contraflow

Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (3) – Fire Alarms !!

Previous Posts In This New Series …

2019-10-31:  Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Report – Information

2019-11-11:   Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (1) – Vulnerable People ?

2019-12-21:  Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (2) – Fire Emergency Plans !

2020-03-23:  The Grenfell Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Recommendations (Part V in Volume 4 of the Phase 1 Report), were published on 30 October 2019.  The initial issues covered in those Recommendations are fragmentary, lack depth and coherence … and in the case of Fire Alarms, with just one indirect reference to them in Paragraph #33.22 … they are in serious error.

Colour image showing the Volume 4 Cover Page of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report.  The Phase 1 Recommendations are contained in Chapter #33, on Pages 771-780.  Click to enlarge.

[ Paragraph #33.22 ]  There were no plans in place for evacuating Grenfell Tower should the need arise.  I therefore recommend:

d. that all high-rise residential buildings (both those already in existence and those built in the future) be equipped with facilities for use by the fire and rescue services enabling them to send an evacuation signal to the whole or a selected part of the building by means of sounders or similar devices ;

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FUNDAMENTALS OF A SOLUTION

1.  A Fire Alarm (more precisely from here on, a Fire Detection & Warning System) is a critical safety feature in all buildings … ALL BUILDINGS … from the smallest and most simple, to the biggest and most complex … no exceptions !!

In order to survive in a fire emergency, Vulnerable Building Users need more time to react, and evacuate, than other occupants/users.  The valuable time provided by early, accurate and precise detection is the only way to effectively facilitate this.  The ‘Required Time’ to prepare for evacuation depends on many factors, e.g. building complexity, familiarity of users with evacuation routes, range and severity of user activity limitations, etc.

It follows, therefore, that if building occupants/users have to wait 15, or 20, or 30 minutes before firefighters arrive at the fire scene (Full Response Time*) and ‘an evacuation signal to the whole or a selected part of the building’ is only then sent by those firefighters … all of that valuable evacuation time for vulnerable building users has been lost.  This is ridiculous, and makes no sense whatsoever.  This Recommendation must be rejected out of hand, and ignored !

[ *Full Response Time: The time interval from the receipt of an emergency communication at the primary public safety answering point (#PSAP) to when emergency response units are initiating action or intervening to control a fire incident. ]

Colour photograph showing the Single, Narrow Staircase (1.040 metres in width between a handrail on one side of the staircase and a bare wall on the other side) in London’s Grenfell Residential Tower.  This staircase, which was inadequately protected from fire, heat and smoke, was not wide enough to facilitate the ‘contraflow’ circulation of firefighters entering, while occupants evacuated at the same time.  Without a Fire Alarm in the building, occupants could not have known that a serious Fire Emergency was in progress … especially Vulnerable Building Users accommodated high up in the Tower … and they remained in place (‘stayed put’).  Once firefighters arrived at the scene, occupant evacuation using this staircase became impossible or extremely difficult.  Click to enlarge.

Important Note:  In Chapter #34: ‘Looking Ahead to Phase 2’ of Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Report, Volume 4 … Paragraph #34.14 states …

A question was raised about the width of the stairs, given that they provided the sole means of access to the upper floors of the tower for firefighters as well as the sole means of escape for the occupants.  However, the stairs appear to have complied with requirements of the legislation in force at the time of their construction and the expert evidence supports the conclusion that they had sufficient capacity to enable all the occupants of the building to escape within a reasonable time.  This aspect of the building will not, therefore, be the subject of further investigation in Phase 2.’

Astounding !  Absurd !!  FUBAR !!!

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All Fire Emergency Warning Systems must be designed to accommodate People with Hearing Impairments.  Audible and visual warning devices must be provided together, as a single combined unit.  This is particularly important in noisy and isolated building spaces, e.g. bathrooms, small meeting rooms.  Vibrating devices, such as pagers or mobile phones, can be integrated into a building’s fire emergency warning system in order to provide any individual with a tactile emergency alert.

Colour photograph showing a single combined visual-audible Fire Emergency Warning Device.  Click to enlarge.

Important Note:  Audible sounders, on their own, are never a sufficient Fire Emergency Warning !

2.  The Purpose of a Fire Emergency Warning System is to provoke calm, efficient and adaptable evacuation movement by ALL building users/occupants at the earliest possible stage in a fire incident, without causing user confusion, disorientation or panic. In all building types, therefore, a reliable, informative and accessible fire emergency warning system must be installed, and such a system must always have a fire protected electrical supply.

Colour photograph showing the movement of building occupants and users.  The purpose of a Fire Emergency Warning System is to provoke calm, efficient and adaptable evacuation movement by ALL building occupants at the earliest possible stage in a fire incident, without causing user confusion, disorientation or panic.  During a Fire Emergency, STANDARD MOVEMENT TIMES DO NOT EXIST.  Click to enlarge.

3.  To provoke a Calm Response from Building Users … the output from Fire Emergency Warning Devices, e.g. light, sound and messages, must be adapted to the local context of people and building surroundings.

Fire Emergency Audible Warnings … A sufficient number of low-output audible sounders, i.e. between 60-80 dB, must be specified for effectiveness.  Small numbers of sounders with high output (in order to reduce costs) should never be specified, as this can lead to confusion, disorientation and panic attacks among some building users/occupants.  The output of sounders must be adapted to suit interior surroundings, e.g. in small spaces with hard surfaces a lower sound output will be adequate.

Colour image.  The output from Fire Emergency Audible Sounders must be between 60-80 dB.

Important Note:  When they are asleep, hearing-able children (around ten years of age and under) … and hearing-able older people (around 65 years of age and over) are more difficult to wake and rouse sufficiently for evacuation when alerted by an audible signal alone.

Fire Emergency Visual Warnings … Light strobes/beacons must be clearly visible.  To reinforce #1 above … light strobes/beacons must be placed in wash rooms and in other locations within buildings where people may be alone ; they must also be placed in noisy environments.

A sufficient number of low-output strobes/beacons must be specified for effectiveness.  Small numbers of strobes/beacons with high output (in order to reduce costs) should never be specified, as these produce a glare which may cause confusion, disorientation and panic attacks among some building users/occupants.  The light output of strobes/beacons must be adapted to suit interior surroundings, e.g. in dark rooms.

For light strobes/beacons, a slow rate of flash is important, i.e. no faster than once every two or three seconds, in order to encourage a calm response from building users/occupants and to avoid photosensitivity seizures.  Most importantly, the flash of one strobe/beacon must be synchronized with the flashes of all other light strobes/beacons in view.

Colour video clip (.gif).  The output from Fire Emergency Visual Strobes / Beacons must be no faster than one flash every two or three seconds.  The flash rate shown above is too fast !   Click to run video clip.

Fire Emergency Voice Message Warnings … Are essential to improve Warning Credibility.  In other words, building users are far less likely to sit around wondering, waiting to see whether this is a ‘real’ fire emergency, a false alarm, a practice evacuation, or an electrical error.  Verbal or voice messages must be short and contain appropriate warning information which is easily assimilated.  The speaker should be distinct and easy to understand.  Live messaging during a fire emergency is preferred over pre-recorded, standard messages.  In today’s multi-cultural social environment, messages must be transmitted in at least two to three different languages, as appropriate.

Fire Emergency Directional Warnings … Combination sounder, visible strobe/beacon, and voice messaging Fire Emergency Warning Devices are now a mainstream technology, are readily available, and are being specified in new and existing buildings.

Colour image showing a combination Fire Emergency Directional Audible Sounder, with Voice Messaging capability.  Click to enlarge.

Audible directional signalling must be installed when dealing with difficult building configurations, e.g. in large open office layouts/spaces with minimal signage … where building users/occupants are unfamiliar with their surroundings in modern shopping centres/malls and other complex building types … or visibility of high-level signage may be reduced because of smoke logging.

Directional sounders, which guide building users during a Fire Evacuation towards Exits, Areas of Rescue Assistance and Lift/Elevator Lobbies, must be positioned at carefully chosen, suitable locations.  Once reached, a directional sounder must also have a voice messaging capability in order to inform people about the next phase of evacuation.

4.  Fire Emergency Warning Systems must be Accessible (for People with Activity Limitations), i.e. capable of transmitting a warning in many formats in order to ensure that all users/occupants perceive and act upon the warning in a calm manner and, thereafter, that effective evacuation movement commences without delay. Warning Credibility improves in direct relation to the type and number of different warning formats.

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As well as indirectly referring to Fire Detection and Warning Systems, Paragraph #33.22 in Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Recommendations has some other things to say about Evacuation.  So this is an opportune moment to discuss some practical and human issues concerning Fire Emergency Evacuation … and, straight away, to deal with an unexpected consequence arising from the current CoronaVirus/CoVID-19 Emergency …

CORONAVIRUS / CoVID-19 EMERGENCY

There have been widely reported instances, in many countries, of panic buying in shops because of the 2020 CoronaVirus/CoVID-19 Emergency … but the photograph below illustrates an example of a panic reaction by building management.  This appears to be a crime scene … the yellow and black tape is so dramatic.  In a real Fire Emergency, many building users/occupants will be reluctant to use this final fire exit ; they will not have the time to read the small print on a notice ; they will attempt to re-trace their path of evacuation and find another exit.

Colour photographs showing how, as a panic reaction to the 2020 CoronaVirus/CoVID-19 Emergency, a Final Fire Exit has been blocked off from normal, everyday use.  Click to enlarge.

This panic reaction by building management IS a serious impediment to Fire Evacuation !

Whatever the Motives of Building Management …

  • in countries which have Fire Codes / Regulations, this action is illegal ;   and
  • in these days, when a wide range of ‘smart’ technologies is readily available … this action is inexcusable.

SOME PRACTICAL FIRE EVACUATION ISSUES

A Skill is the ability of a person, resulting from competent training and regular practice, to carry out complex, well-organized patterns of behaviour efficiently and adaptively, in order to achieve some end or goal.  All building occupants/users must be skilled for evacuation to an external ‘place of safety’, which is at a safe and remote distance from the fire building.  Practice fire evacuations must be carried out sufficiently often to equip building users, particularly vulnerable users, with this skill, i.e. at least once every six months ; in complex building types, practices should be carried out more often.  Prior notification to occupants/users, and regular scheduling of practice evacuations should be avoided.

Familiarity with Fire Evacuation Routes will be fostered and greatly improved by means of normal, everyday use by occupants/users.  This is an important task for pro-active Building Management in existing buildings … and an important aspect of new building design for Architects and Fire Engineers.

While the transmission of fire emergency warnings in many formats will increase Warning Credibility, close observation of past tragic ‘real’ fire events, e.g. the WTC 9-11 Attacks in New York City, shows that initiation of evacuation and the actual process of evacuation itself can be problematic.  An interesting, easily assimilated and user-targeted skills programme of training should incorporate practical solutions to deal with the following typical problems:

  1. Fire Emergency Preparedness: Irregular attendance of building occupants/users at fire prevention and safety training sessions, and participation in practice fire evacuations. Users not being familiar with a building’s fire emergency management plan and not knowing who is in charge … not using a building’s fire evacuation route(s), particularly staircases, during practices … or having no information about where to assemble after evacuating … or, once at a place of safety, not having any head count or identification process ;
  2. Delaying Activities Inside The Fire Building: Once building occupants/users decide to evacuate, but before moving to evacuate, they gather personal effects … seek out friends/co-workers … search for others … make phone calls/send tweets … finish tasks/turn off computers … wait around for instructions … change shoes … and try to obtain permission to leave ;
  3. Delaying Activities Outside The Fire Building: Once outside the building’s final fire exit, but before moving directly to a place of safety, building occupants/users stop to see what is happening … look for friends/co-workers … look for a phone … do not know where to go … or, within the ‘danger zone’ of the fire building, stop to receive medical attention.

It may seem obvious that Fire Evacuation Routes must also be Accessible (for People with Activity Limitations), which also makes routes much safer for every other building user … and sufficiently wide to accommodate Contraflow (emergency access by firefighters or rescue teams into a building and towards a real fire, while building users are still moving away from the fire and evacuating the building) … a harsh lesson learned from the 2001 WTC 9-11 Attacks and the 2017 Grenfell Tower Fire. Since they are new, strange and unusual for many building designers, and most fire engineers … these aspects of building performance are overlooked in nearly every building.

Practice Evacuations should include exercise of the buddy system ; fire safety fittings, e.g. portable fire extinguishers ; and fire evacuation devices intended for use by people with activity limitations which will require more intensive training.

Colour image showing a range of personal Facilitation / Mobility Aids.  People with Activity Limitations must be allowed, and positively encouraged, to keep these Aids during practice and real fire evacuations.  Prior meaningful consultation (see below) is essential.  Click to enlarge.

Important Note:  During fire emergencies, People with Activity Limitations must be permitted to keep possession of their own personal Facilitation / Mobility Aids.

SOME HUMAN FIRE EVACUATION ISSUES

The actual people who use and occupy buildings are individuals.  They are different from each other, and they each have a different range of abilities (in relation to self-protection, independent evacuation to an external place of safety remote from a fire building, and active participation in a building’s fire emergency management plan), behaviour and manner of perceiving their surroundings.  Two apparently similar people will also show variations in how they react to and behave in any specific situation, particularly a fire emergency.

Ability / Disability is a Continuum – a gentle gradient on which every person functions and acts at different levels due to personal and environmental, i.e. external, factors.

In situations of severe stress, e.g. during a fire emergency in a building, where there is a lack of preparedness for such an event, a lack of familiarity with evacuation routes, lack of reliable evacuation information, lack of competent leadership and clear direction, and the presence of smoke, user/occupant confusion, disorientation and panic will occur.  Standard evacuation movement times will also be non-existent.  In addition, people with activity limitations must then deal with many physical barriers which routinely impede their evacuation from buildings, e.g. fire resisting doorsets which are difficult to open, steps along evacuation routes and at final fire exits.

In the case of people with a mental or cognitive impairment, there is a particular need to encourage, foster and regularly practice the adaptive thinking which will be necessary during evacuation a real fire incident.

People with respiratory health conditions will not be able to enter or pass through smoke.  People with visual impairments will require continuous, linked tactile and/or voice information during the whole process of fire evacuation.  People with psychological impairments, i.e. vertigo and agoraphobia, will be unable to use fire evacuation staircases with glass walls in high-rise buildings.  Because of the stigma still associated with disability in many countries, some users/occupants who will need assistance during a fire emergency will be reluctant to self-identify beforehand.  Other people may not even be able to recognize that they have an activity limitation or a health condition.

Meaningful Consultation with a person known to occupy or use a building, for the purposes of receiving his/her active co-operation and informed consent (involving a personal representative, if necessary), is an essential component of adequate pre-planning and preparation for a fire emergency.

Building Designers, Fire Engineers and Firefighters should be aware of the following human conditions:

Agoraphobia: A fear of open spaces.

Commentary: Agoraphobia is one of the most commonly cited phobic disorders of people seeking psychiatric or psychological treatment. It has a variety of manifestations, e.g. a deep fear of leaving a building, or of being caught alone in some public place. When placed in threatening situations, agoraphobics may experience a panic attack.

Anosognosia: A neurological disorder marked by the inability of a person to recognize that he/she has an activity limitation or a health condition.

Dementia: Any degenerative loss of intellectual capacity, to the extent that normal and occupational activities can no longer be carried out.

Panic: A sudden overwhelming feeling of anxiety, which may be of momentary or prolonged duration.

Panic Attack: A momentary period of intense fear or discomfort, accompanied by various symptoms which may include shortness of breath, dizziness, palpitations, trembling, sweating, nausea, and often a fear by a person that he/she is going mad.

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END

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Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (2) – Fire Emergency Plans !

Previous Posts In This Series …

2019-10-31:  Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Report – Information

2019-11-11:   Grenfell Inquiry Recommendations (1) – Vulnerable People ?

2019-12-21:  Recapping with regard to Vulnerable Building Users … the Grenfell Inquiry Phase 1 Recommendations are pathetically and disgracefully inadequate !  At a later stage and in order to make amends for this serious error … Inquiry Chairperson, Sir Martin Moore-Bick must direct that Proper Consideration – not just Token Consideration – be given, in Law, to the Fire Safety of Vulnerable Building Users, who include people with activity limitations, children under 5 years of age, frail older people (not ALL older people !), women in late stage pregnancy, people with disabilities, refugees, migrants, the poor, and people who do not understand the local culture or cannot speak the local language … OR, to put it another way and to remove any ambiguity … any person who may be vulnerable in a fire emergency, i.e. those with limited abilities in relation to self-protection, independent evacuation to an external place of safety remote from the building, and active participation in the building’s fire emergency procedures.

Do you care that Vulnerable People also use Your Building ?
People with Activity Limitations.  Click to enlarge.

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Now, Over 2.5 Years After The Grenfell Tower Fire … London Fire Brigade Commissioner (#LFB), Dany Cotton, has recently stated that she will retire at the end of December 2019.

On 17 December 2019 … The National Inspectorate in Britain for Police and Fire Services (#HMICFRS … www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmicfrs) published a report into the performance of London Fire Brigade.  Some extracts from that document …

‘ We have concluded there is a long way to go before London Fire Brigade is as efficient as it could be.  We have criticised both the way it uses resources and makes its services affordable now and in future.  In some areas it is wasteful.  While it has made savings, these are not of the level made in other services.

Worryingly, the Brigade is inadequate at getting the right people with the right skills.  It also needs to improve how it promotes the right values and culture, ensuring fairness and promoting diversity as well as managing performance and developing leaders.

The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 was one of the biggest challenges London Fire Brigade has ever had to face.  The incident has had a profound effect on how the Brigade now performs.  Although our findings are broadly consistent with those of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, it must be emphasised that this was an inspection of the Brigade in 2019.  We found that while the Brigade has learned lessons from Grenfell, it has been slow to implement the changes needed.  This is unfortunately typical of the Brigade’s approach to organisational change.’

Title Page of GB’s National Inspectorate (HMICFRS) Report, published on 17 December 2019.

HMICFRS Report on the Performance of London Fire Brigade  (PDF File, 768 Kb)

If Dany Cotton is the only person to go at the end of December 2019, this is very obviously political scapegoating !

Very Quickly … the entire Culture and Value System of London Fire Brigade must change for the better.  And to ensure that this transformation is Immediate and Fully Effective … ALL of Dany Cotton’s Senior Commanders must also go, or be fired … including Dany’s intended replacement, Andy Roe !

In addition … because it is still attempting to defend the criminal ‘Stay Put’ Policy … the National Fire Chiefs Council (#NFCC … www.nationalfirechiefs.org.uk/) in Britain must be held accountable.  Its Chair, Vice Chairs and those Lead Officers with responsibility for fire safety in buildings must ALL be replaced NOW !

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FIRE  EMERGENCY  MANAGEMENT  PLANNING

The Grenfell Fire Inquiry’s Phase 1 Recommendations were published on 30 October 2019.  Under the initial topics covered … they are far from being comprehensive … they are fragmentary, lack depth and any sort of coherence …

[ Paragraph #33.10 ]  I therefore recommend:

a. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to provide their local fire and rescue service with information about the design of its external walls together with details of the materials of which they are constructed and to inform the fire and rescue service of any material changes made to them ;

[ Paragraph #33.12 ]  I therefore recommend that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law:

a. to provide their local fire and rescue services with up-to-date plans in both paper and electronic form of every floor of the building identifying the location of key fire safety systems ;

b. to ensure that the building contains a premises information box, the contents of which must include a copy of the up-to-date floor plans and information about the nature of any lift intended for use by the fire and rescue services.

I also recommend, insofar as it is not already the case, that all fire and rescue services be equipped to receive and store electronic plans and to make them available to incident commanders and control room managers.

[ Paragraph #33.13 ]  I therefore recommend:

a. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to carry out regular inspections of any lifts that are designed to be used by firefighters in an emergency and to report the results of such inspections to their local fire and rescue service at monthly intervals ;

b. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to carry out regular tests of the mechanism which allows firefighters to take control of the lifts and to inform their local fire and rescue service at monthly intervals that they have done so.

[ Paragraph #33.22 ]  I therefore recommend:

a. that the government develop national guidelines for carrying out partial or total evacuations of high-rise residential buildings, such guidelines to include the means of protecting fire exit routes and procedures for evacuating persons who are unable to use the stairs in an emergency, or who may require assistance (such as disabled people, older people and young children) ;

b. that fire and rescue services develop policies for partial and total evacuation of high-rise residential buildings and training to support them ;

c. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to draw up and keep under regular review evacuation plans, copies of which are to be provided in electronic and paper form to their local fire and rescue service and placed in an information box on the premises ;

d. that all high-rise residential buildings (both those already in existence and those built in the future) be equipped with facilities for use by the fire and rescue services enabling them to send an evacuation signal to the whole or a selected part of the building by means of sounders or similar devices ;

e. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEP’s) for all residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised (such as persons with reduced mobility or cognition) ;

f. that the owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to include up-to-date information about persons with reduced mobility and their associated PEEP’s in the premises information box ;

g. that all fire and rescue services be equipped with smoke hoods to assist in the evacuation of occupants through smoke-filled exit routes.

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Residents in High-Rise Buildings, whether public or private, must no longer wait in vain for a saviour, or to be saved by the ‘system’.  Instead, the time has arrived to become proactive, and to immediately initiate their own comprehensive programmes of Self-Protection In Case Of Fire … which go far beyond the Recommendations in Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 Report.

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Fire Emergency Management Planning begins very early in the long life cycle of a building.  The following framework should be scaled up or down, depending on the size and extent of a project …

Fire Defence Plan (FDP)

A Fire Defence Plan (#FDP) elaborates the particular fire engineering strategy which has been developed for a specific building at design stage.  It is usually in electronic format and/or hard copy … and comprises fire engineering drawings, descriptive text (including a clear statement of the project’s fire engineering design objectives), a full construction specification (including façade cladding systems), fire safety related product/system information, with supporting calculations and the fire test/approval data which demonstrates their ‘fitness for intended use’.

A Fire Defence Plan must demonstrate a proper consideration for the fire safety, protection and evacuation of all building occupants/users, with a particular and integrated focus on vulnerable building users, especially people with activity limitations.  Refer to Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP’s) in my previous post.

In ‘real’ everyday practice, as opposed to academic theorizing … effective fire compartmentation is very difficult to achieve.  Passive/active fire protection measures are never 100% reliable … sometimes nowhere near 100%.  Building management systems are very far from being reliable.  For these reasons, ‘Stay Put’ Policies must be completely avoided !

[ In the specific case of Health Care Facilities, e.g. hospitals, it is highly hazardous to patients and unacceptable with regard to their welfare that they be evacuated during a fire emergency to a place of safety which is remote from the building.  Instead, the optimal fire engineering strategy here is to ‘protect in place’ … which requires a very high level of independently monitored competence, quality and reliability in design, construction, management, operation, and servicing. ]

Fire Defence Plans become ‘live’ during Construction.

A hard copy of the Fire Defence Plan for a building must always be available for inspection on-site.  A copy of the fire defence plan must also be retained at a remote, safe and secure location off-site.

Fire Emergency Planning Committee (FEPC)

Immediately after the completion of construction and occupation of a building, a Fire Emergency Planning Committee (#FEPC) must be established by the building owner(s), in consultation with building occupants/users.  Membership of the FEPC must comprise representatives of the building owner(s), building occupants, and regular users of the building.  The Committee’s task must be to develop, implement and maintain a Fire Emergency Management Plan, consisting of the emergency response procedures and related training and regular practices, which are essential for the effective and efficient management of any fire emergency in the building.  Sufficient resources must be allocated to the FEPC, by the building owner(s), to ensure that it can satisfactorily complete this task.

Fire Emergency Control Room.  Click to enlarge.

The FEPC must ensure that all relevant legislative requirements are met and must examine, if necessary, the need for the appointment of competent, specialist advisors and support.  Special attention must be paid by the FEPC to the fire safety of vulnerable building occupants/users.  The FEPC must establish a Fire Emergency Control Room (#FECR), which must be fitted-out and competently operated – 24/7/365 – in accordance with the Fire Emergency Management Plan.  The FEPC must also appoint a competent Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager.

Fire Emergency Management Plan (FEMP)

The Fire Defence Plan is the basis for, and main component of, a building’s Fire Emergency Management Plan (#FEMP).  This document elaborates the fire emergency response procedures for an occupied building and is produced by the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager, in liaison with the Local Fire Service.  It contains relevant information about the fire safety preparedness and prevention/protection/recovery measures in the building, and includes the pre-emergency, emergency and post-emergency roles, duties and responsibilities assigned to individuals and, in the case of their absence, nominated deputies.

The Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager liaising with the Local Fire Service.

The objective of a Fire Emergency Management Plan is to ensure that, in the event of a fire emergency, the health and safety of every building occupant/user is protected, including visitors to the building, contractors, and product/service suppliers … and access for, and the safety of, firefighters is assured.  Particular attention must be paid to those occupants with activity limitations.  All Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (#PEEP’s) must be fully integrated into the overall Fire Emergency Management Plan for the building.  Documented procedures must accurately reflect reality, and real behaviour, in the building.

The Fire Emergency Management Plan must include the procedures, chosen methods of warning to be used during a fire emergency, management control and co-ordination during the fire emergency, communications between each member of the Fire Emergency Control Unit and the building’s occupants/users and with the Fire Service Incident Commander at the scene, emergency response equipment in the building, evacuation actions, arrangements for occupants/users with activity limitations, first-aid personnel, evacuation by lift/elevator fire evacuation assemblies, escalators, travellators and staircases, use and fitting-out of areas of rescue assistance (including visual monitoring and the provision of smoke hoods), lift/elevator lobbies (including visual monitoring and provision of smoke hoods) and floors of temporary refuge, up-to-date emergency contact details, etc.

The Fire Emergency Management Plan must always be available for inspection, in hard copy format, at a convenient location in the building.  A copy must be provided to all building occupants, as they request, in hard copy, electronic and/or alternative formats.  A further copy of the Fire Emergency Management Plan must be provided to the Local Fire Service, as they request, in hard copy and/or electronic formats.

To ensure its effectiveness, the Fire Emergency Management Plan must be regularly practiced at least every three months, tested and reviewed.  If necessary, e.g. in the case of large/complex building types or existing buildings having suspect levels of fire safety, the establishment of an on-site, permanent, competent/specialist Fire Emergency First Response Team (#FEFRT) must be considered.

Fire Emergency Control Unit (FECU)

The Fire Emergency Control Unit (#FECU) must be established by the Fire Emergency Planning Committee to implement, manage, and recommend improvements to the Fire Emergency Management Plan.

In the event of a Fire Emergency, instructions given by the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager, or his/her Deputy, must take precedence over normal management structures and procedures in the building; and it shall be his/her duty to inform the Local Fire Service, immediately upon their arrival at the scene, about the number/locations of people still in the building, and the number/locations of vulnerable people who may need to be rescued.

Other members of the Fire Emergency Control Unit must accompany occupants/users as they evacuate to place(s) of safety, remote from the building.  Once there, a head count must immediately be taken by those members – now the Person in Charge at a place of safety – to establish the following:

  • That everybody is present, and that nobody has been left behind ;
  • That everybody is uninjured … or if anybody is injured, what appropriate Medical Aid is rendered and/or summoned.

Communications during a fire emergency between all of the interested parties involved can be fraught with difficulty … lack of discipline will cause misunderstandings and confusion … signal strengths may suffer interference because of the building’s construction.  If necessary, Repeater Units must be installed in the building at any signal ‘drop-zones’ … and the development of a Fire Emergency Management Communications ‘App’, for use on FECU/occupant/user smartphones, must also be considered.

The Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager must prepare for the swift and orderly transfer of the Fire Emergency Control Room and its personnel to a safe location off-site, in the unlikely event of a severe fire emergency in the building.

Fire Safety Training & Regular Practice Evacuations

The objective of fire safety training and regular practice evacuations, which are held at least every 3 months, is to ensure that everybody in the building is skilled for evacuation during a fire incident, using safe accessible routes to an external place/places of safety which is/are remote from the building.

Place(s) of Safety.  Click to enlarge.

Fire safety training and regular practice evacuations must be conducted by the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager for all building occupants and regular visitors to the building, including FECU personnel.  Fire safety training material used, e.g. brochures, hand0outs and fact sheets, must be site-specific, appropriate to an individual’s role and responsibilities, and easily assimilated, i.e. can be comprehended by everyone, including people with activity limitations and those who are illiterate or may use different languages.

A programme of site-specific practice fire evacuations must be developed, in collaboration with the Local Fire Service, by the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager.

Skill:  The ability of a person – resulting from proper training and sufficient regular practice – to carry out complex, well-organized patterns of behaviour efficiently and adaptively, in order to achieve some end or goal.

Routine Fire Safety/Evacuation Inspections & Maintenance

The Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager must ensure that all fire safety and evacuation related aspects of the Fire Emergency Management Plan, including systems, products and fittings, are routinely inspected, tested and maintained/serviced.  Any deficiencies must be reported to the Fire Emergency Planning Committee at the completion of an inspection and/or test, and must be rectified as soon as it is reasonably practicable.  Records of all activities must be regularly updated and safely/securely stored in the building, with a duplicate copy provided to the Local Fire Service.

Fire Evacuation Performance Indicators (Metrics)

Performance indicators/metrics must be formulated by the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the fire emergency response procedures in the building.  During practice evacuations, the time between warning communications and first occupant/user movement, the time taken for evacuation to an external place/places of safety remote from the building, the evacuation routes chosen by occupants/users, and the time required to identify everyone who participated in the practice evacuation at the place/places of safety, including those occupants/users who did not participate, must all be recorded.

The Local Fire Service has two functions: a) to suppress and control a fire in the building, and to confirm extinguishment ;  and b) to rescue people in the building who are injured, trapped, or otherwise unable to independently evacuate, e.g. people waiting in areas of rescue assistance and lift/elevator lobbies.  In addition, therefore, the time taken for the first fire service vehicle to arrive on-site and, more importantly, the time taken for the fire services to arrive in sufficient strength to deal effectively with a fire emergency in the building must be recorded.  In the event that either or both of these times are inordinately long, an on-site specialist Fire Emergency First Response Team (FEFRT) must be established by the Fire Emergency Planning Committee.  The FEFRT must work under the control of, and report directly to, the Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager.

‘Contraflow’ movement in Building Circulation Routes.  Click to enlarge.

During the process of evaluation, generous allowance must be made for contraflow circulation during a real fire incident, i.e. emergency access by firefighters into a building and towards a fire, while building occupants/users are still moving away from the fire and evacuating the building.

The Fire Emergency Control Unit Manager must report, in full, the recorded performance and his/her evaluation of practice evacuations to the Fire Emergency Planning Committee.

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END

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Open E-Mail to ISO TC 92 (Fire Safety) – Treatment of ‘Disability’

2014-11-05:  ISO TC 92: ‘Fire Safety’ is a long-established Technical Committee within the International Standards Organization (ISO) …  www.iso.org/iso/home/standards_development/list_of_iso_technical_committees/iso_technical_committee.htm?commid=50492  … and down through the many years of its existence, since 1958, it has laboriously constructed a robust foundation which has facilitated the modern evolution of Fire Science and Engineering and the development of many standard fire safety practices and procedures around the world.

BUT …  and in spite the existence of ISO/IEC Guide 71: ‘Guidelines for Standards Developers to Address the Needs of Older Persons and Persons with Disabilities’ (a weak document which is badly in need of revision and updating !)

Recently, having examined some draft standards being processed through ISO TC 92 … I have become very tired of the blatant incompetence … and lack of care and concern merging with feigned ignorance and/or stubborn resistance, within the Technical Committee, when it comes to the issue of ‘disability’ … in other words, the major matter of the real fire safety of vulnerable building users and occupants, i.e. people with activity limitations, in real buildings.

SO …  a few days ago, I wrote the following e-mail message to a Working Group Chairperson (who shall remain nameless, because this same problem pervades the whole TC) …

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Dear X,

With regard to All Aspects of the WG’s Work … one issue, in particular, sticks out like a sore thumb … how you treat ‘disability’.  There is no clarity here, only confusion.  There are no precise terms, only a garbled use of language and concepts.

Please allow me to suggest, with accompanying explanations, a suitable and necessary path forward.

I will circulate this e-mail message separately within ISO, and beyond.

Concerning Normative References … reference must be made to …

ISO 21542 (2011): ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’

Within this document, Accessibility is understood to mean the full cycle of independent building use, in an equitable and dignified manner … and to include the approach, entry to and use of a building, egress during normal conditions and removal from the vicinity of the building … and, most importantly, evacuation during a fire incident to a ‘place of safety’ which is remote from the building.

Texts relating to ‘fire safety’ have been incorporated into the main body of this International Standard.  It is, however, just a small beginning.  Much work remains to be done.

Accessibility Design Criteria, as described in ISO 21542, must now be applied to the design and maintenance of all fire evacuation routes, fire safety related signage and fittings, etc., etc.

Use of the word escape, in any context, is strongly discouraged.

Concerning Terms & Definitions

People with Activity Limitations:  Those people, of all ages, who are unable to perform, independently and without aid, basic human activities or tasks – because of a health condition or physical/mental/cognitive/psychological impairment of a permanent or temporary nature.

Attached, please find the FireOx International ‘Fire Safety for All’ Matrix … which illustrates how the separate pieces, including ‘disability’, fit together.

Contraflow:  Emergency access by firefighters or rescue teams into a building and towards a fire, while people are still moving away from the fire and evacuating the building.

Concerning Building User/Occupant Numbers & Provision … ‘token’ is not only entirely unacceptable, it is a clear case of professional negligence …

And why, suddenly, all of these ‘musts’ ??

Cogently mandated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) … the UN CRPD’s principal aim is to ensure that the Built, Social, Economic and Virtual Environments are sufficiently ‘accessible’ to permit a vulnerable and major population group in all of our societies to enjoy the fundamental freedoms and human rights set down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

The language of the Convention is always very robust and very direct: ‘States Parties shall …’

Also attached, please find a United Nations Global Map showing the status of Convention Ratification back in July 2014.  At the time of writing this e-mail message, 151 Countries have ratified the UN CRPD.

Full and Effective Accessibility of the Built Environment is a human right.  Adequate provision must be made for people with disabilities to use all buildings … not just some buildings … and certainly not just limited parts of a building !

In practice, people with disabilities must be included in all practice evacuation drills … and they must be included in all activities related to ‘fire safety’ and/or necessary to prepare for safe evacuation.

Furthermore … because Electronic, Information and Communication Technologies (EICT’s) now serve a function which is critical, during a fire incident, for the safety of all building users and firefighters, property protection, minimizing environmental damage, and sustainability … they must have a user interface which is Accessible for All … from both ends.

With regard to ‘adequate’ provision … please find attached the 2010 USA Disability Statistics … which indicate:

  • Minimum Reasonable Provision for People with Disabilities in a Building … 10% of User/Occupant Population ;
  • Minimum Reasonable Provision for People with Activity Limitations in a Building … 15% of User/Occupant Population.

The numbers of people with disabilities in developing and the least developed economies far exceed numbers in developed economies !

Best wishes for the success of your meeting in Sydney.

C.J. Walsh – Consultant Architect, Fire Engineer & Technical Controller.

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END

Fire Evacuation of People with Disabilities – Reality Bites ?

2009-03-10:   Regarding Seán’s Comment, dated 2009-03-06.

 

Yes, the guidance provided in Technical Guidance Document B (Ireland) is inadequate … and the same can equally be said of Approved Document B (England & Wales).

 

And yes, you will find only partial answers in British Standard BS 9999, even though it was only published on 31st October 2008 last.

 

Access Consultants in Ireland and Great Britain rarely deal with any matters relating to fire safety in buildings.

 

 

 

Please allow me, therefore, to fill in some gaps for you.  The following guidance is suitable for application in any European country …

 

People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF) experience many difficulties when attempting to independently evacuate a fire building.  However, our reasoning is very simple.  If we can get things right for the most vulnerable building users, we get them right for everyone else also.

 

 

The Target Destination … whether evacuation is independent, assisted by other building users or accomplished by means of firefighter rescue … is a ‘Place of Safety’.  This term is not well defined in legislation or codes.

 

Building User ‘Place of Safety’:

Any location beyond a perimeter which is [100] metres from the fire building or a distance of [10] times the height of such building, whichever is the greater … and … where necessary and effective medical care and attention can be provided, or organized, within one hour of injury … and … where people can be identified.

 

Where there is a Risk of Explosion … multiply the numbers in square brackets above by 4 (at least !).

 

 

 

All Fire Evacuation Routes – inside and outside a building – should comply with Accessibility Design Criteria.  This is an entirely alien concept to many Fire Prevention Officers in Local Authorities, and Fire Consultants !

 

Panic Attacks, during evacuation in a ‘real’ fire incident, exist.

 

Standard Movement Times, during evacuation in a ‘real’ fire incident, do not exist.

 

 

 

People should be able to reach an ‘Area of Rescue Assistance’ inside a building with ease.  In practice, few people understand what the word ‘refuge’ means (as in … refuge point, refuge area, area of refuge, etc).  As a result, these spaces are regularly misused and/or abused in buildings.  And there is great difficulty translating a word into other languages which, in English, can have so many meanings.  In Italian fire safety legislation, for example, ‘refuge’ has been translated as ‘spazio calmo’.  How crazy is that ?

 

So … what is an ‘Area of Rescue Assistance’ ?

A building space directly adjoining, and visible from, a main vertical evacuation route – robustly and reliably protected from heat, smoke and flame during and after a fire – where people may temporarily wait with confidence for further information, instructions, and/or rescue assistance, without obstructing or interfering with the evacuation travel of other building users.

 

 

This is a notional Area of Rescue Assistance …

 

A Clear Evacuation Width of 1.5 metres on the Evacuation Staircase facilitates ‘contraflow’ in a fire emergency (shown on the lower flight of stairs), i.e. emergency access by firefighters entering a building and moving towards a fire, while building users are moving away from the fire and evacuating the building … as well as allowing sufficient space to safely carry an occupied wheelchair down the staircase (shown on the upper flight of stairs).

 

Drawing showing a notional Area of Rescue Assistance in a Building. Click to enlarge. Based on a design by CJ Walsh. Drawn by S Ginnerup, Denmark.
Drawing showing a notional Area of Rescue Assistance in a Building. Click to enlarge. Based on a design by CJ Walsh. Drawn by S Ginnerup, Denmark.

 

 

Evacuation Skills & Self-Protection from Fire in Buildings …

A ‘skill’ is the ability of a person – resulting from adequate training and regular practice – to carry out complex, well-organized patterns of behaviour efficiently and adaptively, in order to achieve some end or goal.

 

Building users should be skilled for evacuation to a ‘place of safety’, and test/drill/non-emergency evacuations should be carried out sufficiently often to equip building users with that skill.  Consideration should be given to practicing evacuation once every month or, at most, every two months; once a year is inadequate.  In the case of people with a mental or cognitive impairment, there is a particular need to encourage, foster and regularly practice the adaptive thinking which will be necessary during a ‘real’ fire incident.

 

Since Fire Protection Measures and Human Management Systems are never 100% reliable … it is necessary for frail older people and building users with disabilities to be familiar with necessary guidelines for self-protection in the event of a fire emergency.

 

 

Assisted Evacuation & Rescue Techniques …

Firefighters have two functions:

         fighting fires ;  and

         rescuing people who are trapped in buildings, or for some reason, cannot independently evacuate a building which is on fire.

 

People with disabilities are participating more and more, and in ever increasing numbers, in mainstream society.  It is necessary, particularly for firefighters, to become skilled in how best to rescue a person with a disability from a building, using procedures and equipment which will not cause further harm or injury to that person.

 

Manual handling of occupied wheelchairs in a fire evacuation staircase, even with adequate training for everyone directly and indirectly involved, is hazardous for the person in the wheelchair and those people – minimum three – giving assistance.

 

Generally … Powered Wheelchairs are too heavy for manual handling in any situation.

 

For these reasons, all lifts/elevators in new buildings should be capable of being used for fire evacuation.  Lifts/elevators in existing buildings, when being replaced or undergoing major overhaul, should then be made capable of being used for fire evacuation.

 

Local Fire Authorities should ensure that they possess the necessary equipment to rescue people with a wide range of impairments, and that specialized rescue equipment is regularly serviced and maintained.  Every Fire Authority should have an ‘accessible’ and ‘reliable’ Emergency Call System which is available, at all times, to the public within its functional area.

 

It is essential that every Firefighter is fully aware of this important public safety issue, and is regularly trained in the necessary rescue procedures involving people with a wide range of impairments.

 

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