Fire Alarms UK News May 2020 Compiled By Elite Fire Security of Bristol and Bath
Fire alarms always a very newsworthy topic, unfortunately, often for the wrong reasons. Here is a roundup of the latest news (May 2020) concerning commercial fire alarms in the UK, including two different stories at tower blocks where residents lives were put at risk.
Owner of Northern Quarter tower block hit by two fires in as many years explains why alarms didn’t sound until everyone was outside
The owner of a Northern Quarter tower block hit by two fires in as many years has explained why fire alarms didn’t sound until everyone was already outside after a blaze at the weekend, reports Manchester Evening News
Residents were alerted to the blaze in the Lighthouse on Joiner Street by a Tesco security guard who ‘screamed at the top of his lungs’ to wake people up until help arrived.
Several residents reported that they did not hear a fire alarm and were awoken by people shouting and banging pots and pans at around 7.30 am on Sunday morning.
The fire, which is believed to have started on a balcony on the fourth or fifth floor, is the second one to have broken out in recent years at the 20-storey Lighthouse building.
Looks like an apartment in my building is on fire. We had a fire two years ago all over the news. Nothing replaced yet re cladding and balconies and here we are again. @MENnewsdesk https://t.co/sNH0GptFrT pic.twitter.com/xKzKZRofVH
— Rick Box (@Boxrick) May 24, 2020
In December 2017, a fierce blaze broke out in an open plan kitchen of a ninth-floor apartment and spread to wooden balconies on several floors.
Following an inspection by the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), it was concluded that the construction of the building met national regulatory requirements.
Fire chiefs also said that fire alarm systems in the block were operational and activated when the fire broke out.
But several residents reported that they did not hear a fire alarm during the recent blaze on Sunday morning.
Roger Walters, director at CapitalClimb who owns the building, said alarms did not go off immediately because the smoke was outside the building.
“As the fire was outside, it did not set the alarm off”, Mr Walters said.
“It wasn’t until the fire brigade turned up and smashed the glass which then let the smoke through and set the alarm off.
“That’s why the alarm did not go off immediately because there was no smoke inside the building.
“Everybody was already out by then thanks to the brilliant work of the Tesco security guard.”
He said the building is ‘very robust’ and that fire marshals are on site 24 hours a day.
The cause of the blaze has not yet been confirmed by fire chiefs but Mr Walters said he believes a discarded cigarette may have caused it.
“It looks as though this might have started from a resident throwing a cigarette on the balcony”, he said.
Fire chiefs warned that the consequences ‘could have been grave’ without the effort of firefighters and police officers who were able to evacuate the building and put out the blaze.
Around 60 people living in the apartments were evacuated to the Arndale Centre while firefighters tackled the blaze.
One resident, who lives opposite the Lighthouse building, said he was awoken at 7.30 am to the sound of a Tesco worker shouting.
Speaking to the M.E.N, he said: “I woke up and saw the security guard from Tesco screaming at the top of his lungs.
“I have never seen someone scream so much in my life, it was pretty incredible. I was a bit shaken up at first but then I saw the fire.
“The security guard was shouting ‘wake up, get out the building’ for about ten minutes until the fire crews arrived.
“At first it was just smoke and we couldn’t really tell where it was coming from, then we noticed the fire on the balcony and it just got bigger and bigger.
“He definitely helped people. People in the building quite quickly started packing up their things and getting out of the building with their pets.
“If it wasn’t for him it could have gone completely unnoticed. It was outside at 7.30 am on a Sunday – it could have been a lot worse.”
Three groups of residents, whose flats were badly damaged by smoke, were put up at the Supercity Aparthotel which shares the block with the Lighthouse.
Everyone else was able to return to the building as normal by Sunday afternoon and nobody is believed to have been injured in the fire.
Following the blaze in 2017, a 23-year-old man was taken to hospital after inhaling smoke and others were treated at the scene.
The fire, which is believed to have started after food was left cooking unattended, spread to wooden balconies on several floors.
Investigators concluded that the building was safe and that cladding did not contribute to the blaze.
But Mr Walters said CapitalClimb were in the process of replacing the wooden balconies and the cladding on the building this month.
“Nothing needed to be changed in respect of the fire alarm system”, he added.
“The cladding was not proven to be non-combustible. But we were in the midst of replacing it and all of the wooden balconies when the fire broke out.”
Alexis Burton, chief executive officer at SuperCity Aparthotels, said that the building ‘performed as it was meant to’.
She added: “We have done an internal report which concluded that everything happened as it was meant to.
Best Practice in Managing and Reducing False Fire Alarms
THE PROLIFERATION of false fire alarms places a huge burden on Fire and Rescue Services. Understanding false fire alarm causes and taking steps to prevent them can help reduce false dispatches, as Jim O’Dwyer duly explains in “Fire Safety Matters”.
The threat of fire is known to all. There’s no need to overstate the devastating impact of fire on people, wildlife, businesses and buildings. Only recently, Sydney and its surrounding areas have been devastated by raging bush fires, while here in the UK there was a 14% increase in fire incidents attended in 2018-2019 compared with the previous year, which was linked to the hot, dry summer in 2018.
Fire safety is a critical issue, and especially so in enclosed spaces. Indeed, it’s an essential component of building safety. A key aspect of fire safety is the prevention of fire in the first place. A combination of monitoring and alarm systems can help to prevent an uncontrolled fire.
While fire monitoring and alarm systems have an irreplaceable role, false alarms can have an enormous impact on the entire fire safety process. According to official Government statistics, in the financial year 2018-2019 (1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019), England’s Fire and Rescue Services attended 229,805 fire false alarms. That’s an average of 629 false calls every day.
For its part, the Fire Industry Association estimates that false alarms cost the UK over £1 billion per annum. You might think the majority of these fire episodes cannot be prevented, with rogue actors or “malicious calls” being the main cause. However, 65% of these false alarms was due to apparatus issues and largely avoidable.
False fire alarms have economic impacts and can affect a number of other areas. The burden on the Fire Brigade can be enormous and the cost to business high, while there’s also the potential for other issues, such as limited assistance in the case of real fires if Fire and Rescue Services are busy responding to false alarms.
Another consequence of false fire alarms is related to the safety of occupants, who may not react optimally when the system responds to a real fire if they have experienced a number of false alarms. In short, there’s a moral and social responsibility for all parties to help reduce the number of false alarms where and when possible.
False fire alarms fall within a few broad categories: unwanted alarms caused by fumes from cooking, steam, smoking, dust, insects and aerosol sprays, etc, equipment false alarms, malicious false alarms arising from the malicious use of a Call Point and false alarms with good intent where someone suspects there’s a real fire.
In the case of nuisance alarms, such as those caused by burned toast, there are a number of actions and preventative measures predominantly predicated on risk assessment and ongoing risk management that can help. A well-conducted fire risk assessment should expose any risk of false alarms, allowing the host organisation to take preventative measures.
As part of ongoing risk management procedures, it’s essential that service and maintenance companies are advised if there are any changes within a protected building such that consideration can be made on the effect to the alarm system.
Another common cause of false alarms is human error. Training and awareness on basic items, such as closing the windows if there’s a bonfire outside, not boiling a kettle under a detector head and following the rules by not smoking in non-smoking areas, can help reduce the number of unwanted alarms.
Furthermore, employees should be trained on how to operate and respond to a fire warning system.
Perhaps the most easily prevented cause of false alarms is faulty equipment. Even the best-installed equipment will deteriorate without regular service and maintenance. Fire prevention systems must be overseen by professional specialist service and maintenance agreements that preserve the system’s performance, thus ensuring the fire systems work when they’re needed the most (ie in the event of a fire).
Harder to prevent
By their very nature, malicious false alarms are harder to prevent. They tend to occur in premises where members of the public are present in high numbers, such as Shopping Centres, leisure facilities, places of entertainment, public car parks, sports centres and, of course, in universities and schools. Mainly, it’s the malicious use of a manual Call Point that’s involved. Unfortunately, little can be done to deter those seeking to cause havoc, but in areas with a history of malicious false alarms, increased security can help minimise the risk. Preventative measures (such as CCTV cameras, remote video monitoring and response and security personnel) can all help to deter the misuse of fire alarms.
We’ve seen the risks that false alarms pose to both the safety of individuals and the resources of the Fire and Rescue Service. One of the greatest risks false alarms pose is complacency. As the number of false alarms in buildings rise, employees, managers and even emergency responders are less and less responsive to them as they naturally expect them to be false. It becomes far too easy to respond to alarms without urgency or even to simply ignore them.
By taking a number of steps and preventative measures, this burden can be eased, enabling public and private resources to be used more effectively in order to address actual threats.
Kids screaming and stairwells filled with smoke’ Woman tells of tower block fire hell as residents demand action
Residents had to flee from their homes as more than 40 firefighters responded to the blaze
A woman living in an apartment block in Cambridge has spoken of the terrifying moment she realised the building was ablaze, reports the Cambridge Chronicle.
Kingsway Flats in Arbury, Cambridge were struck by a suspected arson attack on May 10.
One person was hospitalised as a result of the fire, while several others were treated at the scene by ambulance crews.
Residents had to flee from their homes as more than 40 firefighters responded to the incident.
The fire left devastation in its wake – including the deaths of two pets.
Residents have raised safety concerns following the fire, including issues with the fire escape – which led to people ‘cramming on the stairs’.
CambridgeshireLive has now heard how stairwells were filled with smoke and fire alarms did not go off, while issues regarding fire doors and adequate lighting have also been raised.
Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) carried out last May on Kingsway’s five buildings, which hold 130 flats, support some of the residents’ claims.
The FRA reports are done annually by an external agency, Fire Safety Express, on behalf of Cambridge City Council.
Cambridge City Council has responded to residents’ concerns, revealing some work has been delayed by the lockdown. Lynn Thomas MCIOB, Head of Housing Maintenance and Assets at the city council has responded to each concern below.
Smoke leaked through building
One resident told Cambridgeshire Live how the landing of Kingsway filled up with smoke as the fire burned in a single flat.
“There was a mum and kids screaming that they couldn’t get out because their staircase was filled with smoke,” they said.
“I was afraid to try to find another staircase when the landing was filling up with smoke.”
A cat and dog who lived three floors above the flat where the fire started died due to smoke inhalation.
The FRA highlighted “breaches in the fire-resisting construction which may allow the passage of smoke and flames to spread through the building or compromise emergency escape routes.”
This is identified as a “high priority” item in the report, which advises action should be taken within three months.
Council statement :
Ms Thomas said, responding to this issue: “We need to double-check whether all of the compartmentation failures at Kingsway relate to low-risk rooms [kitchens and bathrooms].”
The council’s contractor was instructed to carry out this survey in early 2020, but it was delayed by the pandemic, she said.
She said: “Our contractors have not been carrying out inspections and fire door replacements during the lockdown, however, have already been asked to prioritise this and any other health and safety works as they resume work in the summer.”
One resident said: “My fire alarm didn’t go off, neither did that of anyone else until the smoke and heat were already overwhelming in the flats directly above the fire.
They said they were first notified of the fire when there was a strong smell of smoke.
“Seeing a huge plume of black smoke coming out of the windows of a flat a few metres away made me realise it was actually a fire,” they said.
Another resident said: “I didn’t hear any fire alarms whatsoever and didn’t when I was outside taking photos either. My missus was awake and heard screaming from children but no alarms.”
Regarding fire alarms, the FRA states: “The arrangements for giving warning in case of fire are adequate.”
Ms Thomas said: “There is no requirement for a communal fire alarm system in Kingsway, as it is not required, having a communal fire alarm can cause issues to the extent it becomes ineffective (i.e. if it is easily triggered, people will get fed up with it and disable it).”
A review of this policy is currently underway at the national level, and the council will respond to any changes accordingly, she said.
All council tenants are provided with smoke alarms, she said, which they are advised to test monthly.
She said the council also plans to install heat detectors in kitchens for flats that do not already have them.
Limited fire escapes led to ‘chaos’
“There are lots of stairs that take you to people’s flats and do not lead to the ground floor or out of the building,” one resident said.
They added: “This is extremely confusing in a fire especially when many people are used to using only one fire escape staircase”.
“It led to people cramming down the staircase closest to the fire and a lot of chaos and people inhaling smoke.”
However, the FRA says “the premises are provided with adequate emergency routes and exits,” adding that travel distances are “in accordance with current best practice for the use to which the building is put.”
Ms Thomas said: “Given the age and design of the building, including mostly ‘open’ walkways and staircases, the means of escape have been assessed by the Fire Risk Assessor as satisfactory, with a sufficient number of staircases.
“There are alternative escape staircases available in most instances but not all. The design of staircases accessed from the walkway balconies would probably not be used in a modern building, however, are assessed as safe.”
A resident said that lights in the landing above the communal staircase were broken, with only “a light or two at the bottom”.
However, the FRA states: “Emergency lighting is installed in this premises and appeared to be working order.”
The council said that emergency lighting was installed throughout Kingsway and is tested monthly by the council – the last inspection was in February.
Missing fire doors
One resident reported having no fire door for their flat despite asking for one since January 2019.
This issue is highlighted in the FRA, which states: “The entrance door to one or more properties has been replaced with a type of door which does not appear to be fire-resistant.”
In total, 12 flats are highlighted by the report as not complying with fire-resistant door standards.
The FRA says: “Given the different types of doors installed throughout the 5 blocks of Kingsway Flats, a survey of all flat entrance doors is advised to provide a definitive record of the standard of each door.”
The council said replacement FD30s (doors with 30-minute fire protection and smoke seals) were due to be installed for all tenants in 2020/21 but this was halted due to the pandemic, Ms Thomas said.
She added that the council’s contractor will liaise with tenants to organise replacements.
Ms Thomas said: “Not all flat entrance doors at Kingsway are legally required to be fire doors (e.g. where doors open onto open balconies/walkways where there is escape in alternate directions), but we have already scheduled to replace all such doors with FD30s.”
Fire doors will be replaced in batches as “it makes more sense to address a number of doors in one programme,” she said.
Ms Thomas pointed out that while Kingsway Flats were built in the 1960s, it is not a legal requirement to bring older buildings up to current standards.
However, she added that risk assessments are compulsory for this type of building and that this is done annually.
She said: “There have been other fires at Kingsway in the past, which have been contained within the flat where they started.
“In the recent fire, clearly there was greater spread, but the structure performed well with no external fire spread, such as has which has been of concern with some modern buildings.”
Ms Thomas said the council will consider any findings from the Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service’s investigation into the fire, which will be shared with the elected tenant and leaseholder representatives.
“We have a proactive fire safety and management programme across our stock which goes above the legal minimum, surveying in greater detail than required,” she added.
“We have commissioned significant improvements in recent years in terms of increasing the number of smoke and heat detectors and replacement fire doors.”
She added that the council has a Fire Safety Strategy and has updated its guidance for tenants of flats and buildings to “remind them of their responsibilities to keep accesses clear and accessible.”
About Elite Fire and Security
Elite Fire and Security test, service, maintain and install commercial fire alarms at business premises and for Landlords. From our Head Office in Bristol, we work in businesses premises, educational facilities and commercial properties, in Bristol, Bath, London, the South West and the M4 corridor. Contact us on 0333 577 1230 to find out more.