why hire a fire alarm engineer

This article looks at the difference between a general electrician or electrical contractor and a third party assessed fire alarm and life safety contractor (engineer).

Following the Grenfell Tower disaster, the government is in the process of creating a new building safety regulator. Dame Judith Hackitt was appointed to lead the investigation and provide recommendations on reform. The purpose of the review was to ensure that the industry has sufficient, robust regulatory systems and residents feel that the building they live in is safe and remains so in the future.

This means that new legislation and guidance is coming into force to ensure that high standards of fire safety are upheld throughout the construction industry.

As fully qualified Fire Alarm Engineers, Midland Fire Security frequently tender for contracts big and small and one debate still occurs – even in an industry that already has strict regulations. Should I hire a dedicated fire alarm contractor or an electrical contractor?

Its 2020, Why is this issue still being debated?

Looking from the outside in, the answer should be “Yes! – the safety of building occupants is paramount so I need to make sure the fire detection systems are adequate and meet current regulations”, unfortunately even in 2020 this isn’t always the case.

Electricians are not trained in BS5839 Part 1 2017 unless they take specific training

Luke Sillito from Midland Fire Security Services Ltd sheds some light on the problem “From the 20 years we have spent in the industry, we have been awarded several maintenance contracts where a recent installation does not comply with BS 5839. Quite often this occurs when the main contractor is a general electrical contractor and awarded the contract for the entire project – but has not received formal training in fire alarm installation. A common issue we see is that fire proof cables have not been used between the main supply and the fire detection system, this means that the detectors could stop working in an emergency. A fully qualified fire alarm engineer would know that this is a requirement. Of course this is not always the case, many electricians hold a formal qualification in fire alarm engineering but generally speaking electricians do not receive training specifically on BS5839 Part 1 2017 unless they take specific training”.

EN 16763 and minimum levels of training

As new legislation is being adopted throughout the EU and the UK meaning it has never been more important for Electricians in the Fire Alarm Industry to be fully qualified. European Standard EN 16763 states that a level 3 qualification is the minimum recommended to work as a Fire Alarm Engineer. Although this is not mandatory yet, the standard specifies that those working on a system should be qualified to at least a Level 3 on the European Qualifications Framework.

Jack studying for level 3 fire alarm engineer qualifications

Midland Fire Alarm Engineers have received level 3 training or are in the process of receiving training so that we fully comply with current and future legislation. At the start of the year Tom Chadwick, a Midland Fire Engineer was caught in the act, completing his course.

Specific Design Considerations

Fire Alarm System Design requires specific design considerations and planning to ensure that a fire is detected quickly in an emergency.

A good example of the depth of knowledge required to design fire alarm systems is the category system.

Fire alarm engineers must have a detailed understanding of different system types so they can specify the right system for a particular business.

It is required by law that fire alarm systems at business premises are fit for purpose. This includes ensuring your system falls into the correct category. There are 8 individual fire categories as defined in BS5839 that a competent fire engineer must understand. Typically this level of training is only offered on fire-specific training courses.

Whole system integrity

A well-known advocate for electrical safety – ‘Dan The Engineer’ has a YouTube channel where he discusses this issue in some detail. For those of you that don’t know, Dan the Electrician is a Fellow of the IET (Institute of Engineering and Technology) who spent most of his young career working as an Electrical contractor with a Fire Alarm Engineering bias. Having worked ‘both sides of the fence’ he sheds some light on the difference between BS7671 and the requirements of BS5839 Part 1 2017 for fire safety.

Probably the biggest point raised by ‘Dan The Engineer’ is that in order for a fire alarm system to be fully compliant. Main contractors must work more closely with suitably qualified Fire Alarm Engineer to ensure that the system meets the requirements of both BS7671 and BS5839. In turn, this ensures that the correct level of due care and attention is applied throughout the whole electrical system.

Does your contractor have the right third party accreditations?

So how do you know that your Electrician is a fully qualified Fire Alarm Engineer? There are several third party accreditations that help show competence within the industry. For example – The NICEIC approved contractor status for electricians states that all approved contractors must have a copy of, and work to the latest IET wiring standards – But this is not fire specific. So what about Fire Alarms?

Ensuring your fire alarm engineer is competent

BAFE-SP203Well regarded in the UK, BAFE is an independent register of quality fire safety providers with the aim of ensuring fire alarm installers are competent and working to the latest standards.
BAFE develops schemes, which are sets of competency criteria, that UKAS* Accredited Certification Bodies use to assess companies providing specific fire safety services. Companies can be assessed for their competency providing fire and life safety services.

In order to achieve BAFE certification, a contractor must have met the strict quality audit process, ensuring that they are a competent fire alarm provider. So if you are looking for an indication that your electrician knows what they are doing with fire alarms – Look for the BAFE logo.

So what is the best option for my project?

When choosing a main supplier for electrical installations it is vital that they work closely with a suitably qualified Fire Alarm Engineer or a dedicated life safety sub-contractor in order to ensure the correct standards are adhered to throughout the system. Fire Alarm Engineers should be involved in the system design process to ensure the right category of system is specified and installed correctly.

If you are looking for a contractor to design or maintain your fire safety systems, make sure you choose a specialist fire alarm engineer who are accredited by BAFE like Midland Fire Security Services Ltd with the right experience for your project.

Need some advice on your next project?

We are here to help answer any questions you have. If you are a main contractor looking for qualified fire alarm engineering subcontractor or a company looking for a specialist please get in touch.

Do I Need a Fire Alarm?

Do I Need A Fire Alarm?

Nobody ever expects to be caught in a fire but sadly it is not an uncommon experience. Government statistics show that between 2018 to March 2019, the fire and rescue services attended 576,040 incidents including 182,825 fires. There were 7106 fire related casualties and 253 deaths which took place in both a domestic and business setting. Aside from the risk to human life the cost of a fire can run into millions.

So yes, you certainly need to take precautions against fire because the odds of this happening to you or your business premises are higher than you probably imagine.

Protecting your business with adequate fire detection is not only sound common sense, it is a legal requirement. Failure to comply with safety standards could see you facing a fine or imprisonment.

What type of Fire Detection do I need for my business?

The type of alarm system you need, will depend upon your needs and your Fire Risk Assessor will be able to advise you. However all business premises need to have a designated Responsible Person who can ensure that all the security measures are in place and that everyone in the premises knows exactly what to do in the case of a fire.

Even if your business premises are small and you only employ a couple of people who could be alerted, just by someone shouting fire, you do need to know what to do in a case of an emergency. Fire can spread very quickly; exits can become cut off so it is important to have a plan in place even if you do not need to invest in fire prevention measures.

What type of Fire Alarm is best for my business?

There are several fire alarm options to choose from and they all suit different purposes.

  • Automatic Smoke Alarms and Heat Detectors.

There’s no smoke without fire, and a smoke alarm detects smoke or fire in its early stages and automatically sounds an audible alarm. They work by detecting smoke particles in the air, sensing heat or in a combination of ways.

 If you are responsible for a block of flats or hotel where people may be sleeping, a smoke alarm will alert them to the danger before they are overcome by smoke inhalation in their sleep. This type of alarm does not require anyone to act or sound an alarm and can be linked to an automatic 999 dialling system.

An automatic smoke alarm and heat detector is a legal requirement for any residential property such as a hotel or nursing home.

  • Conventional Fire Alarm

A conventional fire alarm can be suitable for low risk environments. These should be positioned in key areas and they divide your premises into zones. These types of alarms include the glassalarms that somebody smashes and they need to conform to British manufacturing standards and be positioned in crucial areas. Your Fire Risk Assessor can advise.

  • Addressable Fire Alarms.

Theseare often used for high risk environments such as hospitals, schools or care homes. Because they are electronically wired together, the location of the fire is immediately visible. These types of fire alarms can be integrated with other fire prevention systems such as sprinklers and the automatic shutting of fire doors.

  • Wireless Fire Alarm.

This type of fire alarm works exactly the same as the Addressable Fire Alarm and is suitable for premises where cabling cannot be installed. It works on a wireless network.

  • Site Alarms.

Most suitable for use in larger areas such as building sites, a site alarm can include, a hand turned siren, whistles or air horn. 

General Fire Precautions

As well as having a suitable method in place for raising the alarm in case of a fire, there are general fire precautions that need to be in place in any premises of work, apartment block, or anywhere where people gather.

There needs to be a suitable warning system in place to alert people to a fire. Whether this is a shouted command or a complex fire alarm system, it has to be effective and proven to work.

Fire extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are also mandatory. The ability to fight a small fire at source will help prevent the fire from spreading. The general rule is to have a fire extinguisher in place for every 200m of floor space. It is also important to have fire extinguishers in sensitive areas such as kitchens. These need to be within their shelf life and tested because if they don’t work when they are required, you could be in trouble. Making sure you have the correct class of fire extinguisher is key.

Fire Drills

It is important to carry out a fire drill especially if your business involves many people. The escape route should be designated and there should be a muster point away from the building so the responsible person can check that nobody has been left behind in a burning building.

If there is only one exit from the premises, this needs to be maintained and made as fire resistant as possible. You may need to fit an automatic fire detection system so that if the worst happens everyone can get out of the building safely. Doors on the exit route must be easily opened by people who are likely to be panicking and they should be marked fire exit if the area is used by the public.

Signage, Emergency Lighting and Escape Route Planning

You may need emergency signage and fire safety signs. You may need emergency lighting to sign the way if there is a power failure.

There are also some basic safety requirements that should be implemented. For example, high risk areas such as kitchens should not open directly onto the escape route. Flammable materials such as bundles of packaging should be stored in a safe location.

Although these measures may not concern you if you run a small business premises such as an office, the basic aim is always the same and that is to minimise risk to life and property in the case of a fire.

Whatever your scale of business, everyone should understand exactly what to do if the unthinkable happen.

What are the legal obligations for fire detection and prevention?

The 2005 Fire Safety Order is based on two key principles;

  • 1/ Owners of companies and buildings must appoint a ‘responsible person’ to ensure compliance with the law and heighten awareness of fire protection.
  • 2/ There must be ‘adequate’ means of detecting fire and raising the alarm.

If you are not trained professionally in fire prevention, it can be hard to translate these principles into hard facts and equipment.

Your fire risk assessment will highlight your potential areas of concern but the services of a professional fire risk assessor will provide solutions.

How much does a fire detection and prevention system cost?

The cost of a fire prevention system will depend upon your premises and the type of business you run. Costs could be as little as the price of some smoke alarms or fire extinguishers. You may only need some advice about fire safety measures and an effective escape plan.  Alternatively the cost could run into thousands.

 If you have any doubts about the level of fire cover you need, a professional fire risk assessor will help you. A professional will show you exactly what you need for fire safety so you are not tempted to cut corners, nor invest in expensive equipment you may not need. 

Don’t ignore fire safety!

There is never a good time to spend money, especially if you are running a business and every penny counts. However you can’t afford to ignore fire safety and the longer you leave this issue, the higher the risk becomes.

For the business owner it is not all bad news. Taking action and implementing adequate fire safety measures, gives you one less worry to think about and if there is a fire you can be confident that you have done everything possible to minimise danger and damage to property.

 You can check out the Government’s general advice for fire safety in the workplace for more information. In addition, Your Fire Risk Assessment will help you identify potential problems and a trained Fire Risk Assessor will help you put the findings into practical solutions.

If you would like a free site assessment and advice on how to protect your premises please contact Midland Fire Security Services today for a fast response.