Welcome to the Plumis fire protection blog. Stay informed about domestic fire safety, fire building regulations and ADB-compliant solutions for open plan living. Please feel free to browse through the posts and comment about what you read.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Ten people rescued in residential block blaze

Ten people have been led to safety by firefighters following a fire in a four-storey residential building in East Kilbride.
Strathclyde Fire & Rescue sent three appliances to the blaze after receiving a number of emergency calls at around 3.30am on Sunday 4 November.
On arrival, crews discovered a fire on the second floor with people trapped in the properties above. Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus entered the building, taking hosereel jets with them. They quickly dealt with the fire and then made contact with the occupants of the flats before leading them down to safety.
"This fire had trapped a number of people in their homes on the upper floors,” said group commander Stephen Scott of Strathclyde Fire & Rescue. “However the decisive actions taken by our firefighters when they arrived at the scene meant that the danger was quickly averted, and those trapped inside could be led to safety.”
Two people were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene by paramedics.
The cause of the fire is being investigated by Strathclyde Police and Strathclyde Fire & Rescue and is thought to be deliberate. Detective inspector John Shaw of East Kilbride CID said:
“This was a terrifying experience for the occupants of the flats, and made even worse by the fact that early investigations have told us that the fire was started deliberately by an unknown person or persons.
"Thankfully, no one was injured in this incident however, if it was not for the swift action of the occupants and the emergency services then we may have been dealing with serious injuries or even fatalities.” 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Scottish fire deaths climb 10% despite drop in house fires

Provisional figures from the Scottish Government have shown a rise in fire deaths, despite a 17% reduction in the total number of fires.

Figures for 2011-12 show that there were 57 fatalities, an increase of 5 on the previous year. The total number of fires fell to 32,204, down from 38,970 in 2010-11.

Primary fires – that is all fires in non-derelict buildings and outdoor structures, fires involving casualties or rescues or any fires with more than five appliances in attendance – account for 39% of fires, with the remaining 58% being classed as secondary fires.

The figures were compiled by Scotland’s chief statistician and the news that fatalities in Scotland has risen in the last financial year is likely to cause concern as the Scottish Government continue preparations for the establishment of a single Scottish Fire Service.

However the figure of 57 is still the third lowest of the last ten years.

The leading cause of fatal fires was smoking materials with 21 of the 47 deaths (45%) in accidental dwelling fires as a result of ‘smokers’ materials and matches’.

Accidental dwelling fires overall were down to a ten year low of 5,116 with 17% as a result of impairment due to suspected alcohol and/or drugs use.

Roseanna Cunningam, community safety minister, said: "It is thanks to the work of fire and rescue services - which I have seen fantastic examples of in schools, workplaces and communities - that house fires are continuing to decrease across Scotland and lives are being saved.

"It is a tragedy however that lives continue to be lost to fire every year. Every death is devastating and underlines that we all need to be on our guard against the risks.

"Once again, alcohol and/or drugs were suspected to have been a factor in at least one in six accidental house fires.

"Although other key figures in this publication indicate an improving awareness of the danger of fire in our homes, this underlines that a link remains between alcohol, drug use and fire.”

Higher casualty rate than England and Wales

Overall, the figures show that despite some encouraging signs, including the reduction in number of accidental house fires, the rate of fatal casualties per million remains higher than in England and Wales.

Although the 2011-12 figures for England and Wales are not yet available, the rate of fatal fire deaths per million in 2010-11 was 10 in Scotland, compared to 6.3 and 7 in England and Wales.

Scottish residents are being reminded of the dangers of smoking, and of drugs and alcohol, as well as the importance of ensuring a working smoke alarm is present.

A shocking 34% of house fires in 2011-12 had no smoke alarm present, and a further 13% had a non-functioning alarm.

Ms. Cunningham added: "The most important message we can give is not to be complacent and always be on your guard. We also urge you to get a smoke alarm and check it regularly to ensure it is in working order."

The full fire statistics 2011-12 report is available on the Scottish Government website.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Blaze damages historic 17th Century hotel in Devon

A fire in a ground floor kitchen involving deep fat fryers spread to the first floor ballroom of a historic hotel in Devon.
Crews responded to the fire at the Royal Seven Stars Hotel in Totnes just before 10.00pm on Saturday 29 September.
Staff and 35 guests evacuated the building and no one was injured.
At 11.12pm, crews confirmed the fire had spread to the cavity walls and firefighters were attempting to expose and extinguish the flames.
The fire was extinguished by fire crews using eight breathing apparatus, three hose reel jets, one aerial ladder platform and two main jets.
The fire was under control shortly after 3.00am.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Best value HMO retrofit water mist suppression

Automist was installed by Quench Fire as a key part of an alternative fire protection scheme to protect the escape route through a first floor, open plan, communal lounge and kitchen area in a Oxford City HMO.

Lyndworth Mews is a block of 16 three storey town houses in Headington, Oxford, several of these properties are rented to students as a HMO property. A typical HMO in this block is two bedrooms and a bathroom on the ground floor, a communal lounge diner and kitchen on the first floor and two further bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor accessed from the lounge below.

At the end of August 2011 Quenchfire were contacted by an HMO Landlord from Lyndworth Mews looking to install a misting system to the lounge dining area of his properties.

This course of action had been brought about as a result of Oxford City Council extending HMO licensing to all HMO properties in the Oxford area. The licences are issued under part 2 of the housing act 2004 additional licensing. Previously additional licensing or selected licensing needed central government approval but in 2010 this requirement was removed. Oxford currently licence all HMO properties on a yearly basis.

The licence conditions clearly stated that:
“The building is required to have a thirty minute protected route allowing the occupants to escape without the necessity of passing through a risk room. In the current arrangement the open plan first floor lounge area does not meet this standard. In lieu of an enclosed 30 minute fire escape route, install an active water based fire protection system.

The system design is to be a Total Compartment Application Scheme designed to discharge water mist to protect the first floor lounge area in entirety. In the event of a fire the system must be capable of automatic detection and activation via a linked heat alarm or via a heat sensitive break glass sensor. The system can either be connected to the mains water supply (subject to satisfactory pressure), or can be self contained in an adequately sized water storage vessel.

Where an alternative scheme can achieve the same objective, for example, if the preferred option is to construct a fire resistant partition, the case officer should be notified in order that a suitable alternative can be agreed.”

The licence also covers upgrading of smoke and heat alarms as well as fire doors and closers.

David Moyce, Managing Director of Quenchfire Ltd proposed that a Plumis – Automist Fire suppression system was installed in the property to comply with the licence conditions. This could be achieved by mounting the Pluvia pump set in the kitchen under the sink and the wall nozzle could be located on the lounge dining room stud partition wall, activated by a heat alarm. And they were awarded the contract to install the Automist system in both properties.

The landlord said, “Installing Automist was the obvious solution to my problem; installing a fire resistant partition would have reduced the lettable space and reduced the rental value of the properties.

The Automist system was installed quickly with minimal interference to my tenants or damage to the property. There is very little visible equipment and the system provides 24 hour 365 day protection for my tenants in the event of a fire.”

The landlord is a chartered surveyor and multiple PRS investor and expert in the sector. As a result of this project Quenchfire Ltd have installed Automist active fire protection systems to a further 6 properties in Lyndworth Mews as well as various other HMO properties in the Oxford area. And there is significant interest from other licensing authorities in Automist as a solution to improved fire safety in HMO properties.

For further information on this project or the Plumis Automist range of water-mist suppression solutions call Plumis on +44 (0) 20 7871 3899, visit or email

Shropshire Housing extends fire safety to communal areas with Aico RadioLink

Shropshire Housing Group has made the decision to install Aico’s RadioLINK wireless interconnect fire detection system into HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) and smaller blocks of flats to allow for alarm interconnection between communal areas and individual dwellings.

The system provides a high level of tenant safety at an affordable price, especially when compared to panel-based alternatives.

The decision to extend coverage to communal areas followed a detailed Risk Assessment carried out by the housing association across its 5000 properties.  Total Response, responsible for Shropshire Housing Group’s repairs and maintenance, recommended Aico’s RadioLINK system as a cost-effective solution.

RadioLINK works by allowing Aico mains powered Smoke, Heat and Multi-Sensor alarms to be wirelessly interconnected by Radio Frequency (RF) signals, rather than cabling.  If one alarm on the system is triggered, RF signals cause every other alarm on that system to sound, providing the earliest warning to the occupants.  

In the case of Shropshire Housing Group’s blocks of flats and HMOs, RadioLINK has been cleverly used to extend the existing system.  An Aico mains powered heat alarm is being fitted just inside each flat wirelessly interconnected to an Aico Ionisation alarm in the communal area using RadioLINK.  These alarms are then ‘House Coded’ together.  As the Heat Alarm will only trigger at 58°C and above, normal cooking fumes will not trigger it so other residents will be unaffected.  However, if a real fire has occurred, the heat alarm in the dwelling will operate the communal system – and all heat alarms inside the other dwellings – when sufficient heat has been generated.

In addition, the alarms have been interlinked to Aico Manual Call Points and a wall mounted Control Switch which allows the user to easily Test, Silence and Locate alarms from one convenient location. 

43 communal areas have been identified by Shropshire Housing for the RadioLINK system so far, with each property containing two to nine flats. 

Dale Vass, Senior Electrician for Total Response who specified the Aico RadioLINK solution, explains his decision: “We use Aico alarms across most of the Group’s properties.  We picked RadioLINK because we like Aico products and also because it provides us with a consistent and convenient solution.”

Dale and his colleagues at Total Response have recently completed the Aico Fire Products Trained Installer Scheme (AFPTIS) for best practice.  AFPTIS has been running for a number of years now and is dedicated to providing contractors with the information and training necessary to achieve a successful and effective smoke alarm installation.  

A wholly owned subsidiary of Ei Electronics, Aico is the first name in residential fire protection in the UK.  Aico fire alarms are designed and built in Europe specifically to meet the UK standards and regulations.  For more information please visit

Source - means of escape

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Isle of Man Fire and Rescue install Automist

Isle of Man Fire and Rescue have been demostrating a new fire protection sprinkler system that can be fitted into the kitchen tap.

Clothes dryer fires cause five deaths a year in the US

An estimated 2,900 clothes dryer fires in residential buildings are reported to US fire departments each year, causing an estimated five deaths, 100 injuries and $35 million in property loss.
These are some of the findings of a new study from the US Fire Administration’s national fire incident reporting system which examines the characteristics of clothes dryer fires in residential buildings.
Other findings include:
  • Clothes dryer fire incidence in residential buildings was higher in the fall and winter months, peaking in January at 11 percent.
  • Failure to clean (such as removing lint from traps, vents and surrounding areas of a dryer) was the leading factor contributing to ignition
  • Dust, fibre, and lint and clothing not on a person were the leading items first ignited
  • 54% of clothes dryer fires were confined to the object of origin
  • Clothes dryer fire incidence was higher in the autumn and winter months, peaking in January at 11%.

 part of the Topical Fire Report Series produced by the US Fire Administration in pdf format -.Clothes Dryer Fires in Residential Buildings (2008-2010) (620 KB)

Friday, 17 August 2012

Fire Kills - Don't drown in toxic smoke

The Fire Kills campaign is the national fire safety campaign delivered by Communities and Local Government. The campaign aims to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by accidental dwelling fires by actively encouraging people to change their behaviour and attitudes towards fire safety. The Fire Kills campaign's 'breathe' advert has won a number of awards, including a Silver Lion for Best Cinematography, a D&AD Yellow Pencil for Best Direction and a Creative Circle Gold award for Best Cinematography.

Four rescued from Douglas house fire

Four people have been treated for smoke inhalation after being rescued from a house fire in the Isle of Man.
Fire crews were called out at 00:05 GMT to a property in the Springvalley area of Douglas.
It is thought the blaze, which started in the kitchen, was caused by a grill pan being left under the grill.
A spokesman from the fire and rescue service said an adult had been found in the front room and three children in a first floor bedroom.
The alarm was raised by concerned neighbours and all four people were taken to Noble's hospital for a check up.
Source - bbc

Creating desirable open-plan kitchen-diners that meet fire building regulations

Open plan living is a trend that is here to stay, with an increasing number of homeowners using this type of layout to make their homes feel larger and brighter. Gone are the days of a poky kitchen and separate formal dining room. Now, you are likely to find large family spaces in the form of modern kitchen-diners. These spaces add value to your abode and make it not only a better place for you to live but also an easier home to sell when it comes to putting it on the market.

Most kitchen-diners are at the back of the house, opening out on to the garden. This makes perfect sense: a kitchen-diner is nothing if not an exercise in lifestyle, and what could be more pleasant than flinging open the back door and bringing the outside in? In many homes, that back door is fully glazed, being one side of the streamlined glass box that is the popular kitchen-diner extension. But remember, under the latest building regulations new glazing panels must comprise less than 22.5 per cent of a property's floor area.

You might think your current home is in no way suited to the idea of open-plan living, but in fact it could be that by knocking down a wall or two you have the ideal space. Plumis produces novel solutions in domestic active fire protection to meet building regulations. Intended as a more affordable and easy to install alternative to sprinklers, Automist is a fire protection innovation which provides developers with design freedom and flexibility for open plan spaces. It uses water mist technology fed from a standard mains supply to, suppress and control fire, and utilises much less water than a traditional sprinkler system. 

Automist is normally used in one of the following ways:

- To compensate for part of the escape route from a property passing through a living area, or being open to a living area.

This is normally needed:

a) After a two storey house receives a loft conversion but retains an open plan ground floor
b) In open-plan flats at 2nd floor level or higher
c) In open-plan accommodation where escape windows cannot be provided.

Or even

- To compensate for missing fire doors that would have protected communal areas, for example where a flat lacks an internal fire lobby or protected hallway

- In small studio flats where the kitchen is located next to the exit.

Why not call an Accredited Reseller Installer to have a look at your property and work out exactly how an open-plan space could be formed?

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The responsible person not getting key fire safety information

Under Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations the person carrying out the work is required to forward on fire safety information of a building to the responsible person, as defined by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The information required relates to the design and construction of the building or extension, and the services, fittings and equipment provided, which will assist the responsible person to operate and maintain the building or extension with the required safety. The Passive Fire Protection Federation (PFPF) believes there is insufficient awareness of the need to pass on key fire safety information upon completion of a building.

“[Approved Document B] provides excellent guidance right through the construction phase of a building and on into its time of occupation,” said PFPF chairman David Sugden. “Regulation 7 of the Building Regulations points people to third party certification to ensure the use of quality products and installers, while Regulation 38 requires information on what has been installed to be given to the responsible person.

“Regulation 38 is not just a recommendation, it is a requirement, since this information can greatly improve the building occupier’s understanding of the safety precautions installed within a building,” said Mr Sugden.

Friday, 6 July 2012

FIA launches campaign to reduce false alarms

The Fire Industry Association (FIA) has launched a new section of its website as part of its campaign to reduce false alarms.

The new online section aims to help cut the cost of false alarms to businesses and fire services.

The FIA says the vast majority of false alarms come about as a result of poor management issues rather than poor installation.

“It is a common misconception that false alarms are caused by malfunctioning fire alarm systems,” said the FIA’s chief executive officer, Graham Ellicott. “Research by London Fire Brigade suggests that only two per cent of false alarms are attributable to equipment malfunctions or incorrect installation.”

Topics covered on the website include defining false alarms, who is responsible, what an effective fire alarm management strategy is and how to reduce false alarms.

The new website section is part of the FIA’s nationwide campaign to help reduce false alarms, where it is working with local fire and rescue services to help educate people about the issue.

Source - FIA

Friday, 15 June 2012

Fire suppression and ADB - Bespoke or pre-engineered?

At Plumis we are frequently asked how Automist fits with the sprinkler standard BS9251, and more recently the water-mist standard DD8458.  The question is understandable because sprinklers are the only compensatory measure explicitly mentioned in Approved Document B – Volume 1 – Dwellinghouses, and Automist can at first sight appear to be a sprinkler system.

Some Popular Misconceptions

Approved Document B states that if sprinklers are used for compensatory purposes, they “should be designed and installed in compliance with BS9251:2005”. This clear guidance is often interpreted too broadly, however. ADB does not state that sprinklers are the only permissible compensatory feature; indeed, a moment’s reflection tells us that many options such as fire curtains are in common use. Nor does it mandate that where alternatives to sprinklers are used, these should also comply with BS9251. Instead it says that “0.18. There are many alternative or innovative fire suppression systems available. Where these are used it is necessary to ensure that such systems have been designed and tested for use in domestic buildings and are fit for their intended purpose.” It is this clause that applies to innovative fire suppression systems like Automist.
For us to better understand why ADB is worded this way, and its consequences, it is necessary to understand what a sprinkler system is in essence and why standards compliance is required for sprinklers, but not for other solutions.

Sprinklers – a bespoke solution

A sprinkler is not an off-the-peg, “what you see is what you get” product.  It is a project-specific selection of components that will perform as intended only when selected and assembled correctly.  Its modularity makes it very flexible, allowing it to scale, covering areas from 10m2 to 100,000m2 and addressing settings from small houses to huge warehouses using exactly the same components.  However, the modularity has a consequence: complexity. With elements such as nozzle flow and spacing, pipe diameters, pump pressure and flow, tank size and many other details subject to variation, a strict protocol must be followed for the system to perform correctly. Standards are a way for us to codify the art of custom sprinkler system design and installation so that specifiers, regulators and users of the technology can be confident that the intended performance will be achieved, however the technology is deployed. The term designed is apt: each sprinkler system is tailored; components are carefully selected and matched for each project. Like a LEGO kit, it begins life as a set of building blocks, but the similarity ends there. Even after well over 100 years of sprinkler use, sprinkler design remains a very technical endeavour, with lives depending critically on correct design, component selection and assembly.
This modularity and flexibility of course imposes a “cost of design” on every installation, but economies of scale render this cost less significant as project size increases.  It should be no surprise that sprinklers are a cost effective solution for protecting shopping centres, large warehouses and hotels.
We’ve called sprinklers a bespoke solution – let’s continue the tailoring metaphor. With a bespoke suit, an immense variety of styles and sizes can be achieved, but this freedom demands great skill of the designer, who must understand how to use a certain fabric and a certain cut to achieve a result that matches the style of the wearer and the purpose of the suit. The tailor has the training and experience to know what will work and what won’t, what’s in and what’s out, and a great suit also depends on painstaking measurement and manufacture. The end result is an expensive product, but for some situations this cost is justifiable.
Back in 1881 when Grinnell invented the Automatic Sprinkler, clothing was expensive and largely made to measure. Yet the intervening years have seen an explosion of innovation, enabled by low-cost mass production of “off the peg” clothes.
Some similar themes arise when comparing Automist to conventional sprinklers. With a pre-engineered product like Automist, what you see is what you get.  Instead of the design work being done in situ for the specific project, this is done upfront, by the manufacturer, and embedded within the product.  There are no tanks, no selection of pumps and pipes, because these characteristics are frozen into the design of the finished product. The result is a ready-made solution which requires technical rigor in a greatly reduced domain and for a smaller and simpler set of tasks around specification and installation. Eliminating most of the design work provides an obvious cost benefit, but with a flipside: although Automist retains some modularity of mist heads, it is much less flexible and scalable than a sprinkler system. An Automist unit designed to protect 1-2 rooms with an area of 32m2 would never be cost-effective if scaled up to serve an entire shopping mall or stadium. As with off-the-shelf clothing, customisation is sacrificed for the benefits of simplicity and convenience, and although it will not be the chosen solution for every occasion, Automist performs well for the simple needs of many customers.

A different approach

The buying experience for a bespoke suit is quite different to that for “off the peg”. In the bespoke case, an expert follows a complex measuring process, draws on deep experience and painstakingly produces the garments, creating something unique. An off-the-shelf suit lacks uniqueness – though some “modularity” remains, through mixing and matching of trousers and jackets. The buying experience is focused more on ensuring that we have found a suit that is going to work for the occasion.
A similar comparison applies to specifying sprinklers, versus pre-engineered solutions.  A sprinkler is custom designed for an area: regardless of what the area looks like, it can be done.  Pre-engineered solutions are really a compatibility exercise: does this readily available solution fulfil the need?  For a domestic scenario we would need to ask: is the area that needs to be protected adequately covered by the proposed solution?  Will it suppress a fire?  Approved Document B actually reflects this idea: it states that if sprinklers are used, the design should follow a standard; if an alternative is used, it must simply be compatible with the application being proposed.
The same applies to fire performance.  Since both conventional and water-mist sprinklers operate from the ceiling, the historically established relationship between suppression effectiveness and ceiling temperatures do not apply objectively to systems like Automist which have low spray heights.  Since the measurement of temperature to evaluate survivability is in effect a subjective measurement (because the inference of survival depends on the constancy of these spray patterns), ceiling temperature measurements simply are not applicable for other types of system. This is why Automist was tested using the most objective method currently available: Fractional Effective Dosage of heat and asphyxiant gases.  In the suit analogy, a subjective judgement can be compared to taste, and "in matters of taste, there can be no disputes".
Products in the pre-engineered suppression category will eventually have fire performance standards of their own. As with smoke control curtains and AOVs (Automatic Opening Vents), such standards emerge following long-term product maturation of the product category, once patents have expired and several competing products have become widespread.

A brighter future through smarter standards

A more flexible set of fire safety standards has recently arrived in the form of BS9991, PD7974, and even the most recent versions of Approved Document B. These standards in their very nature permit a wider range of innovative solutions like Automist, and serve to remind us that the best standards are outcome-focused rather than locked in to a particular design approach or product category.
Without innovation, we have stagnation. If the fire protection industry is to have a bright future in the UK, it will be through this smarter and more flexible approach, enabling a thriving market for innovative fire protection solutions. With this flexibility, appropriate combinations of a wide range of technologies – both simple and sophisticated – can be deployed to solve the problem at hand, providing better cost-effectiveness, wider compliance with the law, and improved fire safety.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The emergence of the open plan kitchen diners in the UK

Sprawling, bright living spaces have become a modern trend with the number of kitchen-diners rising by almost 50 per cent in the past decade.

One in three homes now features a kitchen-diner, and one in five Brits plans to blend their separate living room and cooking spaces into a single area, a survey found.
The growing popularity of open plan spaces applies to all types of property from new homes to Edwardian, Victorian, and Georgian era houses, according to the survey of 2,000 home owners.

One third of all work carried out on period properties was to create an open plan kitchen and dining room, while one in three applications lodged at eight randomly chosen councils related to opening up indoor space.

One in ten home owners has spent more than £35,000 making alterations in the past ten years, with half of those spending more than £50,000.

But of those who tried to convert their homes, one in five caused damage in the process costing an average of £8,000.

A separate survey predicted in 2008 that the traditional dining room with a dinner table and special cutlery could become obsolete by 2020.

Simon Hamilton, International Director at the British Institute of Interior Design, said: "The inside of homes are starting to look very different. Houses, especially older ones, were designed with set rooms for set activities.

Paula Llewellyn, of Lloyds TSB Home Insurance, which commissioned the new survey, said: "Rather than moving, people are adjusting their own property to create their dream home and the living space they need.

"It's clear to see that open plan living is what modern families want."

What do you need to think about when designing an open plan kitchen?

You really have to consider all the activities that will take place in the room, and how they can work together in harmony. Preparing meals, watching television, surfing the net, doing homework, paying the bills, relaxing with a magazine and chatting with friends – you have to make sure these can all happily co-exist in your open plan kitchen.

To cater for all these different needs, it’s always best to create an individual, custom-built kitchen. And to do that, it’s wise to choose an experienced designer. An experienced kitchen designer is used to helping homeowners maximise the space and functionality of a room and ensure there is a seamless feel between all parts.

What are the practical considerations?

Open plan layouts often struggle to meet building regulations requirements for fire safety: the regulations are very prescriptive in nature and often mandate undesirable compartmentation. UK regulations allow the use of fire suppression to compensate for poor compartmentation, but many homeowners instead opt for the cheap solution: create a protected corridor, have Building Control sign it off, and remove this “dummy wall” shortly afterwards. This leaves everyone uncomfortable, with homeowners paying for pointless and illegal changes to their home and loft converters risking their reputation. 

Approved Document B, offers an alternative stating that:

Fire safety engineering is a recognised method of achieving adequate fire safety in a building. It takes into account the entire fire safety engineering package and is sometimes the only viable method of achieving a satisfactory standard of fire safety in popular open-plan kitchen-diners.

It is this approach that can often be coupled with a volume protection system to ensure homeowners can create real value in their homes without aesthetic trade-offs and Building Control officers can be assured that a modified home is a safe living environment with no limitations on use that may eventually be circumvented by the occupier.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Covert kitchen fire safety

One of the most important kitchen "gadgets" is one that far too many people overlook completely. And no, we're not talking about a juicer.

It's easy to get caught up in fun kitchen gadgets and overlook the things that are most important--like kitchen safety.
Around 60 per cent of accidental fires in the home start in the kitchen. Do you own a fire extinguisher? Do you know where it is and how to use it? Some risk assessors even went as far to remove them after they were deemed dangerous. Concerns were raised that householders could delay their escape by trying to tackle a blaze. There were also concerns that the use of extinguishers by untrained people, could add to the danger.

Automist offers an automatic and unobtrusive alternative, a fire protection device that fills the gap between fire extinguishers and traditional sprinkler systems. If a kitchen fire starts the system is triggered automatically by a wireless heat detector. Detection is based on industry standard heat detectors as recommended in Approved Document B, effectively eliminating nuisance alarms. This starts an under-sink pump which drives mains water through the unique nozzle unit, quickly filling the kitchen with dense fog, suppressing the blaze.

James Dyson said: “This simple but clever device should become a permanent safety feature in the home. Smoke alarms are essential part of modern life but have remained fundamentally unchanged for forty years. Automist not only detects a fire but can put it out as well.”

Automist was found to render a lethal environment survivable in one of the most comprehensive test suites ever run on a mist product at BRE Global. In a major furniture fire, even those immobilised in the room would have survived for the entire test period of 30 minutes. Testing has shown that Automist can extinguish small fires and greatly impedes the development of very serious fires.

Trevor Hargreaves, the Deputy Director of the Almhouse Association said, “I have little doubt in my mind that this product will have a major influence in enhancing safety within the home for many years to come....I have no hesitation in recommending this innovative product across the entire almshouse movement."

Friday, 25 May 2012

High-rise blaze in 18-storey block in Roubaix, France (VIDEO)

One person died and ten others were injured in a fire that spread rapidly upwards from a second-floor flat to the top of an 18-storey tower block in Roubaix, France, apparently via its flammable outer cladding, penetrating other apartments.

A hundred firefighters and 15 appliances attended the fire that started around 3pm on 14 May 2012, at the Mermoz Tower on Rue Dunant in the northern French town of Roubaix. The building and a nearby school were evacuated, and the crew brought the fire under control by 4.30pm. 

The victim was an elderly lady and one of the residents was seriously injured. Four apartments were directly affected by the fire, but as the building is now uninhabitable, all 250 residents are being rehoused locally. The building, also know as the Aviator Tower, is reportedly owned by a social landlord organisation. 

Although the cause of the fire is as yet undetermined, there has been some speculation that it may have started accidentally, possibly from some work being carried out on the building facade at first or second floor level.

Footage filmed from neighbouring building records the dramatic upwards spread of the fire from its origin to the top of the 18-floor building, apparently fuelled by its highly flammable outer cladding.

Source - FPA

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Dummy Walls: Dumb Idea!

A clumsy approach to meeting building regulations in loft conversions has led to a dangerous phenomenon – the dummy wall. William Makant explains the problem and proposes a safe and legal route to open plan layouts.

With sluggish property markets, loft conversions have grown popular: they add value without the high legal, stamp duty and agent’s costs of a house move. But in many cases householders and builders collude to work around fire safety regulations with an illegal, makeshift construction: the dummy wall.

Building regulations propose a protected escape route when a loft conversion is added to a two-storey property, to allow people on upper floors to escape at ground level, or from first floor windows, without exposure to smoke and heat from a lounge/kitchen fire. By keeping conditions tenable on this exit route while a fire rages downstairs, lives are saved.

A protected escape route is theoretically a powerful way to save lives. Unfortunately, the reality is imperfect. Householders want light, open living spaces and often prop fire doors open, compromising the ideal of protection by compartmentation
. The problem does not end here however; consumers trends are towards open plan layouts with greatly reduced compartmentation.

UK regulations allow the use of fire suppression options like sprinklers to compensate for a layout with poor compartmentation, but most projects in practice do not follow this route. Instead, many homeowners opt for the cheap solution: create a protected corridor, have Building Control sign it off, and remove this “dummy wall” shortly afterwards. Bizarrely, legislation intended to improve fire safety actually leaves all parties uncomfortable with the outcome and the process used to reach it:
Homeowners skirt the law, pay for pointless temporary changes to their home, and enjoy poor fire safety in the interim;
  • Loft converters risk their reputation;
  • And those responsible for fire safety have unknowingly failed to meet their goals.

Construction and removal of the dummy wall poses a serious threat to safety. BRE ran a large suite of tests representing television fires in loft converted houses, which found that:
  • Conditions in the room of origin (lounge) always became lethal after 20 minutes.
  • With the lounge isolated by a closed door, tenable conditions were maintained throughout the rest of the house.
  • With the lounge door open or an open plan layout, conditions also became lethal in all other open spaces of the house.
  • Sprinklers in the lounge restored survivable conditions throughout the rest of the house.
  • The life safety benefits of linked smoke alarms were clearly demonstrated.

Despite the finding that either compartmentation or suppression is key to survival, fire doors are very often propped open and are not required to feature spring closers. Even in conventional closed plan layouts, the compartmentation ideal is no longer realistic; doubly so for homes with open plan layouts or dummy walls.

A study by the NHBC Foundation confirms that interlinked alarms and active fire suppression in an open plan layout is just as safe as an equivalent unsuppressed closed plan layout.

With fire suppression emerging as a legal and safe way to implement open plan layouts, and with sprinklers often claimed to cost as little as £1500, why aren’t sprinklers a standard solution in loft conversions, competing more effectively with dummy walls"

Sprinklers were originally designed for large business spaces where the setup cost is justifiable in insurance savings alone. In UK homes by contrast, the project size is smaller; low mains pressure and high flow requirements (perhaps 100lpm) can mean substantial cost and complexity in the form of pumps, tanks, and supply upgrades. The resultant cost and uncertainty makes householders uncomfortable; the simple and consistent, but deadly, dummy wall, much less so.

The situation is changing as more convenient and
cost-effective alternatives to sprinklers emerge; these solutions can meet building regulations as long as they are backed by evidence. To quote ADB:

“ 0.18 There are many alternative or innovative fire suppression systems available. Where these are used it is necessary to ensure that such systems have been designed and tested for use in domestic buildings and is fit for their intended purpose”

An example of these alternatives is Automist, a high-pressure mist device which mounts around the kitchen sink or on a wall. In the event of a fire, a heat alarm is triggered at 57°C and a high pressure pump powers just 5lpm of water as a fine mist throughout the volume to be protected. The cost effectiveness of such systems is achieved by being provided as a complete “ready to install” pre-engineered kit which will protect small volumes, such as the open plan lounge of a home.

Putting Automist in an open plan loft conversion offers much more than comparable costs to dummy walls: it solves the regulatory problem permanently and also provides permanent fire safety to occupants. It’s time to replace the dumb idea with a no-brainer!

For further information on the Plumis Automist range of water-mist suppression solutions call Plumis on 020 8133 8775, visit or email

The NHBC Foundation Report NF19 finds that hallway doors are open 80% of the time by day and 60% of the time by night:

Thursday, 8 March 2012

From Living Room To Inferno In Under 2 Minutes

A flashover is the near simultaneous ignition of all combustible material in an enclosed area. Flashover is one of the most-feared phenomena among firefighters. Firefighters are taught to recognize flashovers and avoid backdrafts.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Automist sprinkler alternative filmed for brand new Channel 4 series, Home of the Future, which starts February 12th, 7.00pm on Channel 4

Plumis’ product Automist was filmed for brand new Channel 4 series, Home of the Future, which starts February 12th, 7.00pm on Channel 4.

What happens if you ask a normal family to boldly go where no-one has gone before - to live in the future? This five-part Channel 4 series, co-funded by one of the UK’s leading energy companies E.ON, and produced by Twofour, transforms the lives of a family, filling their home from top-to-bottom with futuristic technology and gadgets.

As well as having cutting-edge technology and gadgets to play with, the Perera family in Sheffield will be challenged by scenarios likely to come in the next twenty to fifty years.

Overseen by expert Chris Sanderson, the Pereras will discover how we may work, rest and play - as well as eat, travel, stay healthy and power our homes.

The series looks at the effects of working from home and living in multi-generational households and asks: what will we eat when cheap food is gone and mass-produced meat is unsustainable? And the family face being shamed by their bin if they don’t recycle enough and being temporarily banned from short car journeys (electric and hydrogen-powered, naturally).

But the future is not all bad news as the Pereras discover mind-controlled games, domestic power stations that slash their bills, robots they can control from the other side of the world, waterless washing machines, cars, lawnmowers and vacuums that drive themselves and the joys of growing your own fish supper.

The first episode of Home of the Future airs on February 12th, 7.00pm on Channel 4.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Inner bedrooms in Social Housing – a disaster waiting to happen!


Ranch-style layouts with open plan living areas are relatively common in rented accommodation, including social housing; these layouts often include “inner” bedrooms whose fire escape route is through the open area. This is clearly against the guidance under two pieces of major recent legislation, the Housing Act 2004 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which introduced new responsibilities for landlords and housing organisations. Some ambiguities in these laws have since been addressed by the LACoRS guide, published by the Local Government Association and endorsed by Central Government and the Chief Fire Officers’ Association; this document outlines how safe layouts must be achieved.

Some key facts:

  • Although the LACoRS guide itself does not have legal force, it is now regarded as the standard interpretation manual for the new legislation.
  • Unlike changes to building regulations, the new legislation applies retrospectively to all rented properties.
  • Properties that don’t meet the new standards may remain in use only where it is “not reasonably practicable” for the landlord to remedy the problem.
  • Landlords found to be in violation of the new laws can be imprisoned or face an unlimited fine.

Inner Bedrooms – What’s the Problem?

The LACoRS guide defines an inner room as one for which the only escape route is through another “access” room; this poses a risk to the occupier if a fire starts unnoticed in the access room.

Figure 1: Example social housing property layout featuring an inner bedroom

Figure 1 shows a social housing property layout featuring an inner bedroom. Inner bedrooms are particularly dangerous as an inhabitant may be deeply asleep and perhaps also intoxicated when a fire starts in the outer room. A closed bedroom door is a mixed blessing – although it may hold back smoke for a time, it also reduces the sound level of any alarm sounding in the outer room. Slow to rouse, the sleeper may awaken to discover a major fire and thick smoke on the exit route.

Section 12.2 of the LACoRS guide makes it quite clear that inner bedrooms and even living rooms are no longer allowed above first floor level:

[Inner rooms] should be avoided wherever possible. However, where unavoidable it may be accepted where the inner room is a kitchen, laundry or utility room, a dressing room, bathroom, WC or shower room.

Where the inner room is any other type of habitable room (for example a living room, sleeping room, workroom or study) it should only be accepted if:

  • the inner room has access to a suitable door opening onto an alternative safe route of escape, or it is situated on a floor which is not more than 4.5m above ground level and has an escape window leading directly to a place of ultimate safety [and]
  • an adequate automatic fire detection and warning system is in place; and
  • a fire-resisting door of an appropriate standard is fitted between the inner and outer rooms (typically FD30S standard for non-high-risk outer rooms).

What can be done?

Provision of automatic fire suppression is allowable as a compensatory feature against such layout shortcomings. The LACoRS guide states:

… provision of a suitable water suppression system can, in some circumstances, allow for relaxed provision of certain other fire safety measures [such as] relaxed requirements for inner rooms.

A fire suppression device aims to control and suppress fires, significantly reducing the risk of injury, loss of life and property damage by maintaining tenable conditions for as long as possible while occupants evacuate. This is achieved by:

  • Reduction of room temperature
  • Reduction of smoke and toxic gases
  • Prevention of flashover (the rapid ignition of combustible items in the room)
  • Providing cooling and hence fire resistance to structural elements of the home.

In the immediate years following the introduction of the new legislation, the cost of retrofitting sprinklers to properties with dangerous layouts was prohibitive. Not only would housing associations face huge installation costs; disruption to families would also be enormous. It was therefore straightforward to argue that there was no reasonably practicable solution available to address poor layout. This is no longer the case.

Retrofittable fire protection

Inner rooms can now be protected by installing innovative water suppression devices in the access room. Several such devices are now available, designed to provide effective, retrofittable fire protection within the frameworks both of the new legislation and building regulations. Plumis’s Automist is one such solution and is the first active fire protection system that combines low cost and ease of retrofit with excellent aesthetics. Intended as a more practical and affordable alternative to sprinklers, Automist uses a high pressure pump to generate a fine water mist from nozzles mounted under a kitchen tap, on a work surface or in a wall. In extensive BRE testing, Automist was found to render a lethal environment survivable.

In the event of a fire, an automatically-triggered pump drives mains water through the unique nozzle unit, quickly filling the room volume with fog. The use of conventional heat detection, already the standard in kitchens, effectively eliminates nuisance activation. Unlike conventional sprinklers, Automist can be stopped and reset instantly via its control panel. As Automist uses much less water than a traditional sprinkler system, water damage in the event of activation is minimised.

Automist is safe to use in kitchen areas. Adding water to a cooking oil fire can greatly exacerbate the fire; the same is not true for water mist, as the up-draught from the flame and the evaporation of the tiny droplets prevents water from reaching and collecting in the pan.

To determine whether retrofittable fire suppression is suitable for a specific application, standards are available; notably, PD7974 (Application of fire safety engineering principles to the design of buildings) provides a framework for analysis of where the fire risks are, how fire and smoke will spread, and how passive and active fire protection and detection/alarm systems will function in a given layout.


New legislation requires the responsible person (landlord, occupier or both) to carry out a fire safety risk assessment, maintain a fire management plan, implement fire safety measures and address specific dangerous layouts.

Landlords who fail to address inner bedroom and living room configurations risk prosecution, unlimited fines and even prison sentences. Two landlords in Haringey, Greater London, were sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and ordered to pay £5,000 costs each because a fire in their property had revealed inadequate fire safety measures. In 2008, a Suffolk hotel case over an inner bedroom resulted in a prison sentence and a fine of £204,000.

With systems like Automist now available, landlords and housing groups can no longer claim that no viable solution exists for these problem layouts. Those who continue to permit these layouts without adequate fire safety measures do so at their peril.