Fire Protection covers a range of measures that endeavour to avert fire emergencies such as: building design, compartmentation (fire stopping, fire doors, and glazing), ducting, smoke ventilation, sprinklers, suppression systems, fire alarms and extinguishers.
The average, uncomplicated UK business usually has a requirement for at least two of the above – fire alarms and fire extinguishers.
It is for the responsible person within an organisation to decide if that building should have a fire-alarm system installed. However guides suggest that if you could shout, “FIRE!” and everybody could hear then you probably don’t need one. That leaves most businesses firmly in the camp that do.
Confusion then reigns when it comes to choosing a supplier and, more importantly, a designer. Most business owners presume that they should ask an electrician or fire-protection company to pop along and give them a quotation for ‘what they think we should have’. They adopt the same approach as if buying a phone system or burglar alarm – “Have a look around and tell me what I need.” – Wrong!
It is undoubtedly the most common practice but is the wrong way to go about it. There are far too many electricians (with no specific fire-alarm qualifications) out there suggesting levels of detection and sounders that meet no specific category.
The ‘Lets have one in here’ approach although widespread is set to change. December 2010 saw the first prosecution of an electrician for failure to understand and implement the workings of BS5839 during work carried out on a fire alarm.
Qualified fire-protection professionals would not offer up a willy-nilly suggestion of devices. They would explain the possible fire-alarm categories to which a system can be designed. They would help the customer understand the implications and or benefits of each scheme and then ask the customer to choose a relevant category (e.g. L4, L2 etc.)
The designer can of course give his opinion on the choice of category but he does not know the intricacies of how the business works and what is important to the customer (e.g. do they want to save life or the building also?).
Once the business has chosen a category it is then incumbent upon the designer to have the competence to design the system (detectors, spacings, zones, sound levels etc.) to fully meet the system category.
If a fire-protection company says ‘What category do you require?’ you know you’re on the right path – if they say, "Let’s have a smoke detector here…" then beware!
Just like fire alarms the decision on whether extinguishers are required is that of the responsible person. However Government guidelines tell us that even a one room shop should have one dry-powder extinguisher.
There is huge number of extinguisher companies and unfortunately many have no formal training. Currently the British standard only requires that an engineer must be ‘competent' – many are far from that.
Good practice would be to insist on FETA or BAFE trained personnel. The Fire Safety Order requires that you employ competent people and do due-diligence to ensure that they are. The easiest way to prove competence is through third-party certification such as FETA or BAFE.
We have several different in-depth guides available on our free-resources page.