Fire Safety for Tall Buildings: Meeting BS 8629 with confidence

1 Feb 2021

In the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, the fire industry had a duty to respond. Meaningful change was required and with the introduction of BS 8629:2019, as a matter of priority, the safe and effective egress of occupants within a building has been identified as critical to the success of any life-saving evacuation operation. Those responsible for the protection of high-rise residential buildings now have a new code of practice to adhere to.

OUTCOME OF THE PHASE 1 REPORT

A number of detailed and extensive recommendations for improving fire safety measures in high-rise residential buildings were highlighted in the Phase 1 report of the Grenfell Tower fire. Included in those recommendations, was the suggested legal requirement for owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings to provide fire and rescue services with a system allowing rescuers to send an evacuation signal to the whole or selected parts of the building.

DEVELOPMENT OF THE STANDARD

Taking a lead role in bringing this recommendation to fruition, the fire industry wanted to ensure that preventable incidents, such as Grenfell, were never repeated. BS 8629:2019 was therefore developed as the code of practice for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of evacuation alert systems for use by fire and rescue services in buildings containing flats.

In England, the code of practice recommendations are strongly advised for new buildings with a storey more than 18m above ground level containing flats and equally relevant as best practice for existing buildings too. In Scotland, the installation of evacuation alert control indicating equipment (EACIE) is now mandatory in tall buildings.

Ken Bullock, Advanced’s Business Development Manager for Evacuation Alert Systems said: “In developing the standard, industry bodies examined the outcome of the Grenfell Tower enquiry, recognising a failure in the fire and life safety measures of the building. Colin Todd, Managing Director at C.S. Todd & Associates Ltd, raised with the Scottish government the need to have a way of communicating or signalling to all residents that the building is failing and the fire and rescue service need to get everybody out as quickly as possible. That then went into Scottish building standards.

“Then on 30th October, 2019 Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s published the Grenfell Tower enquiry Phase 1 report which recommended that all high rise residential buildings both already in existence and those built in future be equipped with facilities for use by the fire and rescue services enabling them to send an evacuation signal to the whole or selected part of the building by means of sounders or similar devices.”

Clear, efficient evacuation procedures form an important part of ensuring life safety, so any measures that can be put in place to support them, such as the development and publication of BS 8629 mark a critical turning point for the fire industry and fire and life safety at large.

In the past, when fires have occurred in a tall residential building with a ‘stay put policy’ in place, common practice was for fire and rescue services to only evacuate the occupants of the affected flat. On rare occasions, the occupants of nearby or adjacent flats would be evacuated too. Notification has been by means of firemen physically knocking on doors as there was no other effective way of alerting occupants.

When attending a fire incident, initial resources are ideally focused on firefighting. In cases where more widespread evacuation is necessary, having an evacuation alert system in place enables occupants of flats to be effectively alerted by the fire and rescue service’s incident commander without diverting efforts away from essential firefighting operations.


EACIE – INDEPENDENT FROM THE FIRE SYSTEM

Introduced following recommendations in the Grenfell Tower Enquiry Phase 1 report, EACIE is intended for the sole use of the fire and rescue service during firefighting and rescue operations. Evacuation alert systems are designed to help enable the phased evacuation of an area, floor or building in the safest possible way. 

The code of practice stipulates that the evacuation alert system be entirely independent of a building’s fire alarm system. This helps to avoid confusion over safe evacuation for residents until the concept and management of evacuation alert systems becomes well established and understood.

Ken Bullock commented: “The evacuation alert system is specifically designed for the sole use of the fire and rescue services. Just as they wouldn’t expect anybody to use a dry riser, this is the fire and rescue service’s system and it needs to be maintained appropriately so that it’s available for them to use at all times.

“The other reason for this decision is that fire alarm systems generally aren’t installed in the common parts of blocks of flats. Those responsible for the development of BS 8629 were concerned that if it was stipulated that the two systems did integrate,  then that may open up the possibility of fire alarm systems overriding the ‘stay put’ strategies causing confusion with the evacuation strategies in the blocks of flats.”


BUILT ON INDUSTRY EXPERTISE

In developing its solution to meet BS 8629, Advanced understood the need to work in partnership with fire industry experts in order to achieve maximum system performance, quality and ease of use while ensuring the code of practice was adhered to.

Advanced consulted with the standard’s authors to refine aspects of the product’s appearance, functionality, and operation to ensure full compliance. Beyond this, the UK manufacturer opted to build its evacuation alert system, EvacGo, using its industry-leading MxPro 5 fire panel components, providing the added assurance for installers and building owners that their sites would be protected with robust and proven technology that’s been rigorously tested to EN 54 parts 2 and 4 as recommended in BS 8629. In addition, the devices supplied as part of the EvacGo system have been approved to BS EN54 Part 13. Third-party test certification to the standard provides additional peace of mind.


NECESSITY OF SECURITY

Discussing the importance of security in developing the standard and subsequently proposed EACIE, Ken Bullock, added: “The authors of the standard worked with Secure by Design from the MET Police and Gerda to look at the different standards and the different elements of security. In doing this they wanted to secure against unauthorised use or casual vandalism and didn’t want the controls to be seen, the security enclosure could feature no glass panels as they felt that this would be inviting.”

For its STS 205-rated enclosure, Advanced again followed BS 8629 guidance to the letter, partnering with leading fire and security manufacturer, Gerda, to ensure maximum security for this powerful and vital life safety equipment. The BR2 attack rating for the security box restricts access to the fire brigade using innovative key management technology – a patented key dedicated to just that enclosure – as stipulated in the code of practice. Only registered key holders can request another key for their box which can be done only via authorised channels meeting BS EN1303.  


CUSTOM MANUFACTURE TO CATER FOR INDIVIDUAL BUILDING REQUIREMENTS

The design of each evacuation alert panel is based on the number of evacuation alert zones required in the building where it will be used. But why is this important? Evacuation alert systems are particularly critical in larger and more complex buildings where the fire and rescue service may decide to evacuate all of the flats on one (or more) storey(s), or only one part of a single storey containing many flats.

To support these scenarios, the building needs to be divided into a number of individual evacuation alert zones. This ensures that evacuation alert device status in one evacuation alert zone is independent of the status of evacuation alert devices in all other evacuation alert zones. By grouping evacuation alert devices in this way, occupants of one evacuation alert zone required to leave the building can be told to do so without alerting occupants in areas required to ‘stay put’. To support this ability, it’s important that the evacuation alert signal in one evacuation alert zone is not readily audible in any other evacuation alert zone.

Each EvacGo is assembled by Advanced’s bespoke manufacture service, AdSpecials. They are built to individual specifications according to each building’s evacuation alert zones as agreed with the local fire and rescue service and in accordance with the code of practice. The panels are available in 8, 16, 24 or 32 ‘fire fighter evacuation alert area’ variants and are expandable from 1 to 4 loops – or even further, when using Advanced’s highly robust, fault-tolerant network.

For installers, landlords and local authorities, delivering the requirements of any new code of practice can be daunting. In establishing the suitability of installing an evacuation alert system within high-rise residential premises, it is key to ensure consultation with your local fire and rescue service takes place. Once suitability is established, it is crucial that the solution specified meets the recommendations set out in BS 8629 by delivering trusted and reliable protection, offering versatility to meet the building’s current and future fire protection needs, all while being securely contained to the prevent tampering or vandalism of this crucial life safety system.

To discuss BS 8629 or your evacuation alert system requirements with one of our team of experts, please contact: EvacGo@advancedco.com  

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Advanced Electronics Ltd
The Bridges
Balliol Business Park
NE12 8EW
Newcastle Upon Tyne, Tyne & Wear
United Kingdom

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