Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service fire engineer Peter Buckley explains how working with partners from the early stages has helped to shape the design of a new student block in the city centre to ensure they are safe in the event of a fire and also reduce risk to firefighters required to tackle a blaze in the building.

Fire engineers from GMFRS have been working with designers, building control services and consultants for more than two years to help develop fire safety designs for the building of a new student tower block. The 100 metre high development is close to the current student village and will cater for students from both Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Manchester. Designed by Hodder & Partners, and constructed by Shepherd Construction on behalf of developers Student Castle, the 37-storey tower will also be one of the tallest student accommodation towers in the world, continuing the flurry of towers built by the higher education sector.

Due for completion in September 2012, the new development consists of a high-rise tower providing student accommodation - from single studios to five-bedroom apartments - with office space and common rooms. The building falls into purpose group 1(a) residential dwellings as each cluster of bedrooms with joint living space will form an apartment for the purposes of meeting the recommendations of Approved Document B (the supporting fire safety document to Building Regulations).

Where fire safety designs deviate from the Approved Document B, guidance presented in BS7974 (British Standard fire safety engineering principles for building designs) has been used as justification. Typically on most storeys, travel distances are in line with contemporary guidance. However, where distances from the apartment entrances exceed 7.5 metres, an enhanced mechanical ventilation system is provided to compensate for this deviation.

The ventilation systems are designed to ensure tenable conditions for anyone needing to escape and for firefighters tackling a fire. Approved Document B requires blocks of flats in excess of 30 metres to be fitted with sprinklers. Various water misting designs were considered for this development but a BS9251 sprinkler system was the preferred option due to its value in preventing the damage caused by fire and water.

The design team consulted with GMFRS very early in the design phase of the project and this approach is welcomed and encouraged by GMFRS. Any problems encountered can be ironed out early in the project to prevent delays additional project costs. There have been similar schemes throughout the country where early consultation has not taken place with the relevant fire and rescue service and ultimately the schemes have been delayed or stalled unnecessarily. Fire safety measures in the student block include structural fire resistance of 120 minutes, protected entrance halls for the cluster apartments to provide 30 minutes fire resistance, apartments separated by 60 minutes fire resistance, escape signage, firefighting stair and fire service access to 50% of the building.

The building also features emergency lighting, firefighting lift with a ventilation system, enhanced automatic fire detection and alarm system, and enhanced mechanical ventilation system to protect residential common corridors. Once the new students have moved into the building, GMFRS with work in partnership with the residents to provide fire safety advice and devise a longer term plan for delivering fire safety to all new tenants.