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04/07/2013 / Graham Lowe

Why BS 5839-1:2013 will make fire detection more effective

I’m Graham Lowe, sales director at Hochiki Europe, and I’d like to welcome you to series of blogs where I, along with guest bloggers, examine the issues affecting the life safety industry.

In this blog my colleague David Brown, Hochiki Europe’s product manager, offers his views on the recently published BS 5839-1:2013 standard and what it means for the use of fire detection devices. His thoughts and opinions are intended to generate debate – so whether you agree or disagree, feel free to post your comments below.

Fire detection standards are liked and loathed in equal measure and I am of the opinion that each new introduction, update, amendment and revision allows life safety equipment to do a better job. This is certainly the case with the recently published BS 5839-1:2013 or, to use its full title, BS 5839-1 Fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings – a code of practice for design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of systems in non-domestic premises.

Although this latest edition may have passed under the radar of many of you due to the amends being small in number, what has changed is vitally important and, arguably, should have been done much earlier.

In January 2004 a fire at Rosepark care home in Uddingston, South Lanarkshire, broke out in a cupboard, spread through the building and led directly to the deaths of 14 elderly residents. An inquiry concluded that this tragedy could have been prevented by a suitable fire safety plan and that some residents may have been saved if the fire and rescue service had been called sooner.

In response BS 5839-1:2013 specifies the use of addressable systems in all except the smallest residential care premises and provides much greater emphasis on the existing need for a zone plan, and calls for these locations to be connected to an alarm receiving centre (ARC) so that when a fire alarm activates the Fire & Rescue Service can be summoned immediately. However, in non-care home based premises, where an investigation period is employed, the Fire and Rescue Service ought not to be called until the outcome of the investigation is known.

Other welcome changes now mean that any significant variations that deviate from the standard must be agreed and documented, including notes within the system logbook. Also, something that will please service engineers is that BS 5839-1:2013 now states that routine servicing of a fire detection system does not constitute a fresh review of the overall system design – a service should verify the operation of the system as it is presently installed. Perhaps less significant, but important nonetheless, is the fact that the term ‘responsible person’ is now referred to as ‘premises management’.

While all of the above is good news, there has also been some valuable clarification about the spacing and siting of fire detection devices in light of the recent debate about the most effective height limits of beam and aspirating fire detection.

This has been resolved and the findings of the Building Research Establishment (BRE) have been taken into account. The height limits have been brought into line and I think this is an excellent way of ensuring that the respective merits of each technology is recognised, and hopefully this will lead to greater integration of these technologies. It is worth noting that when it comes to aspiration detection, where it is used to protect spaces with high ceilings over 25m, and there is a risk that the smoke could stratify before reaching the ceiling, sampling should be provided at multiple levels.

In his last blog Graham Lowe talked at length about EN54-23 and the changes to visual alarm devices (VADs) and I’m pleased that this has been referred to within Annex F. I won’t cover this subject in depth again but the Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB) and the Fire Industry Association (FIA)’s Code of Practice for Visual Alarm Devices used for Fire Warning (CoP0001) provides details about the illumination requirements, patterns and the minimum rating required or achieved for the various mounting scenarios.

If you’ve got to this point, then hopefully you’ll agree with me that the amendments to BS 5839-1:2013 are both substantial and vital. As an industry we must be prepared to adapt by learning the lessons of the past – something that this standard will help us to do.

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