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Jeremey Ewen from London-based Fire and Security Specialist, WLS, discusses specification considerations for ensuring a fit-for-purpose fire system

Whether you’re considering the fire system requirements for a new building, extending an existing system or upgrading as part of a service’s refurbishment, there’s no such thing as a standard fire system spec. Why? Because all buildings are subject to different levels of risk, dependent on a huge number of variables. These include design and structural elements, such as the height and size of the building, the number and nature of exit routes and proximity to other structures. Then there are operational factors, such as the nature of activity within the building, the number of occupants and the familiarity of those occupants with the means of escape.

When architects design a building, they must adhere to strict building and fire regulations relating to its structure, purpose and occupancy levels and should work with a fire systems specialist to design the right system. However, the Government only regulates where necessary and under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the onus is on the occupier or building manager to take reasonable steps to reduce the fire risk and ensure people can safely escape in the event of a fire.

A risk assessment is important therefore, because it enables specification of a solution appropriate to the building’s needs. We classify fire systems from level one to four (where four is the highest level of functionality) and, without a risk assessment, there’s a potential for under-specification, which may prove inadequate in the event of a fire, or over-specification, which could add cost without adding value.

Regardless of the required level of protection, the fire system should incorporate smoke detectors, and ‘break glass’ fire alert buttons triggering bells or sirens to alert occupants of the danger, along with a control panel to


identify the location of the incident. All bells and signals, including those incorporated in the smoke detector unit, must be decibel tested when the system is installed, to ensure that they are audible and, therefore, fit for purpose.

Of course, audible bells or sirens may not alert those with

a hearing impairment and DDA compliance is another important factor in ensuring that a fire system is fit for purpose. The system should, therefore, also be designed to include visual alert signals, such as flashing lights. In any building where there are multiple storeys, a disabled fire refuge point should also be provided on each floor, equipped with an intercom to allow emergency services to be in constant contact. Refuge areas must meet strict criteria, covered in BS9999:2008, which outlines both suitable areas for refuge, the type of construction and the need for two-way communication.

For more sophisticated requirements, programmable systems with cause and effect scenario settings and integration with other building services can both improve safety and protect the building fabric from unnecessary fire or water damage. For example, integration with the public-address system can enable warning signals to be broadcast in specific areas of the building, while wider BMS integration and cause and effect programming can ensure that relevant access controls are released or electrical services are isolated only in affected areas.

All fire systems should be tailored to meet the needs of the building in the context of both its design and layout and its operational requirements. That’s why it always pays to work with a fire and security specialist that can deliver a project from design and specification right through to installation.

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