From a regulatory perspective, the fire safety magnifying glass focuses on all types of buildings including apartment blocks, but not houses. The typical terraced, semi-detached or detached residence does not require a Fire Safety Certificate; does not need to undergo a fire safety inspection regime under the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations nor are they subject to inspection under the Fire Services Act.
Unfortunately the vast majority of fires which result in fatality occur in houses. The onus of responsibility is therefore with us as the occupants to ensure our own safety.
With the tragic event in London still fresh in our minds, and loss of life this very week in Co. Antrim and Dublin due to dwelling fires, I thought it appropriate to put pen to paper on measures that we can all take to reduce the risk of a fire starting in our homes and increase the likelihood of safe evacuation should a fire occur.
The Irish Government publishes fire statistics each year showing relevant information in relation to deaths, attributed to fire, that have occurred. A review of these statistics from the last 10 years (2007 – 2016 inclusive) highlights the extent of loss of life from fires in houses. As illustrated in the chart, fires within houses accounted for 77% of all recorded fire deaths. Apartment or flat fires make up 8% of the total number while commercial buildings (shops, offices, etc.) only account for 2% of the overall deaths.
There is an increased risk from fire in dwellings owing to the following reasons:
The remainder of this article concentrates on dwelling houses as opposed to any other type of dwelling because of the number of fatalities that occur therein.
Dwelling houses are not exempt from the Functional Requirements of the Building Regulations which outline high level fire safety requirements that buildings must comply with for both design and construction. Technical Guidance Document B 2006 (TGDB) provides advice on the design of dwelling houses in order to meet the Functional Requirements of the Regulations.
The means of escape provisions from a dwelling house are largely dictated by the height and number of upper floors (if any) above ground level. The higher in a house you are, the more difficult it will be for you to either escape yourself or be rescued by the emergency services. Table 1 summarises the different means of escape provisions that should be in place for a dwelling, depending on the height of the top storey above ground.
1 A habitable room is defined as “a room used for living or sleeping purposes but does not include a kitchen having a floor area less than 6.5 m2, a bathroom, toilet or shower room.”
2 Guidance is provided within Paragraph 1.5.6 of TGDB 2006 in relation to the design of windows suitable for escape.
Attic conversions also pose a threat as the works can often be undertaken without adequate professional input. TGDB provides guidance in relation to fire safety provisions that should be put in place for the conversion of an existing loft/attic space.
Where it is proposed to convert the existing attic of a single storey dwelling, the same provisions should be put in place as if it were a full two storey house – see summary of provisions in first column of Table 1.
If it is proposed to convert the attic of an existing 2 storey house, relaxations are allowed as per Paragraph 1.5.7 of TGDB but only on the basis that:
Fire safety management is something that we regularly associate with commercial buildings; it is however also of utmost importance in our homes.
As can be seen from the previous section – there are a number of fire safety provisions in typical houses. They are there for a reason so should not be modified or tampered with. Table 2 provides a number of measures that will help to reduce the risk from fire in your home.
Table 2: Fire Safety Checklist
The recent events in London show how destructive and tragic the effects of fire can be.
While we are in other buildings we are relying on those that manage and maintain those buildings to ensure that we are not put at excessive risk from fire. Such emphasis is not placed on the buildings that we live in and ensuring fire safety in our homes is up to us.
We only drive our cars because we know that the breaks are working – because we tried them recently and they worked. If we thought our breaks weren’t working we wouldn’t drive the car. This is because the risk of collision and injury is more tangible to us – we can appreciate the danger.
We need to start thinking the same way about maintaining fire safety in our homes. Fires do happen but we can reduce the number of fatalities in homes if we maintain the safety design features of our homes and take reasonable precautions.
For more information on fire safety week please visit the Fire Safety Week webpage.
1 The statistics relate to the number of fatalities as a result of fire as recorded by the Irish Fire Services in the Republic of Ireland as published by the department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. It is noted that there have been a number of apartment fires this year including incidents in Dublin, Sligo and Mayo resulting in multiple fatalities, however statistics for 2017 are not yet available and are therefore not included.
2 It should be noted that TGDB Vol 2 relating to Dwelling Houses was published earlier this year; however, this only came into effect in July.
3 Guidance is provided within Paragraph 1.5.6 of TGDB 2006 in relation to the design of windows suitable for escape.
 Government Publications, 2015, Building Control Regulations 1997 to 2015
 Government Publications, 1981, Fire Services Act 1981
 Government Publications, 2017, The Building Regulations 1997 – 2017
 The Stationery Office, 2006, Technical Guidance Document B Fire Safety