The benefits of fire engineering in the education and public sectors have been highlighted at Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s first-ever fire safety engineering conference last month [March].
Speakers from the National Fire Sprinkler Network, Project Fire Ltd., a Staffordshire based architectural design consultancy and two head teachers discussed the theme of ‘Fire Safe by Design’ for a group of more than 80 delegates in Burton-on-Trent.
The conference was organised by the Service’s Fire Engineer Andrew Brown who was employed by Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service in 2012 with a remit of working with planners and businesses to look at fire engineering solutions to make commercial buildings as safe as possible from fire, whilst ensuring they remained versatile and economical in use.
FE Brown said: “There was a time in Staffordshire when we would approach planners and builders and simply request that sprinklers were installed in the building in addition to the existing fire precautions. We would often get a poor response as other stakeholders would just see the installation of sprinklers as an additional cost. Whereas now we are looking at how the use of fire engineering and sprinklers can reduce the need for other fire safety measures, such as compartmentation and other active fire safety systems along with making allowances for fire service access.
“Sprinklers are often seen as an additional cost, whereas actually they can reduce the overall construction cost by allowing more flexibility in the design of buildings. They can also help the building owner and any responsible person manage the fire safety of the building more easily and more effectively. There is also a valid argument for incident commanders to take the presence of a functioning sprinkler into account when deciding how to tackle an incident in a protected premise. In some circumstances it can mean the difference between fighting the fire from the outside and sending firefighters into the building to locate the seat of the fire.
“We’re already making fantastic progress in Staffordshire by focusing on fire engineered solutions - we hope that the conference will prompt more key people in the industry both here in Staffordshire and across the UK to consider this approach. Since we started dealing with building design submissions in this way, we have managed to positively influence the design of three other schools and many other commercial buildings in the county. This has not only considered the use of sprinklers as an effective fire safety trade-off but has also looked at reducing building separation distances, increasing the size and number of open-plan learning areas and adopting a reasoned, risk-based approach to the use of other active and passive fire protection measures. ”
Reducing risk for vulnerable members of the community
The morning session concentrated on the value of fire engineering in commercial buildings and the importance of early consultation involving all key stakeholders early in the building design process – thereby preventing the traditional delays experienced when detailed, finalised designs are reviewed by the fire and rescue service at Statutory Consultation stage.
The afternoon session outlined the work being done in Staffordshire with high fire risk domestic and residential properties in the county. Presentations included guidance on how vulnerable members of the community are identified and the control measures that are put in place to reduce the risk as far as possible. Part of the solution included the retro-fitting of domestic and residential sprinkler systems into existing premises. This retro-fitting of systems has historically been more difficult and more costly than fitting systems during the construction phase and many additional problems have to be overcome to ensure a system that if fit for purpose can be installed. A range of speakers outlined how Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service had developed an approach to tackling these difficult installs and provided advice and insight into how fire engineering can be used to solve key design problems.
As part of the conference delegates were taken on a visit to a local infant school to see how a fire engineered approach and the installation of sprinklers had reduced the need for other fire safety measures and allowed greater design and architectural freedoms.
Secretary/Treasurer of the National Fire Sprinkler Network Steve Mills added: “Fire engineered solutions and sprinklers go hand in hand and by looking at the two in harmony we can hopefully increase the numbers of buildings installing sprinklers in the future.”