The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association report on an innovative and collaborative initiative to promote the cause of sprinklers in reducing deaths and injuries from fire.

In a recently published report[1] to the Secretary of State For Communities and Local Government the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser Sir Ken Knight, commenting on issues arising from the 2009 Lakanal House fire (2009) said: "It is not considered practical or economically viable to make a requirement for the retrospective fitting of fire suppression systems to all current high-rise residential buildings."

On August 30th an innovative national pilot project, managed by the UK's sprinkler trade association, BAFSA, will seek to address this report head on.

The current building regulations only require sprinklers to be fitted to new high rise blocks that are over 30 metres in height (18m in Scotland). Following the Lakanal House fire in which six residents died, questions were asked about the benefits of automatic fire sprinklers to protect residents in such properties. In particular, Lakanal House and similar blocks only have a single stair case - something that has been illegal for many years.  It is the view of many fire experts that providing sprinklers in such properties will compensate for this and other deficiencies.

Even though all existing housing stock in Sheffield complies with current fire regulations, Sheffield City Council and Sheffield Homes recognise the benefits of automatic fire suppression in high rise buildings. Over the next three months, a 38-year-old high- rise social housing block in Sheffield is to be fitted with an automatic fire sprinkler system to test the ease and cost of such a retrofit.

The 13-storey Callow Mount block of flats, in Gleadless, will be fitted with a sprinkler system which will activate automatically in the event of a fire - containing and extinguishing any fire which starts and preventing the spread of flames. The system will give the 47 mainly elderly residents precious extra minutes to escape or be rescued by firefighters. This is a ground-breaking exercise - the first of its kind in the UK. There will be little disruption to residents who will be able to remain in their flats throughout the project work

The likely cost of the project is around £80,000 which is being fully funded by BAFSA and its members.

In recent years there have been a number of serious fires in older-style high- rise blocks. Some incidents have resulted in the deaths of occupants and, sadly, four firefighters. There are approximately 4,000 such blocks in the UK.

The project is fully supported by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, the Chief Fire Officers Association, the Sprinkler Coordination group, the National Fire Sprinkler Network, the European Fire Sprinkler Network and the International Fire Sprinkler Association. The US-based IFSA have also provided funding to help promote the lessons learnt from the project and to provide detailed technical information which will assist housing authorities and landlords who wish to provide similar protection.

In addition to the normal warranties and guarantees that will be included in the contract the project will be overseen by Warrington Certification who will be reviewing each stage of the project to ensure that the design and installation meets the required quality and standards. This approach will provide a level of scrutiny considerably higher than would be expected in a normal commercial contract.

Several meetings with residents have been held, following which they gave their overwhelming endorsement for the project. Further meetings will be held to ensure that the residents are fully aware of progress.

On completion of the installation a full report will be prepared. This will include practical guidance for other local authorities and private landlords to use when considering the safety potential and economic benefits of retrofitting fire sprinklers in their high-rise accommodation.

Peter Armstrong, Chairman of BAFSA said: "The project will provide the opportunity to demonstrate the practicability and cost effectiveness of using sprinklers to safely protect people from fire in high-rise tower blocks."

Assistant Chief Fire Officer Neil Hessell, of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, said: "This is an innovative and ground-breaking project, and we are delighted that BAFSA have chosen to pilot this initiative in Sheffield. We are supportive of community-based projects to increase the safety of local residents. This sprinkler system will certainly mean the residents of Callow Mount will be safer if they were unfortunate enough to suffer a fire in the future, and could save lives."

Chris Enness of CFOA said: "This is an exciting project which offers a practical and cost-effective solution to ensure the protection and safety of both residents and firefighters in this type of premises. Sadly the frequency and consequences of such fires are well known to the fire and rescue services and the local communities. In addition to increasing life safety, the installation of fire sprinkler systems will reduce the economic impact of fire in these premises, the disruption caused by consequential refurbishment and the rehousing of residents and the environmental impact of the products of combustion and water used for firefighting."

"The early intervention of a sprinkler system controls a fire in its early stages of development to minimise the damage caused by fire and smoke and reduce the risk to life. However, quickly the fire service attend a fire is likely to be more developed and the effects more serious. Fire sprinklers are the equivalent of having a personal firefighter in place in every room."

 

[1] http://www.local.gov.uk/web/10161/fire-safety-guidance 

 

Posted August 23rd, 2011 at 1155 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: andrew.lynch@pavpub.com