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CROSS Safety Report

Fire evacuation concerns from large panel system tower blocks

Report ID: 160 Published: 1 April 2010 Region: CROSS-UK

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Overview

A reporter highlights concerns about how alterations to a large panel system (LPS) roof may affect any evacuations from the rooftop by helicopter rescues. 

Key Learning Outcomes

For all built environment professionals:

  • It is normal in the UK for tower bocks to have a single stairway but not to have provision for helicopter rescues. This is not generally regarded as a practical proposition for a number of reasons.
  • Tower blocks have been designed for many decades adopting the concept that a fire should only occur in a flat or closed space and the fire would either burn out or be extinguished without spreading to other compartments
  • This has negated the need for a whole building fire alarm evacuation, a situation that itself has been considered to be hazardous and unnecessary. This approach should be understood by all trades and professions involved in design, construction and management.

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A reporter’s firm has refurbished a number of single-access tower blocks. The LPS buildings were strengthened and the flat roofs were enclosed in frames clad with curved metal sheeting. The reporter is concerned that this could negate the opportunity for helicopter rescues in the case of fire.

He suggests that there should be provision for a firefighter to be lowered onto the roof to set up winching of trapped occupants. He is also concerned about the provision of fire alarms in tower blocks and says that there has not been any direct contact between the structural engineers and the Fire and Rescue Services.

Expert Panel Comments

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Tower blocks have been designed for many decades adopting the concept that a fire should only occur in a flat or enclosed space. It was considered that the fire would either burn out or be extinguished without spreading to other compartments.

This has negated the need for a whole building fire alarm evacuation, a situation that itself has been considered to be hazardous and unnecessary.

Fire risk assessments

This approach should be understood by all trades and professions involved in design, construction and management.  It is normal in the UK for tower bocks to have a single stairway but not to have provision for helicopter rescues. This is not generally regarded as a practical proposition for a number of reasons.

Many of these buildings do not have fire alarms although there may be smoke alarms in individual flats. The landlords of blocks (in England and Wales) are obliged to produce a fire risk assessment under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order which should cover the concerns being expressed. An important aspect is the fire rating of the structure which may well be in the range of 1 - 2 hours.

The landlords of blocks (in England and Wales) are obliged to produce a fire risk assessment under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order which should cover the concerns being expressed

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