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Fire Safety for Multistorey Buildings

Fire Safety for Multistorey Buildings

The question of fire safety in multistorey buildings has always been important, but became a matter of major public concern following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower in London on the night of 14 June 2017. 

72 people died in a catastrophic fire, with many trapped on upper floors as a result of the speed with which the fire took hold combined with what should have been correct advice for people to stay in their flats rather than to try and escape down stairways.

In this article, we’re going to examine some of the specific fire safety challenges that tall buildings pose, together with a range of potential solutions. We’re also going to discuss recent legislation that was brought in as a direct result of the Grenfell Tower disaster and its subsequent public enquiry.

Fire Safety for multistory buildings

The challenges of fire safety in multistorey buildings

Any commercial building needs to have effective fire prevention and fire detection measures in place, and multistorey buildings are no different. However, the difficulties of mass evacuation from a multistorey building mean that unique challenges exist and appropriate solutions are required to ensure the safety of occupants in the event of a fire. 

These include:

Fire stopping

Effective compartmentalisation and fire stopping measures in a tall residential building are essential, as they grant extra time for safe evacuation and/or for the fire and rescue service to attend and tackle the fire. 

Traditional advice for those on the upper floors in the event of a fire is to stay put, on the basis that the fire should be restricted to one part of the building and that large numbers of people trying to find their way down possibly smoke-filled stairwells could be potentially catastrophic. Compartmentalisation measures should have been built into the building itself so that fire cannot quickly move between its different areas and floors.

Meanwhile, internal fire doors at the entrances to individual flats and between common areas such as corridors, stairwells and lobbies can prevent a fire from spreading outside of a confined area. Of course, this will only work if they are used properly (e.g. kept closed when not in use) and serviced and checked regularly.

Fire suppression

A fire on one of the upper floors in a multistorey building can represent a significant challenge for the fire and rescue service. Mechanical sprinkler systems are a sensible solution in common areas, especially on stairwells, as they will be automatically brought into use as soon as they detect signs of a fire.

However, fires in other parts of a high-rise building may need the direct intervention of the fire and rescue service. For these, wet/dry riser systems can be installed to get the water that is required to tackle such fires to where it’s needed. Dry riser systems are used in buildings over 18 metres high, while wet riser systems are used in buildings above 50 metres in height. 

Evacuation planning

If evacuation is necessary, it is essential that there is a detailed fire escape plan and that occupants understand escape routes and assembly points. As with any commercial fire escape plan, particular regard needs to be given to those with mobility issues who may need assistance. To assist with such an evacuation, effective and legally compliant emergency lighting and clear signage should also be installed.

Recent legislation surrounding fire safety in multistorey buildings

Much of the information regarding fire safety in commercial buildings, including multi-occupied residential buildings, is to be found in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

However, in January 2023, new legislation was introduced, partly in the form of the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 and partly under Article 24 of the Fire Safety Order.

This legislation brought in new responsibilities for those in charge of multi-occupied residential buildings, with specific measures for buildings over 11 metres and those over 18 metres high.

One of the main changes is that the responsible person must make certain information – including floorplans, their own contact details and the design and materials used in external walls – available to the fire and rescue service. This should be provided both electronically and in the form of a hard copy attached to the building itself.

The responsible person for these types of buildings is also now required to undertake regular checks on communal fire doors, entrance doors to individual flats, lifts and essential firefighting equipment installed for the use of the fire and rescue service. There are also new requirements for fire signage in low-light areas.

How Scutum North can help

Here at Scutum North, we specialise in helping those who own and manage multistorey buildings with all aspects of their fire safety, from professional fire risk assessments and state-of-the-art fire alarm systems to a wide range of fire control and fire stopping solutions and services.  

If you want to know more, or you’d like us to make a free visit to your multistorey building to assess your existing fire safety measures and equipment, please get in touch with our experienced team today. We support customers based across North England, including Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield – please click here to see if we work in your area.

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