Download PDF version

The publication of the long-awaited Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, commissioned by the Government following the Grenfell Tower fire, saw Dame Judith Hackitt propose far-reaching changes that aim to ‘fix the system’ not just problems with specific products.

As a renowned supplier of passive fire protection solutions, actively working in the areas of high rise residential buildings (HRRBs), as well as throughout the NHS and care homes, Checkmate Fire was keen to see what measures had been recommended; and in particular whether they would include a detailed and workable set of regulations for fire safety.

high-rise residential buildings

According to Dame Hackitt, a fundamental issue to date has been an indifference and ignorance which has led to cost being prioritized over safety. In addition to calling for the introduction of a regulator, she stressed the need for cultural change to ensure fire safety measures are considered early in the design process for new builds.

At the heart of this report are the principles for a new regulatory framework which will drive real culture change"

 “At the heart of this report are the principles for a new regulatory framework which will drive real culture change and the right behaviors. We need to adopt a very different approach to the regulatory framework covering the design, construction and maintenance of high-rise residential buildings which recognizes that they are complex systems where the actions of many different people can compromise the integrity of that system.” Dame Hackitt.

expert passive fire protection

Checkmate Fire CEO, Mark Williams, said: “Those tasked with responsibility for ensuring fire safety in commercial, public and large residential buildings, and compliance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and Building Regulations Part B, face major issues with fire stopping and fire doors specified and installed during the build process that are critical to the overall safety of the building."

"Problems often start during the fit-out stage, when specialist products are typically installed by skilled joiners and general contractors, who are not necessarily aware of the exact requirements for those fire protection measures. Trying to reduce costs by not using expert passive fire protection contractors often results in the right UKAS-accredited products being fitted but in a way that does not meet the requirements for effective compartmentation."

fire protection measure

"This situation is rarely picked up before handover, in part because work can be self-certified by sub-contractors. With the main contractor then satisfied that the work has been completed by a competent person, Building Control Officers do not check every fire protection measure and fire door to assess whether they are fit for purpose. The end result is that new buildings are being signed off for occupation despite the presence of unnecessary – and usually unnoticed – fire safety flaws.”

Key issues identified in the Review included:

  • Ignorance – regulations and guidance are not always read by those who need to, and when they do the guidance is misunderstood and misinterpreted.
  • Indifference – the primary motivation is to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible rather than to deliver quality homes which are safe for people to live in. Some of those undertaking building work fail to prioritize safety, using the ambiguity of regulations and guidance to game the system.
  • Lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities – there is ambiguity over where responsibility lies, exacerbated by a level of fragmentation within the industry, and precluding robust ownership of accountability.
  • Inadequate regulatory oversight and enforcement tools – the size or complexity of a project does not seem to inform the way in which it is overseen by the regulator. Where enforcement is necessary, it is often not pursued. Where it is pursued, the penalties are so small as to be an ineffective deterrent.

Fire protection products

Even at the interim report stage deep flaws were identified in the current system including a door marketed as a 30-minute fire door failing prior to 30 minutes when tested. This revealed significant concerns around quality assurance and the ability to trace other fire doors manufactured to that specification. As a result, Dame Hackitt made recommendations with regard specifically to products used throughout the lifecycle of a building that have a critical impact on its safety.

These include:

  • A clearer, more transparent and more effective specification and testing regime of construction products must be developed.
  • Clearer and more effective product specification and testing – specifically that manufacturers must retest products that are critical to the safety of HRRBs at least every three years, and be subject to independent third party certification.
  • A simpler, more streamlined set of standards relating to testing of products used in HRRBs, and the health and safety of people in and around those buildings.
  • The construction products industry should work together to develop and agree a consistent labelling and traceability system.
  • For HRRBs to have a dedicated duty holder responsible for safety of the whole building, both during the design and construction phase and the occupation phase, and for keeping up-to-date records.

passive fire protection systems

The Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP), of which Checkmate Fire is a member, broadly welcomed the findings; in particular the desire to place a greater emphasis on considering fire safety early in the design process and the suggestion to implement mandatory third-party certification. Mr. Williams backed the ASFP’s position and further emphasized the importance of proper installation and maintenance of passive fire protection measures, along with the benefits of comprehensive record keeping.

Mr. Williams further emphasized the importance of proper maintenance of passive fire protection measures

He said: “Incomplete asset registers, particularly when it comes to detailing fire doors, are a major frustration for those involved in the inspection of passive fire protection systems. How can any planned inspection and maintenance regime manage the hundreds of fire doors on a site such as a large residential tower block without a comprehensive register?"

legionella risk assessments

"Implementing a proper inspection and maintenance program is a big ongoing job and one that is difficult to simply add into the mix of competing priorities for the general on-site maintenance team. Safety schemes such as asbestos management, electrical compliance and legionella risk assessments usually involve the use of specialists; shouldn’t maintenance of passive fire protection systems merit the same level of importance and resource?"

"Getting your passive fire protection strategy right is paramount; it has been proven time and again to save lives and protect the integrity of multi-occupancy buildings. Moves that will help to persuade – and where necessary, mandate – constructors, property owners and managers to design, implement and maintain the right strategies for their buildings are both welcome and long overdue.”

Share with LinkedIn Share with Twitter Share with Facebook Share with Facebook
Download PDF version Download PDF version

In case you missed it

How Technology Helps London Fire Brigade With Incident Command
How Technology Helps London Fire Brigade With Incident Command

Drones give Incident Commanders an aerial view, increasing their situational awareness of fires and helping them to develop tactics to tackle them. Station Officer Lee Newman details how the technology was implemented by London Fire Brigade and the continued benefits. Identify external risks The Grenfell Tower fire has resulted in revisions to several operational procedures and the introduction of new equipment within the Brigade. A few months after the fire, the Brigade was tasked with setting up a trial to test the feasibility of having a drone capability to identify external risks and assess building stability at incidents, providing essential safety information that could facilitate ongoing internal firefighting operations. Implement the use of drones The Brigade implemented the use of drones and acquired a Matrice 210 V1 and a Phantom 4 Working with partners who had an existing drone capability, as well as drone experts, the Brigade began work to implement the use of drones and acquired a Matrice 210 V1 and a Phantom 4 as a trainer and reserve drone. In the summer of 2018, an Emergency Services bespoke course was run by Essex Police to train the Brigade’s team of drone pilots, who were all PfCO qualified within one week. From start to finish, it took just nine months to get London Fire Brigade’s drone team operational. Working of the drones On its first day of being available for incidents, the team received an order to attend a 15-pump fire at a leisure center, which was under renovation. They were asked to confirm if there were cylinders on the roof of the building and immediately put the drone to use. The team flew and relayed the camera footage onto a large screen that was fitted into a van provided for the trial. The drone footage was able to identify, to the Incident Commander’s satisfaction, that the cylinders were actually rolls of asphalt due to be laid on the roof as part of the renovation. If the drone concept could have proven its use in one job, this was it. The information from the drone allowed the Incident Commander to decide not to make it ‘cylinders confirmed’ and saved a lot of unnecessary extra appliance movements. Applications of drone Since that first callout, the team has been to around 300 incidents of six pumps or more, including persons in the water, fires, and various missing people’s incidents both in London and into other counties, assisting police forces. From start to finish, it took just nine months to get London Fire Brigade’s drone team operational Drone inventory The Brigade’s drone capability inventory includes a Matrice 300 with an H20T dual thermal and optical camera; a DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual with multi attachments; a Mavic Air 2 and a Yuneec 520. The Brigade also has a Teradek live streaming device and multiple tablets for receiving the streamed footage. The Brigade operates with two Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVs – plug-in hybrid SUVs – and has split the drone equipment into two, with one vehicle carrying the drone and batteries, and the other carrying all the support kit and ancillaries. Working in dark conditions The drones are permitted to fly up to 400 ft above ground level or higher in an emergency and can fly as fast as 50 mph. They also can act as a loudspeaker to give instructions or reassurance and shine a bright spotlight in dark or low light conditions. 24/7 service The Brigade has eight pilots trained and operates a 24/7 service The Brigade has eight pilots trained and operates a 24/7 service. The team is working closely with its blue light partners, including the: Metropolitan Police Service, several search and rescue teams, and a host of fire services surrounding the capital, as well as giving advice to other upcoming drone teams around the UK. Use of drone in future The Brigade’s drone capability has been molded to how it sees the future and what it holds in the way of drone use. For example, the Brigade has developed a capability to drop water rescue aides to people at water incidents, which helps to keep them afloat long enough to be rescued. The drone can also be used alongside the swift water rescue teams to provide situational awareness of hazards and the resulting risks during the rescue phase. Delivering fire escape tools The Brigade also invested in fire escape hoods in late 2018 and has already demonstrated how one might be delivered via a drone to a balcony above the height of an aerial appliance while using the Mavic Enterprise 2 to relay instructions via the loudspeakers. These possible new uses are pushing the boundaries of the Brigade’s original concept and demonstrate how London Fire Brigade works to stay ahead of the curve. 

Chicago Bans Dogs From Firehouses, Despite Long-Held Tradition
Chicago Bans Dogs From Firehouses, Despite Long-Held Tradition

There is a long tradition of canines in the fire service, from Dalmatians riding shotgun in the fire truck to mixed breeds rescued from fires that later become the fire company mascot. The tradition has taken a hit recently in Chicago, where dogs are no longer allowed at firehouses after one station dog killed a smaller breed canine near a firehouse in the Englewood neighborhood. The incident The firehouse dog in Chicago, named Bones, was a mixed breed stray rescued off the street that was living at Engine 116 at 60th Street and Ashland Avenue. A neighbor was walking her smaller breed dog past the firehouse and watched in horror as Bones attacked and killed her small dog. After the incident, Chicago’s Acting Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt issued a department memo: “Any and all prior permissions for dogs in the fire stations or on fire apparatuses are hereby revoked … effective immediately.” Chicago Firehouse dogs Most of Chicago’s firehouse dogs are strays that were picked up and brought to firefighters by the public. Fire crews and paramedics care for the dogs, train them, feed them and get them inoculated and spayed or neutered, then ask formal permission to keep the dogs on site. Historically, permission has been granted, in effect saving the dogs from being euthanized. Breed of choice The tradition of dogs and the fire service goes back centuries, to the 1700s, when carriage dogs first trotted alongside horse-drawn fire carriages. Dalmatians were the breed of choice, given their good temperament, calming effect on the horses Dalmatians were the breed of choice, given their good temperament, calming effect on the horses, and grace under pressure. The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) began utilizing Dalmatians as early as the 1870s. Dalmatians as firehouse ambassadors When motorized vehicles came on the scene, Dalmatians were already associated with firefighters, who continued to keep them on-site as firehouse residents and mascots. Increasingly, Dalmatians and other dogs became public ambassadors for firehouses and were involved in public education about fire safety and emergency preparedness for school and community groups. For example, Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog, a Dalmatian from Clarksville, Ark., was a character in her own set of children’s books about fire safety and traveled around the country teaching children about fire tips. reduce stress, provide comfort Currently, firehouse dogs are other breeds, too, many rescued from house fires or other tragedies. Firehouses often adopt dogs, who become symbols of resiliency, bravery, fortitude – and provide comfort and companionship for firefighters who face high levels of stress on the job. After the 9/11 attacks, two firefighters from Rochester, N.Y., gifted the FDNY Ladder 20 company a Dalmatian puppy, appropriately named Twenty. The dog served as a source of comfort to the firefighters, who lost seven members of the company in 9/11. Dogs recognize signals Taken in as a stray in 1929, a dog named Nip served 10 years with New York’s Engine Company No. 203. During his service, the dog was injured by broken glass, falling debris, scalding burns, and bruises from falling off the fire engine. Nip could recognize all bells and signals. On fire scenes, Nip could alert firefighters if he knew something was wrong and sometimes run into burning buildings to look for victims. Unfortunately, Nip was killed by a hit-and-run driver in front of the firehouse in 1939 (and was stuffed by a taxidermist and displayed at the firehouse until 1974). Dogs promote fire safety Dogs promote fire safety outside the firehouse Dogs also promote fire safety outside the firehouse. For example, accelerant-sniffing dogs are trained to detect minute traces of accelerants that may be used to start a fire, according to the State Farm Arson Dog Program. The special bond between firefighters and dogs is the stuff of legend, despite the recent unfortunate events in Chicago – an ignoble scar on a long, colorful history of dogs in the fire service. Hopes remain that the decision can somehow be reversed, based on social media postings. “This is the first tragedy I have heard of in … 25 years,” said the administrator of the Firehouse Pups group.

What Impact Has COVID-19 Had On The Fire Industry?
What Impact Has COVID-19 Had On The Fire Industry?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had ramifications for almost every industry, some more than others. With the pandemic stretching well into a second year, the non-medical consequences continue, and many are wondering about which of the required changes might become permanent. As regards the fire sector, we asked our Expert Panel Roundtable: What impact has COVID-19 had on the fire industry?