecca Dakin, a business owner who has reported losing £100,000 worth of stock from a new start-up, and also Donna Hilton who, tragically, has lost her worldly possessions.

Such fires are challenging to contain due to the large quantity of furniture and often unknown materials which are normally tightly-packed into facilities of this type. These incidents create large fires that burn hard for a long time, creating a lot of smoke which, in this case, could be seen across Manchester and realised the evacuation of nearby residential areas.

Similar incidents

The fire in Denton follows similar episodes like the Safehouse fire in 2017, the Shurgard blaze as we left 2018 and also the Twinwoods Business Park fire in 2019. The catastrophic Shurgard self-storage fire in Croydon at a building where there were no sprinklers installed, destroyed every one of the location’s 1,198 storage units. The cause of the blaze was filed as undetermined.

Shurgard’s new replacement four-storey facility opened last year with the owners taking the decision to include sprinklers in the rebuild process despite not being required by the Building Regulations to do so.

“One of the big questions to be asked and answered when it comes to these self-storage facilities is how anyone can claim protection against fire based on the light separation between units and the lack of knowledge of what people are putting into their individual units,” explained Iain Cox, chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance. “Can self-storage operators assume that a fire will be contained in such circumstances and, therefore, offer comfort to their customers?”

According to the Business Sprinkler Alliance, the Denton fire is another painful reminder that fire does not discriminate. Whether it’s a self-storage warehouse, a university, a car park area or an office space, fires can and do happen on a regular basis. However, those fires may be contained and extinguished by systems such as sprinklers that help to ensure life isn’t put at risk and that businesses, jobs and the economy are protected.

Sprinklers are a proven method for controlling fires. They allow fire crews the necessary amount of time to safely gain access to the premises and extinguish fire. The Business Sprinkler Alliance concluded: “We welcome their consideration in buildings as a way of ensuring that properties of all types are adequately protected.”

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ASFP launches e-Learning platform focused on passive fire protection 15/04/2021

THE ASSOCIATION for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) has launched an innovative new e-Learning platform in support of its acclaimed Foundation in Passive Fire Protection course. Featuring high quality adaptive learning techniques, supported by ASFP technical expertise and training capability, the new platform provides the ideal online solution for learners wishing to study towards Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications in passive fire protection administered by the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE).

The e-Learning system uses adaptive learning techniques to tailor teaching to each individual’s skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours, ensuring that every learner receives precisely the right level of instruction and support to achieve exceptional levels of understanding and proficiency.

The interactive learning experience will provide the perfect learning pathway for each individual, allowing them to develop the necessary competencies in the most efficient and effective way, often reducing learning time, while also increasing understanding.

ASFP expert trainers are able to monitor each learner’s progress and offer personalised feedback, support and coaching as and when needed.

The content is based on original tried-and-tested material from the ASFP’s highly successful classroom courses. Those courses boast a proven track record of preparing learners for the IFE examination and realising a high pass rate.

With the use of an independent and proven learning platform, ASFP is confident that this provides the best passive fire protection e-Learning available. The platform offers units covering all passive fire protection disciplines. It also provides underpinning knowledge on fire science.

*For further information visit http://asfp.org.uk/asfp-e-learning-platform/

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Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service launches sprinkler awareness campaign 09/04/2021

CHESHIRE FIRE and Rescue Service has just launched a year-long campaign orchestrated to raise awareness of the benefits of fitting sprinkler systems in business premises. Led by the Business Safety team, the initiative will not only highlight the benefits sprinkler systems bring to companies, but also encourage decision-makers to consider fitting sprinkler systems in all new builds, as well as retrospectively install such devices in older premises.

Heading the campaign is Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service’s business safety manager Tracey Carter, who said: “Over the next year, my team and I will be providing lots of information and advice to business owners and builders so they understand how sprinklers work and consider fitting them as a fire safety mechanism. We’ll also be dispelling the myths that have grown up around sprinklers. For example, it’s a common myth that sprinkler systems begin to operate accidentally and cause excess water damage. It’s also a myth that they cost lots of money to install. What they are designed for is to protect life and property and improve firefighter safety.”

Carter continued: “A modern sprinkler system would actually limit damage, helping a business to be back up-and-running far more quickly as they limit water spread to the site of a fire. Some insurance companies even offer large discounts for buildings protected by sprinklers.”

Throughout the 12-month campaign, the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service will hold events – following COVID-19 guidelines for each – to provide information and host interactive social media chats where people can ask questions around how sprinklers work to extinguish a fire at source.

Likened to having a firefighter in every room, sprinklers detect heat above a certain level and activate, letting out a spray of water into the affected room.

Preventable deaths and injuries

“Fire is indiscriminate,” explained Lee Shears (head of prevention and protection and area manager for the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service). “It destroys lives, homes, families, businesses and history that cannot be replaced. Every year, people are needlessly killed and seriously injured in fires. People are made homeless as a result of fire, businesses collapse and people lose their livelihoods because of it. Lives and properties that could have been saved with the simple addition of a sprinkler system.”

Shears added: “It’s a well-known fact many businesses that suffer from significant fires and fire damage never return to operation. Sprinklers can safeguard against that scenario and significantly improve business continuity.”

The campaign’s monthly focuses will include sectors such as schools, factories, care homes and small businesses.

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Sprinklers: The Buffers Needed to Make Buildings Resilient 12/04/2021

RECENTLY, AN article authored by Lars Rohde (the Governor of Denmark’s National Bank) was published in The Financial Times and highlighted the fact that a bank’s capital buffer should work much like a sprinkler system. In other words, writes Iain Cox, it exists to ensure a bank can continue to provide credit in times of crisis, much like a sprinkler contains a fire prior to the arrival of the Fire and Rescue Service.

Essentially, they both buy time, ensuring that a bank or a building are back up-and-running within a short period with limited financial impact or damage. How come the banking sector can appreciate the need for a buffer, yet so many people and businesses fail to see sprinklers as the much needed buffer that will help in saving a building?

Established in the wake of 2008’s financial crisis, capital buffers enable banks to use their liquid assets in order to meet unexpected changes in cash flows whether due to a financial crash or episodes such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The problem is that many banks are unable to use these buffers because they will fall foul of other regulatory requirements. Consequently, the buffers cannot fulfil their purpose.

Therefore, a regulatory system designed in response to a financial crash doesn’t have the outcome people expect for key assets. Reading this across to changes in the fire safety regulation, we have to ask the same question as to whether they will deliver the outcomes we expect for key societal, economic and environmentally important buildings.

Today’s fire safety regulations can lead to outcomes where such key buildings are totally lost to a fire and that end result is deemed a “success” as long as no-one’s hurt. The property is not a key consideration of the regulations. Therefore, people follow regulations and, following Rohde’s line of thinking around the buffer, sprinklers are not installed.

Building Regulations will not protect property from being lost in the event of a fire. Key stakeholders are then surprised by the outcome with the loss of homes, workplaces and community assets.

History lessons

Rohde is clear that it’s better to have sprinklers than let your building burn, and and that it’s also better to have a Fire and Rescue Service attend the blaze rather than let the fire spread to other buildings.  In the article, Rohde states: “When the fire alarm sounds, you want the sprinkler to start before the fire trucks arrive” and goes on to say: “The destruction caused by a great fire is simply too large, as history has shown.” The thing to do is to make sure that you’re deriving the outcome you want. That means putting the incentives in the right place.

Rohde comments: “A prudent society may still want an insurance policy against potentially disastrous rare events.” So, in point of fact, what he’s saying is that you need sprinklers, you need a Fire and Rescue Service and you need insurance. They’re not mutually exclusive and there’s a hierarchy.

Sprinklers are a buffer that render a fire in a building a non-event. We all hear about big fires. We hear about a company’s insurance not being enough to cover the costs, but what we don’t hear about are companies who barely have a hiccup in their day-to-day existence because sprinklers have worked to contain a potentially disastrous fire and allow business to continue.

Ultimately, we’re looking for people to make informed decisions on the outcome they desire from a building over its life, including shock events like fires. However, all-too-frequently that view is focused on the cost of developing the building. Such a focus means that the long-term view is often not discussed.

The incentives are bringing about the wrong outcome. In other words, you have to make sure the incentives are tuned to bring about the outcome you want rather than the outcome you derive.  

The Financial Times article scripted by Lars Rohde is a timely reminder that, as regulations impacting the fire sector change, we need to ensure we keep our focus on the desired outcome. Otherwise, the unintended consequence may see the delivery of outcomes that no-one will view as a success when those regulations are tested by a serious fire or a banking collapse.

Iain Cox is Chair of the Business Sprinkler Alliance 

*For more information about the Business Sprinkler Alliance visit the www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org

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