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by the NFCC

Control measure

Identify failures in fire safety measures

Control measure knowledge

Fire safety measures are found in many buildings (either as a means to satisfy legal requirements or as a discretionary measure) and comprise both physical and management elements. Their ability to protect the occupants, building and contents relies on the correct selection, design, management and maintenance of the measures both individually and in combination.

When a fire occurs in a building with fire safety measures, the opportunity to assess the measures in place and the effectiveness of their performance is something that should be given early consideration.

Additionally, where the premises fall within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, Fire Safety (Scotland) regulations 2006 and Fire Safety Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010, fire and rescue services have a statutory role to consider whether the arrangements were appropriate and in line with the risk assessment, following which a prosecution may be initiated.

Fire and firefighting operations can destroy or significantly alter items to the extent that it the original contents of the room are not immediately obvious. Fire investigation can aid this by collecting evidence that can help with understanding the pre-fire and during-fire conditions, fire development and the influence of fire safety measures from the physical evidence.

Where this is completed as part of a possible prosecution, specialist fire investigators should be considered, to comply with investigative practice and evidence collections standards. In this case, the fire investigation process will need to fall within the management of the wider investigation team from the earliest stage.

Specific areas of significance

The fire investigation can then help the wider assessment or investigation to understand whether the fire safety arrangements were appropriate, whether they worked and, if not, what defect act or omission would explain why the fire developed and provide evidence to support this. When assessing the performance of fire safety measures, note should be paid to features that have worked well or better than expected, as this will be of interest for future learning.

Identifying the origin of the fire will usually be an important part of an investigation to consider the fire safety measures. It will confirm where it started, without which it will be difficult to understand how the fire developed or spread and how this links to the relevant fire safety measures and the sequence in which active systems operated.

The cause of the fire may or may not be important when considering fire safety issues as, depending on the nature of the business, the risk of a small fire occurring may be inherent or accepted. Generally, fire safety measures will be designed to allow people to escape in a fire and not necessarily to prevent a fire occurring in the first place.

However, where possible it is good practice to establish the cause as this may inform future practice at the premises or more widely. It may also identify items that should not be present or are unusual (not consistent with stated business or building use) and in turn suggest further lines of enquiry.

Post-fire indicators will be of assistance in a number of other areas of specific relevance to fire safety measures:

  • Building structure: identify the methods of construction and materials. This may be for the whole premises or in the fire-affected area/s. In heavily damaged properties, it may even be necessary to look for clues that help confirm the internal layout.
  • Compartmentation: assess the type and rating of any fire safety compartmentation and any breaches or areas where the appropriate standard has been compromised. Poor maintenance or building work may have left compartments breached, and evidence of firespread (and direction) through these may be established by the fire investigation.
  • Fire doors: fire investigation can help identify the type of door, markings or rating identifiers, its position during the fire and the location (height) and direction of any fire or smoke travel
  • Other fixed fire safety measures: fire investigation techniques will usually enable the presence, location and condition (including switch and lever positions if relevant) of other fixed measures such as lighting, signage, etc. to be identified
  • Portable fire safety measures: the location, make/model and condition of portable fire safety measures, such as fire extinguishers.

Other opportunities

  • Document or specific item retrieval: fire investigation techniques may help to locate and safely retrieve important small or fragile items from the fire debris
  • Intelligent systems: while retrieving or reading records from intelligent fire safety systems will normally be done by a specialist, it will be useful for these results to be provided to the fire investigator for cross-reference with the physical findings
  • Witnesses: the fire investigation may include or require the need for witnesses. Where the fire investigation is being undertaken as part of a possible prosecution, this should only be at the direction of the investigation manager so that the necessary legal protocols (primarily the Police and Criminal Evidence Act) are complied with. Alternatively, the fire investigation report may simply need to reference further information or questions that should be raised as part of witness interviews by others.
  • Insurance companies: as with any fire investigation, it is useful to confirm the interest and response of insurance companies as early as possible. Liaison with them will help ensure that any investigations are appropriately managed, recognising each party's legitimate role and interest. They may also be able to supply information of relevance to the fire investigation regarding policy conditions in relation to fire safety measures.
  • Powers of entry: for fire investigations in relation to fire safety measures powers set out in UK legislation should be used

Strategic actions

Fire and rescue services should:
  • Develop tactical guidance and support arrangements for the actions to take and associated hazards in identifying failures in fire safety measures
  • Have appropriate policies and procedures for actions when failure in fire safety measures are identified

Tactical actions

Incident commanders should:
  • Identify any potential failure or underperformance of fire safety measures and communicate to relevant person or agency