Firefighting in residential buildings and PDAs

Fire and rescue services are responsible for judging how to respond to the risks within their local communities, including risks posed by residential high-rise buildings. Those judgments are based upon local intelligence, understanding and experience to inform local fire safety plans called Risk Management Plans (RMPs).


RMPs were introduced by government in 2003 and replaced ‘national standards of fire cover’ that dated back to the 1930s. Under these national standards an empty commercial building in a city would have attracted a greater fire and rescue service response than a lived-in residential building in a small town - risk planning changed that.

 Risk planning allows fire and rescue services to assess local risks and decide how best to respond to them, including for prevention and protection services such as fire safety audits and home safety checks. This approach has, crucially, changed the focus of fire and rescue services from property-risk to life-risk, and seen a significant drop in the number of fires.

Should aerial ladder platforms be dispatched to every high-rise fire?

Fire and rescue services use their understanding of local risk to develop response plans for different incident types called Pre-Determined Attendance (PDA) plans. These plans are not fixed and constraining, but do provide the basis for an initial fire and rescue service response to manage most incidents that firefighters attend.

 Incident commanders can request more resources at any time, and local services can review plans after considering a change in local risks. Many fire and rescue services have temporarily reviewed plans for high-rise firefighting in response to the tragic and unprecedented Grenfell Tower fire, until more facts are known about why the building behaved the way that it did.

 Plans for fighting fires in residential high-rise buildings have evolved, with fire and rescue services having many years of experience of fires in these buildings. Firefighting tactics in the UK are now set out in national operational guidance available to all fire and rescue services.

 This guidance is informed by experience about how a building that is compliant with regulations should behave when it catches fire, including that the fire will be contained within a single compartment for up to one hour, and that firefighting will be most effective from a firefighting lobby inside the building.  The use of high-reach vehicles to fight fire from outside of the building is very rare, but may be required in exceptional circumstances.

  Roy Wilsher, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), said: “The NFCC understands that equipment for fighting fire at height is an important option for incident commanders. They can provide a stable working platform, a water tower, or access to precarious parts of the building.

 “However, NFCC supports the crucial role of the local fire and rescue service in understanding local risks and how they should be managed - including whether this type of equipment should be used in response to a high-rise fire.”

National standards for fire cover

  • The national standards of fire cover did not set Pre-Determined Attendances (PDAs) for specific building types such as high-rise buildings.

Fighting fires in high-rise buildings

  • A high-rise residential building is a series of compartments (e.g. flats) usually constructed of concrete built around what is known as a ‘firefighting shaft’. The firefighting shaft is the essential feature and contains lifts, fire-protected staircases and a vertical water main provided for firefighting. The lifts, stairs and firefighting main outlet are accessed through a firefighting lobby on each floor. The long-standing assumption is that any fire will be contained within a single compartment and firefighting and rescue operations will be mounted from a firefighting lobby. This has happened on many occasions before and after the Grenfell Tower fire.

High-Reach Vehicles

  • High-reach vehicles, such as Aerial Ladder Platforms and Turntable Ladders, are much larger than standard fire appliances, require a larger area to work in, and can take longer to set up and position for firefighting or rescue purposes.

Sprinklers: NFCC position statement

Approved Document B


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