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Fire safety being tackled head on in large scale residential developments

With many of the nation’s tower blocks entering into their late 50’s and 60’s, the need for updated fire safety solutions has never been starker. But with high occupancy, a wealth of communal areas and fire hazards such as bin stores, the challenges faced by contractors are multitude. One organisation taking on this challenging market is Gunfire Limited, which has been appointed to install fire stopping solutions across 8,000 residences by Leeds City Council.

Leeds City Council owns and operates more than 58,000 social housing residencies. With a number of ageing high-rise buildings in its portfolio, it took the decision to conduct a full fire safety audit to help establish potential risks. Following this, the council discovered areas in need of improvement and set about appointing an established passive fire protection contractor to undertake developments that would ultimately benefit as many as 100,000 residents.

James Reid, passive fire protection spokesperson at Gunfire, who took the brief, outlines how the company approached this multifaceted project: “Leeds City Council has been really forward thinking in its approach to the fire safety of residents, undertaking one of the UK’s largest retrospective residential fire safety projects. From the outset we knew that the scale of the project, the need to engage residents, and the variety of access restrictions, would present challenges that we would need to overcome.”

Engaging residents

Both Gunfire and Leeds City Council knew that effective communication with residents was vitally important to this project. James continues: “Over 20,000 leaflets were issued to residents, explaining what work was being carried out and the benefits. With so many homes in need of support and due to the complexity of the project, we felt it was crucial that we had a permanent onsite presence. The Leeds City Council project included a satellite office manned by both a full time project manager and a resident liaison officer. This has allowed us to create appointments to fit residents’ schedules and react to any situation that arises on site. This can cover quality checking, ensuring residents are completely happy with works carried out, notification of works and locations, and creating appointments. For the council this means a single point of contact able to respond to any requirements, as and when they occur.”

Taking a multi-disciplined approach

All of the fire stopping activity at the Leeds City Council site has been accredited by the Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB) to ensure the highest possible safety standards. A range of different products and techniques have been utilised in order to create the most effective fire safety system.

James outlines some of the key technologies and techniques used along with their benefits:

“The majority of the technologies we have installed across the Leeds City Council tower blocks have become commonplace in new build developments, but were sadly lacking in the 1960’s, when many of these developments were first constructed.

“Ablative blatt and mastic insulation are two technologies, which have been used extensively to fill voids that could aid the spread of fire between rooms and floors. In effect, the active intumescent ingredient chars and expands to block any fire passages.

“Likewise with fire hazards such as hollow or gas piping, which could offer fire a further route, we have installed high pressure exerting mastic and intumescent fire collars, which rapidly compress pipes in the event of fire, further preventing spread.”

Providing a way forward for other residential developments

According to James, the Leeds City Council model could act as a template for other local councils and housing associations looking to put the safety of residents at the forefront, despite shrinking budgets.

James said: “What has been so innovative about the Leeds City Council’s approach is from the outset it has been driven and operated directly by them. Having the foresight to identify the problem, secure funds, brief and run the fire stopping activity not only demonstrates the importance of its residents’ safety, but has allowed the council to save a significant amount of money by not taking on the added expense of a main contractor. It further demonstrates how a large council can work with an SME business to great success.”

James concludes: “Once completed it’s hoped that the Leeds City Council high rise towers can act as a beacon for other councils and local authorities. By tracking fire incidents and fatalities it is hoped that empirical data can be collected, to better inform those responsible for the public in aging buildings to take a more proactive approach to passive fire safety.”

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Accreditations 2018