24 November 2011 by Graham Simons, FIA Technical Manager

Yesterday morning most of us in the South East were greeted by thick November fog but on the Brighton seafront the FIA Fire Safety Seminar would provide ever more clarity!

It was my first FIA Fire Safety Seminar since I started at the Association earlier this year and I was pleased to see a number of people in attendance from a variety of backgrounds including, care homes, nurseries, B&B's, small hotels as well as those responsible for residential buildings including Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMO's).

Among the products and services being demonstrated by FIA members, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service had a stand with and interesting didactic display of their ‘Black Museum’.

This interesting website is a virtual museum of case histories from real fires that help deliver important life safety messages. They would welcome FIA members to take a look at the site and feedback any ideas or thoughts.

Opening the day was Chief Fire Officer for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (FRS), Des Prichard, who gave a short speech about the change in responsibilities due to recent legislation and the role of the FRS in helping to educate the local community on issues of fire safety. He also made a passionate call for legislation to mandate that sprinklers are fitted in all new build homes. Des felt that this would make a significant impact to reducing fire deaths in the UK.

I followed Des with a presentation on the Fire Safety Order 2005 (FSO) -explaining the importance of businesses conducting a fire risk assessment and where they could find advice. I also emphasised the importance of using certified and approved service providers allowing a Responsible Person to demonstrate due diligence in the excitation of their duties.

My fellow FIA technical manager, Phil Martin, then took to the stage and explained the importance of training staff in the use of portable fire extinguishers. If there is a trained member of staff able to extinguish a small fire safely then it could mean that you not only save the staff and the building from the fire but you could save the FRS from being called out.

During the morning coffee break I spoke to someone who had recently been made responsible for fire duties in a small nursery and was interested to learn about risk assessment and management of the fire precautions. It was good to see a very small business taking an interest and providing staff with the time to become informed on these issues.

After the break Wilf Butcher, CEO of the Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP), introduced a guide on the inspection of passive fire protection. This guide is aimed at helping end users with their regular internal inspection procedures and pointed out the particular importance of proper stopping of holes in fire partitions. Did you know that if a fire partition was damaged with a hole the size of a pencil that smoke from a fire would fill an adjacent room within 4 minutes?!

Phil Martin then gave his normal down to earth description of the importance of providing an effective means of escape in a building and the measures such as signage and emergency lighting that are part of this protection. He also emphasised the importance of continued management of these measures, ensuring the exits remain clear and usable at all times, and that the effective maintenance procedures are in place.

Ian Gough, senior technical advisor from the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA), gave a description of sprinkler systems; explaining how these systems had evolved from their original role in property protection to the more recent realisation of their importance in life protection. These systems are particularly beneficial in sites that may provide access problems for the FRS such as high rise blocks of flats. Most domestic supplies are now able to provide an adequate water supply to service the minimum practical requirement of three sprinkler heads for 17 minutes.

After lunch I gave my final presentation on fire detection and alarm systems and here I wanted to clarify the different application and use of fire detection and alarm systems, (as described in BS 5839-1) and smoke alarms, (BS 5839-6). Smoke alarms are normally deployed in small dwellings where the home owner has a strong involvement and interest in maintaining the fire safety of his home. The motivations and interests of a business are better satisfied by the implementation of a fire detection and alarm system.

The general rule is if you have six or more paying guests or three or more floors you should use a system. If it is not a dwelling and it is not small, use a system! I also talked about the important issue of false alarms and how it is the responsibility of all people involved to drive false alarm events to zero!

We ended the day with a lively Open Forum session which allowed the audience to ask any questions that they still had to all of the speakers and East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS). I think Mark Hobbs and Des Prichard of ESFRS did a sterling job in helping the delegates understand the FRS’s approach to automatic false alarm attendance, FSO prosecutions and fire safety management/records best practice.

Some of the hot topics (excuse the pun) discussed were:

  • A question was raised regarding the responsibilities of a Fire Warden and it was explained where to seek advice; the role of the FRS; the importance of the risk assessment and when to seek professional advice.
  • Someone responsible to residential care homes was concerned with inconsistencies with the advice that they had received on risk assessment. They were advised on how to ensure the competence of the advisors and encouraged to challenge advice that they thought was inappropriate.
  • There was a lively discussion around the issues of call challenging, what this meant and how businesses should provide systems which ensure that information is available to allow the correct response from the FRS.
  • We also talked about how the FRS carried out fire inspections; explaining that care homes with sleeping residents implied a high risk and therefore could likely lead to frequent inspections.

Making my way through the sunny delights of Brighton's sea front on the way home I was able to mull over some of the discussions that came up during the event. It was certainly stimulating to meet our delegates and hear their concerns and interests. I think that not only do the delegates learn during the day but all that participate also learn what the Responsible Person needs help with and how we can improve future events.