Fire Strategies – Design brief to final design and beyond….

There is not enough clarity around how a fire strategy evolves throughout the building lifecycle or consistency in what it is called at each stage. Traceability of decision making, products and materials is a laudable ambition but there is no guidance on how this will be realised in practice.

As a fire strategy evolves from design, through construction, on to occupation and completion there are multiple stakeholders, each with differing interests and desired outcomes. There are multiple inputs from various fire professionals, each with differing competencies. A fire strategy has many stakeholders from other professions who’s interests vary at different stages of the building lifecycle. An Architect and the design team do not have the same level of focus or interest in how the building will be managed, when compared to the facilities manager or fire safety manager who is going to be solely focused on management. Those that are constructing the building will be less concerned with performance criteria and more concerned with how is all fits together. It is clear that through design, into assurance and as we proceed towards handover there is a huge opportunity to overlay management information which is relevant to each stakeholder. The lack of guidance in this area has lead to a significant lack of consistency in what is included and to what level of detail in each fire strategy report at each stage of the lifecycle. We are inconsistent across the sector on terms and definitions.

Consistency of terms and definitions

If the fire safety profession cannot agree what it calls a fire strategy at each stage, then how is the intended audience supposed to know what they must ask for, and the level of detail to expect? For example:

  • Concept Fire Strategy or Outline Fire Strategy?
  • Technical Design Fire Strategy or Detailed Design Fire Strategy?
  • Fire assurance or fire surveying?
  • As-built fire strategy or final design fire strategy?
  • Fire risk management strategy or fire safety manual, fire management plan?
  • As-built, Final Design, Retrospective, or Forensic Fire Engineering.

Many of these terms are at best applied inconsistently or worse misunderstood and confused. This isn’t helpful.

Design brief, concept, detail and technical design.

The formulation of a Fire strategy is an iterative process. After the first draft, you can make it better as many times as you need and as a living document dedicated to life safety, property protection and mission continuity it should be kept up-to date as the building changes and undergoes any alterations. It is part of a broader fire risk management system, essential for forming the safety case.

The evolution of a fire strategy starts with a design brief then evolves into a concept, detailed fire strategy report then technical design, final fire design and ultimately should result in a fire risk management strategy. When a Fire Engineer is developing a fire strategy it is a collaborative process with the wider design team, and other fire specialists. Together they test it, tweak it, and repeat the cycle with the goal of getting closer to the final solution.

Fire Engineering in the UK has evolved and it has become more complex requiring a range of new competencies. There are clearly three different skill sets and three different areas these fire professionals will have input, which address three different audiences. Strategy formulation and involvement of a team of fire professionals should reduce risk throughout the design and construction process so that a building is fit for purpose at handover, and safe to occupy and use.

Fire safety assurance and pre-occupation safety assessment

There needs to be a clear understanding and agreement of what level of assurance is expected, needed and delivered.  An updated fire strategy at RIBA 5 will take into account things like changing positions of fire-resisting walls to suit final build. It would have performance specification for that fire-resisting wall, but would not state that this wall has been inspected and in actual fact achieves this on site. However fire assurance statements go a step further towards improved control and traceability and confirm that this updated design fire strategy has been implemented correctly in the detailed design and construction. Many developers now want some level of assurance as their responsibility for ensuring correct implementation of fire strategy becomes clear, and the criminal, contractual and tort liabilities in law become more pronounced. The role of the Fire Engineer or Fire Surveyor at late RIBA 4 and throughout RIBA 5/6 is far more significant than a decade ago.

Fire risk management, policy, strategy and procedure.

The management strategy can be developed at any stage, and once again it will be an iterative process, but it would be better updated to suit actual management arrangements once occupied and once the responsible person and all other duty holders are identified.

Fire Strategies can sometimes fail to afford the attention to management that management deserves. That was the title of an article I wrote in 2017. Many end-users still complain that fire strategies developed during design and construction fail to recognise the information needs of the end-user. As can be seen in the diagram above cumulative management input should increase throughout the strategy formulation process until the final design fire strategy work is closed out and suitable and sufficient detail on how the building will be physically and practically managed enables the responsible person or nominated duty holder to formulate a fire risk management strategy.

A need for national guidance?

This is not a call to make the process of fire strategy development prescriptive. Guidance must not stifle innovation. It needs to balance the flexibility to adapt fire strategies to be specific and bespoke to different buildings and modern construction methods. This is a call to improve the consistency of high level terms, definitions and structure. It’s a call to consider the level of detail at each stage. I acknowledge PAS 911:2007 Fire strategies – guidance and framework for their formulation – (Withdrawn Standard). A question arises given the changes that have occurred in fire safety over the last decade, whether we need a new standard to address where we are now.

Is it time we had some new and improved guidance on the formulation of a fire strategy and how fire safety information is gathered throughout the building lifecycle?

We would welcome comments on the diagram above. It’s not perfect and could be improved. We have developed a slightly more complex circular diagram which covers gateway stages, RIBA stages and overlay’s management. This one works better to convey the idea in a post. Does it make sense to you? does it accord roughly with your terms and definitions for the various levels of fire safety information? Would further guidance in a full British Standard be useful?