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02-12-19

NFCC launches new sprinkler position and responds to Government consultation

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has submitted a response to the Government’s Approved Document B consultation paper ‘Sprinklers and other fire safety measures in high-rise blocks of flats’.

The NFCC response champions and demands the increased use of sprinklers across the board and a lowering of the threshold for their use in high-rise blocks of flats from 11m (or 4 floors), as a minimum.

Chair of the NFCC, Roy Wilsher said that a number of factors including new evidence, the findings of the Independent Review, recent fires and Government policy announcements, have made it necessary to lower the threshold.  

"Sprinklers should be mandatory in all new residential buildings from 11m (or 4 floors) and above, at a minimum. NFCC has previously championed the requirement for sprinklers from in high-rise block of flats above 18m, connected to a full review of linked measures in ADB. Currently there is a gap for protection of buildings between 11m and 18m. With the threshold for sprinklers now being considered separately from a number of closely related safety measures, we believe the threshold should be lowered to 11m."

NFCC Sprinkler Lead, Gavin Tomlinson said he welcomed the stronger position: "The recent fire at the Bolton student accommodation on 15 November 2019 highlights only too well that fires do not discriminate, and that an 18m threshold is arbitrary. The NFCC will continue to lobby for more widespread use of sprinklers in many building types, and especially where they are home to vulnerable residents. The revising down of height thresholds is an important step in the right direction."

A detailed rationale for the NFCC’s position can be found in the full response.

The consultation also covered the use of emergency alert systems, a feature which has been recommended by the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s (GTI) Phase one report for use in high-rise residential buildings.

Chair of the NFCC Protection and Business Safety Committee, Mark Hardingham advised that emergency alert systems can be an additional tool for firefighters and Incident Commanders to use at major fires when there is a need to quickly evacuate some or all of the residents of that building.

"It should be recognised, however, that such systems have the potential to place people at risk if they are not part of a package of measures. NFCC recommends that further consultation with FRSs and fire sector experts is crucial to plan and enable any effective use of these systems in buildings."

"It’s imperative that if emergency alert systems are to be used in existing buildings, that the approval is subject to the Building Regulations approval process and the fire service are appropriately consulted.

"Installing an emergency evacuation system cannot be a reason to relax other safety measures. Buildings should never require the use of such a system if designed, built, managed and maintained appropriately."

Mr Wilsher added: ‘The NFCC has called for government funded research into evacuation, and we would caution against the introduction of these systems being viewed as ‘job done’. As well as the fact that they are only likely to be used in new buildings, a stronger focus needs to be placed on ensuring all buildings are built to be safe, and are maintained appropriately, so that such systems never need to be used.’

‘In that regard, legislation should be strengthened to ensure that, over time, fire safety standards in buildings are brought up to current standards where it is reasonable to do so and the building sector avoids simply applying a ‘like for like’ replacement leading to declining fire safety in buildings.’

The final aspect of the consultation looked at the introduction of wayfinding signage, which the NFCC supports. The GTI Phase 1 report recommended that ‘all high-rise buildings have floor numbers clearly marked’ which follows similar recommendations following previous fires. Additional signage would provide valuable assistance to firefighters carrying out their work during fires, when knowledge and information about floor and flat numbers can be critical in parts of the building sometimes filled with smoke causing orientation issues for firefighters and resdidents.

Please see NFCC’s full response to the consultation.

NFCC Automatic Fire Suppression Systems position statement  

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