A stitch in time

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Darron Brough, who has worked in the cladding and façade industry for three decades, has created an alternative to the waking watch fire detection system

In the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, 24-hour fire safety patrols began in buildings known to have similar cladding. In 2017, guidance by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) agreed this practice should continue for all buildings requiring simultaneous evacuation. This became known as a waking watch – a system of continuous patrols of all floors to enable a rapid response to fire, namely raising the alarm and assisting the evacuation of the building.

The NFCC guidance did note that a waking watch should only be considered as a short-term solution because it was “likely to be the least reliable [safety measure], the most resource-intensive, and may not be suitable for the highest-risk situations”.

These assertions certainly seem to have been proven correct: press reports of a lack of fire safety training for waking watch staff, along with stories of staff caught sleeping or watching tv, have dented confidence in the service. Then there’s the cost itself – figures in December 2020 showed £12m a month was being spent on waking watch patrols in London alone.

To that end, the government announced a £30m Waking Watch Relief Fund to pay for the installation of fire alarms and reduce the high costs to leaseholders for the watch. The fund opened in January 2021. There has also been a six-month extension for building owners to apply to the £1bn Building Safety Fund to support the remediation of unsafe ACM cladding on high-rise buildings.

In a timely development, Intelliclad has developed a sensor system, which, on its final test with the Fire Protection Association, showed that it could alert residents in the event of a fire faster than the waking watch system. Intelliclad sensors can be integrated into the combustible external façade of high-risk buildings while a permanent solution is found. It also means a significantly lower cost is passed onto building owners and residents in order to provide protection.

Smart sensors

Each sensor, which would be retrofitted to integrate into the cladding system of high-risk buildings, is connected to a control system that in the event of a fire can send an alert to all residents via a smartphone app. It would also give residents and the fire service valuable information on the location and relative spread of fire across the building throughout the incident in real time.

Response times for waking watch services are between ten and 15 minutes once a fire is confirmed within a flat, as per current NFCC guidance. However, testing carried out on a specially constructed 10m-wide and 9m-high cladding rig at the Fire Service College’s national headquarters showed the sensors were activated six minutes and 33 seconds prior to cladding being breached by fire on test 1, and nine minutes, 47 seconds prior on test 2. This would have alerted all residents in a building to the fire via smartphone app before the fire had chance to take hold, as well as activating the building’s main fire alarm system, which can be set up to notify the fire brigade.

The fact the sensors were activated a minimum of six minutes and 33 seconds prior to cladding being breached by a fire means that, in a real-life situation, residents would be given valuable time to get themselves to safety. There is no other product that gives this level of fire detection to the external façade, and it offers another solution to the high-rise fire safety conundrum.  

For more, visit intelliclad.co.uk

Image credit | Shutterstock

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