Case Study: The Oaks Coventry – Fire Alarm Installation at New Student Accommodation Block

the oaks coventry student accommodation

Main Contractor: McLaren Group

Client: Mechanical Contractors (Ashfield) Ltd

The Oaks in Coventry is a brand new private student accommodation block located just 1km away from Warwick University. It includes space for 382 residents, communal areas and high specification fittings, fixings and furniture throughout.

Midland Fire Security Services Ltd completed the supply and commission of fire detection and alarm system throughout the building. This included the installation of a managed fire alarm system in all living spaces including apartments, communal corridors, kitchens and games rooms.

The recent Grenfell Tower fire has highlighted the complexity of fire safety and evacuation procedures in Homes of multiple occupancies (HMOs) and busy student accommodation blocks. Life safety must be built in during the design stages to ensure that the risk to life is minimised in an emergency.

As a Gent Honeywell Approved Network Installer we were able to specify the latest Gent Vigilon system throughout the building utilising the brand new SAFE programming features designed specifically to bridge the gap between residential and landlord fire alarm systems. As part of the project we helped implement a complex ‘Stay Put’ fire strategy, helping ensure the safety of residents in the event of a fire and reduce false alarms.

Using the latest Gent SAFE programming features

The GENT safe system bridges the gap between BS5839 Part 1 and BS5839 Part 6 without the risk of generating multiple false evacuations.

SAFE, uses the principle of CONFIRMED fires. The panel confirms a fire, if a heat channel of a multisensory detector activates OR two smoke channels activate OR a single smoke channel detects smoke for a sustained period of time (programmable).

At the Oaks, each cluster flat is programmed as a “SAFE Area”, this means that if smoke is detected by a single sensor, the Sounders will operate in the “SAFE Area” only. If after 6 minutes there is no smoke present, then the panel resets itself.  If there is a smoke present after 6 minutes, OR a heat channel operates or a second smoke detector channel operates, then this is deemed a CONFIRMED Fire. The Sounders then play the Voice Message, “This is a fire alarm! Please leave the building immediately by the nearest available exit.” and automated cause and effect operations take place (smoke vent system operates, lifts ground, doors release etc) and the fire latches on the panel.

With the use of a SAFE button, it is possible residents would be able to test their own fire alarms, silence an unconfirmed fire activation and/or extend the delay period, if they knew the cause of the alarm was a false activation. Landlords can check to make sure alarms have been tested at the correct intervals from a central control panel. This will also tell the landlord which areas have had the highest number of false alarms, helping identify problems early.

At the Oaks, the latest Gent S-Quad multi detectors with integrated voice and EN54-23 certified visual alarms were installed throughout the building minimizing risk to life during a fire and reduce confusion when the alarm activates. Different tones and voice messages are used to distinguish between an activation in the cluster flat or from another area in the building. This allows residents to quickly understand if the activation is in their flat or if they should evacuate the building. The control panel for the entire system is located on the ground floor for convenience and compliance with the latest fire regulations.

What is a HMO?

HMO is an abbreviation of Homes of Multiple Occupancy. This includes any property that is rented out by at least 3 people who are not part of the same household but share facilities like bathrooms and kitchens. HMOs are subject to different fire safety regulations when compared to a home occupied by just one family.

Implementing a ‘Stay Put’ Fire Safety Strategy for Student Accommodation or a HMO

In a building of this size with residents living in close proximity to one another, fire safety is a lot more than just providing fire alarms in every room. Using passive fire protection materials, fire is compartmented into each living space allowing residents in adjacent areas to evacuate safely. False alarm prevention is also important given the inconvenience and complexity of evacuating an entire building.

At the Oaks – Bedrooms, shared kitchens and games rooms have their own one-hour fire compartments. This prevents the rapid spread of fire between rooms.

The building is divided into ‘shared apartments’ where up to 8 students may share the same kitchen and games room. Each shared apartment has its own fire alarm system giving residents the opportunity to silence a false alarm (if they burn their toast in the kitchen for example) and also extinguish a fire themselves before the fire brigade is automatically notified. Fire blankets and extinguishers are present in the kitchens of every ‘shared apartment’ for this reason.

Further to this, Corridors and key escape routes also have one-hour fire compartments. They must be kept empty of flammable objects (sterile) to prevent the rapid spread of fire and give occupants time to evacuate safely.

The system is very reliable meaning that only a single escape staircase is required by law.

A timely delivery

Due to the nature of this type of work, there was a tight timescale for the commissioning of the system. We had to be ready to demonstrate/witness test operations of the system to building control.

Several cause and effect fire strategy meetings were held throughout the process to ensure compliance with fire safety regulations.

Midland Fire was responsible for supply and commission only. The finished system was installed by Mechanical Contractors (Ashfield) Ltd.

Need a Fire Alarm System for your Student Accommodation?

Over the past 20 years we have provided reliable Fire Alarms for student accommodation blocks and HMOs of all sizes. Please contact Midland Fire Security Services Ltd for a free consultation.