Compartmentation – why passive fire protection is important in preventing fires
According to research from The University of Leeds, the most common cause of death from a fire-related incident is being overexposed to gas, smoke or toxic fumes.
Therefore, it is no shock to hear that in the past month alone, there have been two separate reports of emergency preventative measures being put in place following concerns over a lack of ‘passive fire protection’ in residential properties.
In Sunderland, two blocks of flats were vacated and three individuals have received fines of over £2000 each, for not complying with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Whilst in Chichester, an emergency evacuation plan, and a 24/7 fire marshal patrol have been put in place following a fire risk assessment on a block of flats.
What is evident about both of these incidents is the severe lack of Passive Fire Protection (PFP) in place and most notably, the potential breaches in compartmentation.
In Sunderland for instance, the properties were laden with holes in both the walls and ceilings, after undergoing a conversion into self-contained flats.
In the Chichester case, tenants of the building had reported the smell of cigarette smoke, and complained that sound travelled too easily through the walls, which are key indicators that the building’s PFP had been breached. A concern that was swiftly proven to be correct following an intrusive fire risk assessment on the property.
What is worrying is that these errors are still occurring two and a half years on from the horrific scenes at Grenfell Tower – an incident noted for its dangerous external cladding and unsuitable compartmentation in the recent Hackitt report. This should not be the case and landlords need to understand the duty of care they have on their tenants, and ensure that their buildings are fire compliant, especially when it comes to compartmentation.
So, what is compartmentation and how does it help prevent the spread of smoke and fire?
Compartmentation plays an extremely important role in the passive fire protection of a building or dwelling. It is the technique of sub-dividing rooms in buildings to minimise the effect a fire has on the fabric of a property, by preventing the rapid-spread of smoke, heat and fire and confining a fire to its point of origin.
Fire can travel easily through high-risk areas, such as through ductwork or above suspended ceilings. To combat this, specific products and techniques such as fire dampers and fire doors are used to seal up potential gaps, thus significantly reducing the opportunity for fire to pass from one room to another, or smoke to breach and spread.
Are my properties suitably compartmented?
Adequately managed compartmentation of a building is a legal requirement for building owners and landlords under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. To meet these requirements, a thorough, intrusive compartmentation survey should be conducted by a fully qualified professional to ensure total compliance.
If you are unsure as to whether your properties are suitably compartmented, or need an updating survey of your stock, it is strongly recommended that you employ a surveyor to perform a thorough compartmentation survey.
What is a Compartmentation Survey?
Compartmentation surveys assess a building’s passive fire protection and how well it would perform in protecting its key escape routes and high-value areas. Surveyors assess detailed plans of the building and produce a report on the location, or lack, of potential fire dampers.
A compartmentation survey should include:
- An assessment of the current compartmentation strategy for a dwelling/building.
- Comprehensive inspections of existing fire compartmentation provisions in – floors, walls, roof voids, basements, floor and ceiling voids, risers and shafts.
- An assessment of the condition of compartmentation and any defects. This is in accordance with British Standards, Approved Document B and any site-specific Fire Strategy information.
- A detailed review of fire doors.
- A clear action plan.
- Detailed mark-ups of existing floor plans, indicating the locations of compartment walls and floors.