5. Protective measures
Protective measures reduce the severity of an incident if one occurs.
This section describes some of the most common protective measures, but other measures may be present or reasonable. The contents of this section aren't exhaustive.
Most blocks of flats are designed to support a “stay put” approach, sometimes known as “defend in place”. In this approach, only the people in the flat or compartment where the fire starts need to evacuate initially.
People in other flats unaffected by smoke or heat remain there, safe from the fire. However, they can evacuate if they feel threatened by the fire or are told to leave by the fire service. There is no common fire warning system. No-one is prevented from leaving if they want to.
A “stay put” policy relies on effective compartmentation, among other measures. Problems with the integrity of compartmentation will affect the viability of a “stay put” policy.
An alternative to “stay put” is “simultaneous evacuation” of people which applies to the whole building. This approach requires:
- a way of alerting residents in the event of a fire - for example, a fire detection and alarm system
- enough exit routes for all the residents
Guidance on simultaneous evacuation is currently under revision.
The approach for each building will depend on the original design. You will also need to consider any subsequent developments that may affect the viability of that approach. You should also check the measures designed to support the approach are in place and working as intended.
People need to know what they should do in the event of an emergency. This is often done using signs, supported by a resident engagement strategy. Residents should also know what to do if they're in a common area, such as a corridor or community room, when a fire breaks out.
Means of escape
These are the evacuation routes and exits used by building occupants to safely reach a place of ultimate safety in the event of an incident. It is vital that residents can always use these routes and exits safely. This need should be factored into the design and construction of any new building or refurbishment.
Sometimes you might need additional safety measures, for example where you have:
- buildings with extended corridors
- mixed-use buildings (where residential floors are above office or retail premises, for example)
- very tall buildings
For existing occupied buildings, make sure means of escape still work effectively. This will include:
- general maintenance, inspection, and testing
- ensuring corridors are kept clear
- checking fire doors are not propped open or otherwise compromised
- confirming emergency lighting is working
Travel distances, both within flats and as part of escape routes, should be in accordance with relevant guidance, or constructed and maintained in-line with the building's fire strategy. If you can't meet these standards, you might need to employ extra measures.
Fire detection and alarm
Most blocks of flats will not have a communal fire alarm system on the residential floors. A commercial fire alarm system might be required for common areas used by multiple households - lounges or laundries, for example - or places where people are employed to work.
A commercial standard fire detection system might be used to operate active fire safety measures. Examples include releasing magnetic locking mechanisms on exit doors, returning lift cars to the ground floor, or operating smoke control and smoke ventilation systems.
Each flat should have smoke alarms to alert occupants of a fire in their flat. These alarms will be for domestic use and are not usually linked to any other system. Smoke alarms should be changed when their expiry dates are up, as should carbon monoxide detectors where present. You should raise resident awareness of this, so they have the best chance of escaping a fire in their flat.
Although most blocks of flats will not have a communal fire alarm, if your building has one, it should comply with the correct standard (BS 5839 part 1). Regular maintenance will also be part of ensuring it works as specified.
Automatic fire suppression systems, often known as sprinklers, trigger when the temperature in a room reaches 60-70°C. When buildings have sprinklers, they're usually provided within individual flats rather than common areas.
Sprinklers can tackle a fire soon after it starts, helping occupants escape the burning compartment. They can also help to reduce fire damage.
Approved Document B to the Building Regulations sets out where sprinklers are required when building work is undertaken. Any system should be designed, installed, and maintained to an appropriate standard such as BS 9251.
A fire in a building can affect its structural integrity.
Structural elements of a building can be protected by cladding with a fire-resistant material, or by using protective coatings. The condition of the cladding should be checked by regular inspection or surveys.
Other protective measures
Other measures that may reduce the severity of a fire include:
- facilities provided for the fire and rescue services, such as dry and wet fire fighting rising mains and firefighting lifts
- smoke control systems
- gas cut offs and utility isolation points
- fire protection to service shafts and risers
- emergency lighting