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Church fire situation


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Good evening.

Whilst my own church (which is fully compliant) is renovated and extended, we've moved a number of larger events down to our neighbouring church.

I'm a keyholder there and have popped in several times over the years, but only with our events moving there have I paid attention to the floorplan and fire systems.

The main church hall seats 100 when full (eg our wedding last weekend) but typically only seats 30 for a sunday service.  The fire exit in the main church hall is pre-1950 arched wooden doors (formerly the main entrance) which open inwards as it's literally right on the pavement.  Proper big rustic bolts and a loose 2x1 piece of timber filling in a hole at the floor to complete the picture. There are however two other marked fire exits from the room - one via the foyer and main entrance, one into the building to go downstairs and out the fire exits downstairs.

For our theatre groups' performance I unbolted it all and removed the loose timber, so the doors were "safe" - but I bet they've not been opened for 6 months prior to that.  (I also removed a clothes rail that was stored in the fire exit out of the way.). 

9 out of the 12 emergency lights (old double-D battery units) were dead, and the remaining 3 were vaguely attempting to glow - now all swapped for LED units plus more on order for the pitch black no-window store room and for the lounge and kitchen.

They have about 8-10 individual 9v battery smoke alarms throughout the building, two of which are missing; I've not yet tested them all but will be. 

Then they have a 240v mains fire alarm with no panel - simply mains through the call points and bells. I'd not come across such a system and spent an hour with my friend (from this church) searching every corner of every room in the building looking for the panel!  No problem with the call points or bells, assuming they work - again untested.

1) Advice on the fire exit please? 

2) Are (regularly checked) battery smoke alarms in conjunction with a working call-point fire alarm acceptable? I'd like to swap them for mains-powered lithium backup alarms, wired to the emergency lighting circuit as there's an LED adjacent to most alarms.  Is this appropriate? Do they need interlinking?  Upstairs is false tiled ceiling so easy to do; downstairs is all plastered.

3) Are 240v mains alarms acceptable now?  Am I right in thinking they should have a panel with battery backup?

4) Can we re-use the existing 240v call points as a wired zone(s) on a new panel, if we remove the bells from the line and wire them separately to the sounder circuit?  Thus saving a LOT of rewiring upstairs and downstairs, and related costs.

We'd get appropriate bodies in to undertake and test the work, but I need to take a softly-softly approach to getting them to think seriously about all this so will be pricing it up myself based on a roughly compliant plan before we get anywhere near that stage.

Many thanks for your time.



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a) I'd need to see the layout, measure exit widths, travel distances etc as part of a Fire Risk Assessment to give a definitive answer - it's not perfect, but could be worse and there are workable solutions

b) No as they only have a single power source and aren't interlinked. The point of detection is to give early warning to allow an escape before exit routes are blocked where a fire could start undiscovered. With a single station detector if you are at the other end of the building you won't hear it and if you are near enough you may end up detecting the fire yourself way before it activates. Your FRA will determine requirements, but for this size of building you only need a manual alarm system and possibly dependant on layout some detection on top (all systems start as manual and then add detection as the risk requires). Detection and call points should be on the same system, which as not a dwelling should be a proper Part 1 system with a control panel and not Part 6 domestic smoke alarms, although a risk assessor might be able to mitigate the use of Part 6 equipment (for which you can actually get compatible call points.

c) Old 240V 3-wire systems without panels were very common even in large buildings back in the last century as the only minimum requirement then (& now for many premises) is a manual means of fire warning, some had a diversion relay which was a box with a button on the front that would silence the alarms for a period to give you chance to replace the broken glass in the activated call point. These are also now illegal due to having only one power source - fire alarms are required to have two power sources under the Health & Safety (Safety Signs & Signals) Regulations.

d) Many competent fire alarm contractor would shy from this due to the age of cable (assuming it's fire resistant MICC otherwise it has to come out regardless if not fire resistant) although it is possible to reuse 3-wire system zones on a new conventional panel as most can be set up to be able to operate a 3-wire zone - as you are changing from 240V to 24V you would need new sounders and call points though (still cheaper than rewiring). Any detection you need should be part of this and can be wired into new soft skin fire resistant cabled zones.

Unfortunately premises like yours have a lot of catching up to do as until the Fire Safety Order came in they were not covered by fire safety law unlike workplaces, so you are having to jump from the 1960's to 2018 in one go rather than over decades.

The only reason there are any existing older fire precautions at all in places like these is because they will, in part or whole, have required a local authority license (often entertainment and dance) and the old licensing legislation allowed councils to require certain fire safety provisions as conditions of granting a license.

The premises must have a Fire Risk Assessment, which normally if not used by someone employing over 5 persons would not need to be written, however as the premises are no doubt being used for licensed activity (even if it's lapsed, something else to look into as you may need a new license) then the FRA must be written even if it had no employees (e.g. just volunteers, self employed, etc)


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Thanks Anthony.

This is upstairs (road level) floor plan. Road is bottom of plan as viewed. You can see old front entrance right at bottom. Inside doors latch open then you unbolt the arched timber doors and pull them towards you.

Door at top of staircase (signed fire exit route) is keylocked ~24/7 and bottom two steps are the preschool’s ‘shop’. (Entire downstairs is leased to PreSchool during term time). 

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I don't want to go into too much detail (as you'd need to pay me as I'd be doing your FRA!) but it looks like use of the hall for up to 100 would be acceptable with the two front exits - for the larger functions (and certainly over 60) I'd want to consider securing the outer oak doors in the open position whilst in use.

Travel distance wise it looks like even the rear rooms don't need to use the stairs down and the exit signage would be best removed as the route is locked anyway. I'd want some protection of the alternative route from the rear via the vestibule by the doors from the hall being fire doors.

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