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A sprinkling of good fire-safety sense

12 April 2018

The prospect of Donald Trump being prosecuted for fire-safety issues in one of his buildings was dangled tantalisingly before delegates at the breakfast briefing on fire suppression systems at the Fire Safety Event in Birmingham this morning (12 April).

BAFSA’s Stewart Kidd explained that in response to the fire in Trump Tower in New York earlier this week, in which one person was killed, the US president tweeted (naturally) about how well the building had withstood the fire. “But the building wasn’t sprinklered,” said Stewart, “because at the time, Trump got an exemption to the law from the then NYC mayor to avoid having to put in sprinklers!”

The NYC fire was just one of many major blazes to have occurred around the world in the last six days, Stewart continued, but one of the most interesting actually took place on 11 March, at a warehouse in Daventry. Stewart explained: “This was a 40,000m2 warehouse storing garden supplies. Fairly benign, you might think – gnomes, plants, rakes, etc. But what about all the fertiliser, the pesticides, the swimming-pool chemicals and the peat moss? The place wasn’t sprinklered, even though under Approved Document B, premises over 20,000m2 are required to be.”

The rest of Stewart’s overview of how automatic fire-suppression systems can compensate for inadequate fire protection in other areas concentrated on the hotel sector. Citing a 2001 independent review of hotel fire risk assessments, he pointed out that of 6000 hotels reviewed, almost a quarter – 23 per cent – were high-risk and not compliant with fire-safety regulations.

He went on to list what he believes are the main risk indicators. These include:

  • A single, unprotected staircase and no compartmentation
  • Unsuitable escape routes
  • No electronic alarm system in properties with more than 10 bedrooms
  • Locked and blocked exits
  • Resident behaviour (cooking in rooms, etc.)
  • Poor response time of local fire service
  • No instructions provided for guests
  • No or misleading signage
  • Defective or absent fire-protection systems

“In all of these cases,” Stewart claimed, “an automatic fire-suppression system would provide significant compensation.”

He then showed a video depicting the typical timeline of a fire, which highlighted the contribution that can be made by a fire-supression system. He explained: “Typically, the fire alarm activates in around 30 seconds, flashover occurs in five to six minutes, the Fire Service arrives in seven to eight minutes, and water goes on in nine to ten minutes. But with a fire-suppression system in operation, it deploys in one to two minutes, flashover doesn’t occur and the Fire Service can finish it off.”

Summing up the benefits of fire-suppression systems, he said: “Response to the fire is immediate, they compensate for other defects, they provide design freedom during major refurbishments, keep tenants or residents protected from the actions of others, keep the property-owner compliant with reg. 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and make a ‘stay-put’ policy less risky.”

Stewart concluded by pointing out that retrofitting such systems is “not as hard as is made out”, citing Marriott Hotels as a leader in this area, and emphasised the importance of making sure they are installed to BS EN 12845 by third party-certified companies.