Fire chiefs call for second staircases in new high rise flats

Aaron Morby 2 years ago

Fire chiefs are calling on the Government to make it a requirement for all new high rise residential buildings over 18m or seven storeys to have more than one staircase.

Developer Ballymore withdrew an application earlier this year to build a 51-storey block of luxury flats in Canary Wharf after fire brigade concerns about the number of stairwells
Developer Ballymore withdrew an application earlier this year to build a 51-storey block of luxury flats in Canary Wharf after fire brigade concerns about the number of stairwells

In England, there is currently no maximum height for residential buildings with only one staircase.

Since Grenfell, some planning authorities have started to call for extra escape routes on developers’ proposals after local fire brigades raised concerns during consultation.

Now the National Fire Chiefs Council is urging the Government to adopt consistent changes:

  • All new buildings must have more than one protected staircase.
  • All existing buildings must be retrofitted with sprinklers.
  • Lifts in existing buildings should be installed or replaced for use in an evacuation.

NFCC’s recommendations could be reinforced by amending building regulations or the key Government guidance, Approved Document B.

Across England, many people live in high rise blocks of flats with a single staircase. In an evacuation, this means that the same escape route used by residents is also used by firefighters carrying firefighting equipment, and potentially also assisting elderly, disabled, and vulnerable people to safely evacuate.

Gavin Tomlinson, NFCC Protection and Business Safety Scrutiny Committee Chair said: “We are calling on the Government to ensure that all new high rise residential buildings over 18m, or seven storeys, have more than one fire escape staircase.

“In the event of a fire, a correctly designed second staircase removes the risk of a single point of failure, buying critical time for firefighting activities, and providing residents with multiple escape routes.”

Evacuation may not always be necessary, as it is often safe for residents to ‘stay put’ in the event of a fire.

However, Incident Recording System data on mass evacuations shows that in the three years to 31 March 2022, the London Fire Brigade reported 154 cases where 10 or more people evacuated from a block of flats of at least six storeys.

This equated to nearly 8,500 residents choosing to evacuate buildings rather than stay put, either before, during, or after the fire and rescue service arrived.

Mark Hardingham, NFCC Chair added: “The Government should be commended on the improvements it has made, such as banning combustible cladding and requiring sprinklers at 11m.

“However, we urge the Government to now publish an updated workplan for the review of Approved Document B to give regulators, the public, and the wider fire safety industry confidence that the Government is still committed to reform.”

England is an international outlier, with countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia all having height limits.

Even within the UK there is inconsistency, as buildings over 18 metres in Scotland are required to have multiple staircases.

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