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Fire safety Public housing
An anonymous example > potential structural issues have been identified and, the common corridors and lobbies – but this is more
– not connected with the
where necessary, corrected. But a BBC investigation, difficult and costly to install. Tenants should also
Camberwell fire – of poor
using requests under the Freedom of Information Act be familiar with their own fire escape routes, which
‘compartmentation’ (see
box, bottom right). The
with 32 London boroughs, has found that more than should be sign-posted in common-way areas. Many fire
fire separation has been
250 high-rise social housing units have not been risk safety surveyors bemoan the fact that much of the work
breached, allowing an assessed by their local authority. councils are currently doing under the government’s
uprotected route for fire to
But what can building services engineers do – Decent Homes programme fails to improve fire safety.
spread from one risk area to
particularly in public sector buildings – to contain fires? Some argue that due to the lack of FRAs undertaken
adjacent accommodation via
voids and ducts.
Firstly, Tarling warns that a standard FRA would not have and the scale of the work identified, councils will be
identified the defects in Lakanal House, as they would not unable to rise to the challenge of making all tower
have opened up the false ceilings. He says that a chartered blocks fire safe without considerable extra funding.
surveyor, architect or structural engineer competent in But it’s essential that lessons learnt from Lakanal
fire compartmentation would have raised questions. He House are incorporated quickly and building services
argues that all fire-resistant panels should be clearly incorporate fire security. Building services also have
labelled as to the function they perform, as well as what a crucial part to play in introducing new fire safety
to do and who to contact if they are damaged. measures. l
‘It would be wrong to assume that a telecoms
engineer, electrician or plumber called in to rectify a CIBSE holds various training courses relating to fire
small defect would know what they were dealing with,’ safety – the next being on 14 January – on Part B of the
he says. ‘Building services engineers should always Building Regulations. This course will include recent
demand that FRAs are undertaken prior to their work changes to the regulations and Approved Document.
being carried out, during the works and at the end of For more information on this and other courses, and to
the works.’ book a place, visit
When making holes through compartments,
services engineers must always ensure that they are
fire proofed – for example with dampers, intumescent
material, class 0 boards, and iron sleeves. The issue of The spread of fire within a building is restricted by
fire protection should also be raised with the contract sub-dividing it into compartments separated from
administrator or main contractor. ‘If in doubt, fire one another by walls and or floors of fire-resisting
proof in any event,’ adds Tarling. construction.
Retrofitting fire safety features into 1950s and The object of this sub-division is:
1960s tower blocks can be prohibitively expensive. But • To prevent rapid fire spread which could trap
installing modern alarm systems for both individual occupants of the building; and
flats and across the block, and adding emergency • To reduce the chances of fires becoming large.
lighting and ensuring that escape routes are always A wall dividing buildings should be constructed
clear, are cost-effective measures, according to John as a compartment wall, with any wall having a
Hopkinson, fire risk engineering regional director at minimum period of fire resistance of 60 minutes.
AECOM consulting engineers. For compartmentation to be effective, junctions
He adds that escape routes should ideally be should be protected against fire and not present a
pressurised to keep smoke out. All properties above weakness.
six stories should have sprinkler systems installed to
30 CIBSE Journal December 2009
CIBSEdec09 pp26-28,30 fire.indd 30 19/11/09 16:25:09
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