PSC Masterclass Series: Fire Safety in the Design Process
Recent major building fires reported in the media have raised concerns about fire safety in the design process, highlighting how some elements can often be overlooked when implementing design decisions for new projects.
As part of our internal Masterclass Series lead by our senior architects, we focussed on building codes relating to fire hose reels and fire hydrants. While we often have fire safety engineers working on our projects, there are key requirements that must be incorporated into the design from an architecture perspective, and it is important that our team are well informed about the risks and available solutions. Below is an overview of some of these key requirements.
Water pressure to site
Whether working on a new site or an existing building, the biggest setback with installing fire hose reels or fire hydrants is the issue of the water pressure to the site. Without enough pressure, the expense and time delay of installing a booster, pump and valve can create an important set back in the project. This is especially important in multi-story buildings.
Fight the fire or evacuate?
Fire hose reels are required in buildings that have a floor area larger than 500m2. These reels are 36m in length and there must be one installed within four metres of an exit.
While the intent is for the occupants of a building to undertake the initial fighting of a fire, many workplaces do not have the required training for staff to operate the hose reels. With this in mind, a paper was produced by Arup advocating for the deletion of hose reels in Class 5 office buildings. They deemed it more important for staff to be safely evacuated, rather than attempt to use equipment which they were unsure how to operate. Additionally, a fire hose reel would not be successful in extinguishing an electrical fire – the most common source of fire in an office building.
Making fire hose reels more effective
There are many defects that are commonplace in the installation of fire hose reels (FHR) in a building. These can include:
– Unfinished FHR cupboards, including the lack of covering and painted trims – this results in exposed base materials deteriorating and potentially affecting the maintenance of the FHR
– Reducing the size of FHR cupboard doors – this creates accessibility issues during a fire
– Additional services such as electrical wiring or ductwork within the same cabinet as the FHR – this creates overcrowding and accessibility issues
External hydrants vs internal hydrants
Unlike fire hose reels, fire hydrants are designed to be used solely by fire fighters when called to a job. From a design perspective, it is important for external hydrants to be located at least 10 metres from the building, while having a 3 metre wall between the hydrant and the building to protect the fighters. Given they lack a design aesthetic, it can be a challenge for architects and designers to incorporate external hydrants without compromising the façade of the building.
Internal hydrants are required if external hydrants will not provide enough coverage during a fire and should be located in protected stairs at each storey aside from ground level. Despite this, lack of coverage or over specifying are not uncommon defects and costly to rectify.