Key takeaways from the NFCC Emerging Technologies Conference & the Fire Safety (England) Regulations
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
With the implementation date of 23rd January 2023 around the corner, all things Fire Safety Regulations are going to come to the fore for building owners in England. All existing and planned residential buildings over 18m will be subject to the changes.
Our founder and CEO, Rupert Parker, was invited to speak at the National Fire Chiefs Council Emerging Technology conference to share his thoughts on how technology, specifically Building Passport, can help manage these upcoming changes to regulation for the Fire and Rescue service.
Before we get on to the conference, here’s a quick summary of the changes building owners should be prepared for:
From 23rd January 2023, a Responsible Person(s), appointed by the building owner, will be required to:
1. Send the following information electronically to the local fire and rescue service (FRS):
information about the building’s external wall system
electronic copies of floor plans (which must show Passenger lifts, lift for use by firefighters, evacuation lifts, inlets / outlets for dry-rising mains, Inlets / outlets for wet-rising mains, smoke control systems, suppression systems)
any additional building plans
2. Ensure a secure information box (SIB) is mounted on the building which allows the FRS access to the following hard copy information when on site:
single page ‘orientation plan’
information page with contact details for the Responsible Person(s)
3. Ensure that wayfinding signage is installed which is visible in low light conditions.
4. Ensure that the fire fighting lift(s) have monthly checks
5. Ensure that fire fighting equipment in the building is checked monthly
6. Inform the FRS if the firefighting lift, or any fire fighting equipment is out of order for longer than 24 hours, and keep them up to date on remedial work.
7. Carry out quarterly checks on communal fire doors and annual checks on entry doors to apartments/flats.
8. Ensure that residents in a multi-occupied residential building are aware of the instructions in the event of a fire, and are made aware of the importance of fire doors.
There are other changes coming through the Building Safety Act and Fire Safety Act, however these will not be immediately enforceable.
Now we’ve got the changes squared away, on to the Conference:
Focussing on emerging technologies, the event featured experts from around the UK introducing topics including thermal runaway in large electrical energy storage units such as lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles or domestic ‘power walls’, modern methods of construction such as volumetric construction and engineered timber together with the associated risks, as well as steps that large-scale leading housing providers are taking to manage their building information.
The opening talks focussed on providing a background to the event, starting with the industry’s response to Grenfell Tower Fire (the driver behind the creation of Building Passport). This laid out that the Competency Steering Group (consisting of a number of CSG Working Groups) was formed to report on the incident, with the first Raising the Bar report being published in August 2019 followed by Setting the Bar in October 2020.
The CSG identified that there are some significant fire safety risks posed by certain building components including glazing, cladding, fire stopping and doors. This led to a list of at-risk components being created with the Office of Product Safety and Standards.
Crucial to the avoidance of these components risking the safety of building occupants is the procurement process and competence of those involved in the construction and maintenance of a building. To back this up there are a plethora of schemes, registers and codes of practice including the Code of Practice for Fire Risk Assessors, the Fire Safety Managers Guide, PAS 9980 Initial Appraisal Guide for EWS etc.
One of the most eye-opening sections of the conference focussed on lithium ion batteries. As more electronically powered devices are produced, the risk of fires caused by charging, over charging or spontaneous combustion increase. The nature of these fires poses a significant risk to health and life. Not only is there the potential of extreme heat and directed flames, the gases released are toxic. At present the only way to put these fires out is to stop the thermal runaway of the battery – a tricky job when, for example, they are located underneath a car and inside a protective casing. There is currently no universally effective method to deal with these fires, so information on where these batteries might be stored is extremely important so that they can be caught early and people evacuated from nearby areas to avoid the toxic cloud released.
The two housing operators raised some eyebrows with the work they are carrying out across their estates. The term ‘Digital Twin’ has been batted about consistently over the last 5-10 years, but now they are actually being used to organise building data. Using scan-to-BIM methods Orbit Housing and Clarion Housing Group have started to update their information and link it to a point in a 3D environment reflecting the existing state of the building. This is just the start of what might be possible with this level of data.
One of the major imminent changes following the Grenfell disaster and subsequent reports is a requirement under the new Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 (which will take effect on 23rd January 2023) to provide a Secure Information Box (see below) on all buildings of 18m and above, or 7+ storeys, in height. This will need to contain information on the materials used in the external walls and how these walls are designed, together with floor plans and details about the internal equipment in the building such as lifts, fire doors, wayfinding signage and firefighting equipment.
What is a Secure Information Box (SIB)?
For firefighters, the existing method of gathering data on a building when responding to an incident is via one of two ways:
Best case scenario; digital information available via an internal database (specific and unique to each of the 43 Fire & Rescue Authorities (FRAs) in the UK) which can be accessed via hardware in response units.
Arrive on site and locate the Secure Information Box (SIB) – essentially a lockable box mounted on/in the building which is filled with information for the fire service.
The SIB will contain information immediately relevant to the responding fire team, however there is additional information that is crucial for owners, Fire Risk Assessors and Responsible Person(s) to understand, as well as Fire Service Incident Command in the event of a prolonged incident.
There are inefficiencies in the existing method, including the fact that Fire & Rescue Authorities do not keep building information on every building in their area and that each FRA uses their own method for exchanging information with building owners, leading to a duplication of work and additional time consuming processes needing to be put in place.
The SIB approach relies heavily on physical documents being kept up to date, which combined with a lack of process being implemented, could result in misinformation that is unrepresentative and unreliable.
Where does the Building Passport fit in?
Presented alongside the state-of-the-art steps that housing providers such as Orbit Housing and Clarion Housing Group have taken to manage their building information, Building Passport was introduced to the fire service delegates as a simple, zero cost and streamlined information exchange to help FRAs collect building information digitally from building owners and their Responsible Person(s).
FRAs can create Building Passports for free for buildings in their area so that specific fire safety information can be securely stored and accessed remotely via the dedicated cross-platform app which gives direct access to the digital version of information that should be contained within an SIB. Our active expiry tracking and automated reminders result in the ability for up to date SIB information to be accessed prior to arrival on site and is remotely viewable and searchable by multiple firefighters.
The concluding remarks identified the biggest opportunity area as the increasing amount of data in the modern built environment. Subsequently it was suggested that fire services should be looking to capitalise on data in order to better understand their environment. This should in turn enable the improvement of fire service prevention measures and response techniques.