What is a fire strategy?

Building designA fire strategy is a complex document specifically tailored to a building, reviewing all aspects of the building’s fire safety features including construction, compartmentation design, means of escape and other fire safety features/measures (including management arrangements) to ensure it is fit and safe for use by the intended user. Approved documents are used predominantly as guidance for achieving the requirements of the Building Regulations for new residential and commercial buildings: however, they are not lawfully enforced, unlike the Building Regulations. Alternatively, associated approaches may be used such as that described in BS 9999, or a fire engineered approach in developing a fire strategy for a premises.

Is a fire strategy a legal requirement?

Modern apartment blockWhere a building is erected or extended, or has undergone a material change of use, Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations requires that a package of fire safety information must be assembled and given to the responsible person of the premises. A fire strategy is commonly used as a means for collating and providing that information – albeit in many cases this level of information is sadly not provided. Given the recommendations made in the post Grenfell Hackitt Review, more enlightened building owners are now commissioning retrospective strategies to address this lack of information.

How does a fire strategy improve my business resilience?

Completing a fire strategy will protect business procedures and assets by analysing potential fire spread and implementing a plan to minimise the destruction caused by a fire. The fire strategy can be used alongside a business continuity plan to ensure a company can continue to operate after a disaster such as fire, flood or any other natural occurrence.

What is included in a fire strategy?

  • means of warning – determining the standard of fire detection required for the premises
    • how will the fire alarm activate, to what extent the alarm sounds and where?
    • what actions are required to be taken automatically in the event the alarm is raised, are they effectively implemented. What interfaces with the alarm and detection system and is it suitable (such as the release of fire doors, fail safe for secured doors to open, or impacts on ventilation systems to prevent the spread of smoke etc.)?
    • is the premises required to be linked to an alarm receiving centre in order for the soonest possible arrival of the fire service?
  • means of escape – analysing the travel distances and whether the existing escape routes leading to a place of ultimate safety are suitable and sufficient for all persons at risk in the premises and the intended capacities
    • Provision of emergency/external lighting and signs to aid escape, as well as emergency plans displaying designated evacuation routes do escape routes lead to a place of ultimate safety?
  • internal fire spread/passive fire protection – analysing that the level of internal protection required along escape routes (including protected routes, fire doors, the treatment of service penetrations and joints in construction) is necessary in order to ensure fire separation is achieved to aid safe evacuation, and meet other fire safety objectives including those required by Building Regulations (such as for maximum compartment size) or those implemented at the behest of the building owner/operator (such as to protect areas of high financial or strategic value)
    • consideration should also be made of specific requirements for linings to ensure that surface flame spread is effectively minimised – is the existing compartmentation satisfactory?
  • external fire spread – analysing the possible degree of further damage should the fire spread externally via breakout, across roofs, via cladding or other materials used on the external envelope, or through the transfer of heat to adjacent buildings
  • access/facilities for the Fire & Rescue Service – ensuring all provisions satisfy both the Building Regulations and the local fire authority, which includes reviewing external vehicle access; rising fire mains; access points; firefighting lifts; hydrants
  • other factors – these may include the use of sprinkler or other suppression systems, smoke control and ventilation systems
    • the implementation of such systems may be used to compensate in a building with increased risks present, such as extended travel distances, limited means of escape, large compartment sizes or significant life risk (such as in healthcare) etcetera – commonly in such circumstances, an approach in line with BS 9999 or a fire engineered solution will be implemented
  • fire safety management for the building – including the adopted evacuation strategy and fire safety training specific to the building occupants, addressing any specific fire risks within the premises and detailing particular duties which should be performed during an evacuation for certain staff
    • company policy and procedures to be implemented, such as maintaining compliance with fire risk assessments; maintenance and testing of internal systems; implementing in house fire door checks; arranging planned preventative maintenance (PPM) schedules for the fire protection systems and any other relevant services; management of contractors and creating hot work permits etcetera

Who should create a fire strategy?

Fire strategies should only be developed by a competent person with comprehensive training and experience – preferably an accredited fire risk assessor or fire engineer, depending on the complexity of the building and the design approach implemented (if known).

For the vast majority of premises where a relatively simple prescriptive approach is utilised to ensure that the requirements of Building Regulations have been met a competent fire risk assessor or consultant will be able to advise. This will be the case for more complex circumstances where the approach described in BS9999 or BS9991 has been implemented.

Where a design requires a fully engineered approach the services of a chartered fire engineer should be sought to assist. In any event, the client must ensure those undertaking the development of the strategy, whether retrospectively or for new work can clearly demonstrate their experience and competency.

Our team of experienced and knowledgeable fire risk assessors and engineers are here to help create your fire strategy and help keep you and your people safe.