CROSS Safety Report
Design criteria for firefighting lifts
A reporter is of the opinion that the design criteria for firefighting lifts should be re-evaluated.
Key Learning Outcomes
For designers and specifiers:
- Ensure the lift is specified correctly for the intended purpose
- Be aware of the difference between lifts that facilitate firefighting and those intended to be used to assist in evacuation
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The reporter has worked for a main contractor for over 30 years and helped deliver large commercial, and some residential, buildings in the UK.
The reporter is of the opinion that the compliance criteria and design intent for firefighting lifts are flawed. They base this claim on the fact that the quantity of firefighting lifts is not dictated by the number and capacity of the occupants in the refuge areas of a building, whereas believe consideration for that is crucial.
They are concerned the refuge areas are inadequate as an approach to assist the evacuation from a building of Persons of Reduced Mobility (PRMs), such as people with disabilities, the elderly, small children, and people who cannot walk down the stairs perhaps due to a recent injury or an illness during the time of the emergency. The reporter is also worried about the impact of an ageing population and whether the current design approach accounts for that.
The reporter describes how they think firefighting lifts are, by and large, very small and can only accommodate two firefighter along with their firefighting equipment. Considering risk assessments are not carried out as frequently as the reporter thinks they should be, they worry about how long two firefighters would take to bring these people down to safety from refuge areas, especially as they have to consider their own safety too. This leads the reporter to support the argument for making it compulsory for at least the goods lift, and possibly one passenger lift, to be designed as a firefighting lift too.
Expert Panel Comments
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While the reporter has raised concerns of interest and value, the Panel are keen to point out that the reporter may have highlighted a common misunderstanding of the purpose of a firefighters lift, and all other versions of lifts provided for the use by the Fire & Rescue Service (FRS), as use of terminology here is key. Firefighters lift indicates a minimum level of protection compared to the standard, which is what was installed in the reporter’s case. We also have firefighting, firemen’s, and evacuation lifts, and those with some specifically described (but limited) levels of protection.
The primary purpose of a firefighters lift is to provide access for the FRS to the scene of operations i.e., a compartment on a higher level (normally, but could be lower). The lift allows the FRS to establish sufficient resources and levels of control to fight a fire and/or effect a rescue quicker than would be experienced without such access. This also reduces the physiological impact on firefighters in establishing those resources, facilitating a more efficient and effective response. This is why the firefighters lift is one of the required methods established in statutory, and other, guidance provided in support of meeting the functional requirements of the Building Regulations (as amended), specifically B5 - Access and Facilities for the Fire Service.
A firefighters lift is not primarily provided to evacuate persons who require assistance in evacuation
A firefighters lift is not primarily provided to evacuate persons who require assistance in evacuation, nor is this the responsibility of the FRS. It is the responsibility of the Responsible Person under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Oder 2005 (acknowledging devolved UK administrations may differ), and should be recorded in their fire risk assessment. However, if the incident in question, acknowledging every operational incident will be different, allows for the firefighters lift to be used for evacuation under the direction of the FRS who must remain in control at all times, where prior consultation with the FRS has taken place, this may be appropriate. However, if the lift is then needed operationally by the FRS its use as an evacuation aid will be removed.
Standard under development
Currently in development is BS EN 81-76 Safety rules for the construction and installation of lifts - Particular applications for passengers and goods passenger lifts. - Part 76: Evacuation of persons with disabilities using lifts, with all comments from members states currently being considered by the overseeing European working group. Given the rules surrounding drafting, comments, resolution and publishing etc., it is unlikely this will be published before well into 2023. It is anticipated that the sizing, capacity and number of evacuation lifts required will need to be considered in each individual building’s strategy, including fire, as it is not possible to set prescriptive rules in a standard given the needs will be dictated by the proposed, and reasonably foreseeable, occupancy of every premises.
It is also acknowledged the current version BS EN 81-72:2020 Safety rules for the construction and installation of lifts. Particular applications for passenger and goods passenger lifts. Firefighters lifts, has a minimum sizing and capacity for a firefighters lift. This is not the recommended size but is seen by many as the default. When the current version undergoes a review, there will be an opportunity for everyone to pass comment on any existing text or proposed changes, which may include the need to consider current firefighting practices and equipment to ensure the provisions remain fit for purpose. An interesting paper and presentation on the development of this standard, Challenges to Drafting a Standard for the Evacuation of Disabled People Using Lifts, was given at the Lift and Escalator Symposium in 2022.
Number of lifts
The Expert Panel also agree there is an issue regarding Design Teams not adequately considering the number of lifts needed. While the reporter doesn't appear to be indicating whether the type of building they are referring to is commercial or residential, as each would come with different challenges, the Panel support the inference that evacuation of mobility impaired occupants is currently poorly accounted for within the design development stage. More should be done to practically support the Responsible Person in fulfilling their duties once the building becomes occupied. This concept of refuges and assisted egress is changing very rapidly, at least in London. The London Plan, policy D5, requires at least one evacuation lift at each core in addition to any firefighters lift, and the quantity should be justified by the number of people who may need to use them, as the reporter suggests.
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