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Frequently asked questions - fire systems
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Q. How do you tell whether a door is a fire door and how important is it to be able to tell?


A. Not all doors are fire doors but it's vital to know which ones are because they are very important when a fire occurs.  Unless the door has a manufacturers mark on it (usually a coloured plastic plug in the edge of the door) then identification is guess-work.  It should be easier to identify a fire door in a new building as there will be a door schedule in the Health and safety file giving all the specifications for each door.


Q. Why are they so important?


A. Fire doors are important because they fill the breach in a wall  designed to contain a fire whilst allowing people to move easily through it.  If the door is removed, wedged open or fails to close securely, the fire will spread through the opening and compromise the fire strategy created by the person who designed the building.  There are countless recorded instances where far greater damage has occurred (including loss of life) due to fire doors not being closed and failing to contain a fire they were designed to contain.


Q. Is this why fire doors have to be self-closing?


A. Yes because people simply forget to close doors after them.  But as well as being self-closing the door has to have an adequate maintenance schedule to make sure it continues to be self-closing.  A self-closer that operates dozens of times every day needs adequate maintenance to maintain its effectiveness.


Q. What is intumescence and why is it needed for fire doors?


A. Intumescence is simply a substance that swells as a result of being exposed to a temperature of about 150C (302F).  Its value to a fire door is that, if fitted correctly on the edge of a correctly closed door or in the frame, it will seal the door in place, complete the breach in the wall and contain the fire.  If you are concerned that this might trap you in a room on fire then you would be correct but the fact is that there is no chance of survival at that temperature.  There is not much information on what external temperature the human body can survive but no human being has survived an internal temperature of more than 45C (113F). 


Q. There's a lot of confusion over fire signs, are they necessary?


A. Yes, they're necessary and they just provide information about things that are important when a fire occurs, such as an alternative way out, the position of fire alarm call-point, the type of fire extinguisher, etc.  They have to be to a standard so that they can be easily recognised by everyone.


Q. I have small business and I employ three people, do I actually need a fire alarm?


A. Whether or not you need a fire alarm depends on how easily people (employees, contractors, visitors etc) can be warned to react to a fire.  It may be that a shouted warning or fire bell may be sufficient.  All that's needed is a system that works properly and adequately every time its needed to work.


Q. Why are electrical cables for fire alarms different from ordinary electrical cables?


A. Performance of cables for fire alarm systems in the UK are currently determined by the testing procedures described in BS EN 50200:2000 and BS 8434:2003.  These tests involve the capabilities of the cable to withstand heat and water whilst under load because these are the conditions that it may have to endure in a building on fire.  (N.B. the fire alarm may need to continue sounding whilst being subject to the heat of the fire or the water from a sprinkler system or fire-fighting.)


Q. Why are there two categories of fire cable; standard and enhanced?


A. Fire cable with standard fire resistance is specified for general use and is adequate for the majority of installations requiring fire-rated cable.  Fire cable with enhanced fire resistance is specified for installations where the fire alarm might be expected to perform for a period in excess of what would normally be required.  Examples of this might be an unsprinklered high-rise building with phased evacuation arrangements or premises of such a nature or size that areas remote from the fire could continue to be occupied for a prolonged duration during a fire.


Q. Do I need emergency lighting or escape lighting?


A. You may need both.  Emergency lighting provides lighting during a power cut to prevent panic and to allow critical tasks to continue.  Whereas escape lighting provides illumination on an escape route during a power cut if its needed, i.e. if your business is open during the evenings or night or you have windowless corridors.  Generally, emergency lighting is installed to satisfy the requirements for escape lighting.


Q. Fire drills are a waste of time!  All they do is interrupt my business and for what?


A. The only use of a fire drill is to test your fire procedure.  So without a fire procedure, a fire drill is a waste of time.  The only question that follows is; how do you know that your employees and visitors will do the correct things to secure their safety (and your business) during a fire?


Q. What constitutes a fire procedure?


A. A fire procedure will include plans for:

      raising the alarm and action on hearing the alarm;

      calling the fire and rescue service;

      evacuating and accounting for staff, contractors and members of the public;

      notifying essential personnel and co-ordinating emergency action;

      isolating or disconnecting services;

      firefighting and controlling heat and smoke;

debriefing and recording the event.


Q. Do you need to nominate observers during a fire drill?


A. It’s a very good idea to nominate observers so that you can debrief the fire drill, learn from any mistakes and target further training.  Your observers will be able to see and hear things that might otherwise be lost.


Q. What sort of things would observers look out for during a fire drill?


A. Observers should pay particular attention to:

      how many people use their usual exit rather than their nearest fire exit;

      how difficult some people find it to open the fire exits;

      how difficult the evacuation is for people with disabilities;

      how the fire wardens carry out their role;

      how people act inappropriately e.g. collecting personal belongings,  using the lifts etc.;

      how many windows and doors people leave open as they leave the building;

      how practicable the assembly point is.