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CROSS Safety Report

Provision of water for firefighting

Report ID: 1204 Published: 20 November 2023 Region: CROSS-UK


The reporter suggests that there is inadequate guidance on firefighting water provision for more complex and larger buildings.

Key Learning Outcomes

For designers and fire engineers:

  • Consider all information available when developing fire strategies for complex or large buildings to include fire-fighting water supplies

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Firefighting operations, and therefore firefighting water provision, are critical elements of intervention building fires. The reporter suggests that relevant legislation and appropriate guidance is inadequate and does not make the connection between firefighting operations and the provision of sufficient water.  

The reporter asserts that there is no check of adequate provision of firefighting water at the design stage. Guidance such as BS 9999 and Approved Document B (and national equivalents) do not seem to address this requirement, especially in respect to the volume/flow of water required for larger buildings.

Without adequate water supplies, firefighting could be ineffective resulting in extremely large fires with total building loss. It could also impact the principles of ‘stay put’ as this is reliant on the fire and rescue service dealing with the fire at the source and preventing it from spreading to other residential units. If there is no water, or a delay in accessing or locating hydrants, it could be critical to a successful outcome. 

This issue is exacerbated by reduced water pressure in town mains, an active strategy by water authorities over the years to reduce leakage. 

The reporter cites one useful document, the National guidance document on the provision of water for firefighting (3rd edition; Jan 2007), which gives guidance on the volumes required for various buildings. This is not referenced in the Approved Documents for England and Wales and, in the opinion of the reporter, the guidance in Approved Document B Volume 2 (Sections 16.8 and 16.12) is not adequate. These sections require alternative supplies of water if 'pressure and flow in the water main are insufficient'. However, it does not state what 'insufficient' means. This leads to a judgement being made on the water supply that would be required for the building. Large buildings may need a larger water supply, and so if the town main isn't sufficient, it would mean that a separate water tank would be required. 

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Firefighting equipment, tactics and resourcing have changed and the design guidance has not had a wholesale review in a long time; as such, it is in our view, not sufficient in some areas.

We understand this is being looked at as part of the technical review of guidance such as Approved Document B.

When Approved Document B is used or cited, it should be directly linked to the 'common building situation' for which it may be appropriate, but more importantly those where it is not. Chapter 7, page 22 of Manual to the Building Regulations from July 2020 supports this. For example, in all practical terms, how can the provision of a single fire hydrant be sufficient for a very large warehouse? It needs to be acknowledged by all, that where there is an insufficient provision of firefighting water, this will directly affect firefighting operations and decision making, potentially leading to defensive tactics being deployed.

Under the HSE’s Planning Gateway One process for planning applications for tall residential buildings, one piece of information required in the Fire Statement is to confirm whether the local firefighting water supplies have been tested to see if they are adequate. This will presumably help address this issue for any new buildings which go through that process.

Interestingly, in the case of the Liverpool Car Park fire the mains supply was completely inadequate and three pumps had to be brought in to provide water from an adjacent dock.

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