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Fire Evacuation - Alerting adjoining premises advice.

Guest Dan

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I'm the H&S officer for a small retailer and recently tested out our fire evacuation procedure. As we have an adjoining business and residential flats above part of this is to contact them to let them know we have a fire.  The adjoining business is easy, the reception area is right next to our fire evacuation point so we can just tell the receptionist in person and they can start their process.

The plan for the residential flats was to contact their help-desk and have them attempt to contact the residents, however once we put this to the test we found two major faults.

  1. It took 20 minutes for someone to answer, not sure if thats because of Covid or it just takes that long anyway, but way too long for a building on fire.

  2. They would have to contact another department (that only works 9-5) to retrieve all the residents contact details so outside of those hours the help-desk wouldn't be able to do anything.

I'm very reluctant to have colleagues enter flats above a building on fire and we don't feel its fair to nominate/ask one resident to be our primary contact in case we do have a fire. I also don't feel that "leaving it to the fire service" fits with how we work with the residents on other issues or be compliant enough with the RRFSO.

Does anyone have any ideas/suggestions on what could be done to contact/alert the residents? Has anyone faced something similar?

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If there is the correct fire separation between the shop & flats there is no reason to notify the flats above as they will not be affected by the fire during the time you remain responsible for the premises if even affected at all - the same applies for the adjacent retail unit.

Only if the fire separation is inadequate or escape routes shared would there need to be warning throughout the premises and this would have to be in the form of linked fire alarm systems throughout the premises.

If you are using a competent fire risk assessor for your premises they should have considered this in the fire risk assessment as the occupiers above would be relevant persons affected by a fire in the area under your control.

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Hi Anthony, thanks for replying.

Would that be (fire separation) part of BS:9999?  From all the ceiling tiles I've looked above its pretty much solid concrete (in one place theres some pre-cast concrete beam looking things.  My guess is the solid concrete would be sufficient (30-60mins) but the pre-cast beams might potentially be a weak point.

We all have our own entry/exit points and we only use the residents entrance to look at plant equipment on the roof so there's no concern about having to share exit space in an emergency. 

The building management are a pain to deal with and it usually takes them an age to respond to anything so I've tried looking through the archive fire risk assessments we hold, building and re-mod plans and the original planning application to see if theres any reference to fire safety provisions in the design of the building but nothing so far.

I'm not able to determine how fire safety was handled during construction / fitting out but my guess would be the architect would have considered the legislation at the time it was being designed (1999) and when it was built (2002/3) they would have simply followed the plans they had been given. 

My company is a bit over the top when it comes to all areas compliance, but when it comes to H&S and Fire Safety it's a really good corporate mindset to have so I'd really prefer to have something that fits with this ethos. 

I do have a loudhailer as a last resort...

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If it's 60 minutes separation, which concrete beams and slab floor indicates, then that is satisfactory as per Building Regulations (then & now) and so that is why there have never been linked alarms.

The development will probably be to Approved Document B, as this is still more common with smaller developments and BS9999/9991 weren't around, just the BS5588 series.

I'd be happy based on your description unless there was some horrendously poorly (or not) sealed service penetrations between floors

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Hi Anthony,

Given the age of the building (approx 17-20 years) and the amount of redevelopment both our premises and the adjoining business has received over the years I wouldn't be surprised if there is some level of failure or weakness there, however nothing is visible.

I've been able to find some guidance for the residents saying to stay put if the alarm sounds and only evacuate if their flat is on fire or the fire brigade ask them to.  It's dated pre Grenfell so I've asked the building manager if that advice is still current.

As the residents entrance is right next to our staff entrance, my proposal is to enter and sound their fire alarm from their fire panel.  At least that would give them some notice, even if the stay put advice is still valid.

I don't hold out much hope for the building manager replying, however I would be prepared to write to each resident and explain why we would need to sound the alarm, which I think would be a suitable arrangement.

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