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How to Reduce the Threat of Arson on Your Business

During the riots of August 2011 we all saw the devastating effects of arson. Across the country, fires were deliberately started destroying many homes and businesses. The capital was one of the areas hit hardest with hundreds of fires breaking out, affecting shops, industrial areas, factories, residential buildings and destroying livelihoods.

Here in Croydon, who can forget the images of the Reeves furniture store on fire? This became one of the iconic images of the riots and a harsh reminder of the devastating consequences of arson attacks.

Arson is the largest cause of fires in the UK. It poses a bigger threat to businesses than the other leading causes of fire (electrical, heaters and smoking related fires) together. The effects of an arson attack on a business are often irreversible, with loss of premises, data, stock and working hours meaning that some never recover.

Although arson attacks are not entirely preventable, you can take some steps to protect your business and reduce the threat and impact of a potential arson attack on your premises.

Is your business at risk from arson?

Usually arson attacks occur when a building is unoccupied, particularly at night. This means that fires can go undetected and spread throughout a building. Without a proper fire detection system, this type of fire will only be noticed once significant damage has been caused.

Some businesses have a higher threat than others from arson. Buildings that provide recreational, leisure or cultural activities tend to have the highest threat. This is followed by schools, retail distribution centres, shops, pubs and catering facilities. Industrial premises and factories are also another type of business that could become victim to arson.

Tips on preventing arson attacks on your business

As is often the case with fire safety, people are the key to preventing fires both accidental and deliberate. All of the employees involved on your premises must be aware of their role to remain vigilant and protect the business. In practice this means reporting suspicious behaviour, limiting access from outside persons to the building and if necessary questioning or removing people that do not have good reason to be on your premises.

Particular caution should be paid by those who are last to leave and lock up. If a building is left unoccupied at night, checks should be carried out to ensure that all people have left the premises before it is locked. This duty should be designated to a responsible individual and measures should be taken to make sure that all staff that access the premises during non-standard working hours are known of and are aware of their responsibilities and need for safety.

If passes or keys go missing, this should be followed up and dealt with appropriately and quickly. You should also change any passcodes if you suspect someone has gained unauthorised access to your premises using them. Ideally you need to limit the number of people that could have access to your business premises so any keys or passes should be regained from former employees.

Secure your premises

Of course a would-be arsonist doesn’t need to gain access to your building to start a fire. Petrol bombs can be thrown through windows and lit materials posted through letterboxes. This makes preventing arson attacks more challenging, but there are still a number of measures you can take to secure your premises.

Secure windows

All windows should be locked at all times when there is nobody present on site. This may sound like fairly basic security advice, but it’s easy enough to overlook. Checks should always be carried out by the last person(s) who leave the premises before closing. To provide extra security, shutters can be placed in front of glass so it cannot be broken by a petrol bomb.

Lock away flammable materials

If you are storing flammable materials on site which could possibly be used in/worsen an arson attack, then you should make sure these are carefully locked away at all times. Keep areas clear of rubbish and arrange regular disposal to limit the amount of fuel a fire could have.

Keep storage and rubbish disposal areas secure

Bin fires are a common form of arson, so any bins or storage areas should be in a secure area away from main buildings. It’s surprising how quickly these fires can spread, so pay extra caution to this point.

Control which people can enter your premises

You could also invest in a perimeter fence if appropriate for your site. A fence around your premises is good for controlling who enters your premises, adding an extra level of difficulty which may deter would-be arsonists.

Fit a metal container to letterboxes

If your business premises have letterboxes then you can fit a metal container on the inside. Should any lit materials be posted through the letterbox, this will contain the fire limiting the damage.

Check your fire protection system

Fire protection equipment is your essential to defend your business against arson. To be best prepared for a potential arson attack you need a system in place to be able to detect a fire and contain it before irreversible damage has been caused.

You need a fire detection system installed in your building, with smoke detectors fitted on every floor to quickly establish if a fire breaks out. If there is no-one present at night for example, some fire alarm systems can be set up to notify designated staff or automatically alert the fire brigade. This can save valuable time and the earlier you catch a fire, the less damage it will ultimately cause.

To combat the fire, it would be recommended to have sprinkler systems installed or at the very least fire extinguishers on site. Fire extinguishers can be used to put out fires in their early stages, so if an arson attack is spotted quickly it can be dealt with.

Arson should be considered in your fire risk assessment

Your company’s fire risk assessment should cover arson as a potential threat to your business. It should also identify hazardous areas on your premises, all of the entry routes and which materials must be treated with caution and locked away. The action that needs to be taken will be described in detail to enable you to successfully reduce the risk of a potential arson attack and provide special measures for dealing with one, in the unfortunate event that it occurs.

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Interactive Map of Fires in Croydon

Last month The Croydon Advertiser produced an interactive map to display the locations of fires in the Croydon borough over the past three years.

The map was based on official data from London Fire Brigade’s incident reports concerning all non-domestic fires, including vehicle fires in the borough. This gives a fascinating insight into the areas that have the most call outs and the most common types of fires that occur.

It shows that between 1st January 2009 and 30th September 2012 there were 4,766 non domestic fires in Croydon, with car and refuse fires being the top reason for a fire brigade call out. Non-domestic fires are any fires that do not occur in the home. This covers a wide range of premises including businesses, public buildings, hotels, shops, restaurants, vehicles and more.

A detailed breakdown is provided on the types of vehicles that have caught fire, with coaches and buses being the second biggest cause of vehicle fires in Croydon after cars.

Identifying potential problem types can help fire safety groups to target future fire safety campaigns in these areas, to attempt to reduce the numbers of non-domestic fires that occur. It also allows fire safety professionals the opportunity to look into reasons as to why a greater number of fires of these types are occurring and helps to find potential solutions.

One of the best methods to reduce the number of fires breaking out in the borough, is by providing more fire safety education to teach people how to prevent fires from starting in the first place.

Of course not all fires are preventable, but by following fire safety guidelines and installing working fire protection equipment you can dramatically reduce the chances of a fire. Also if a fire does break out, this will help you to reduce the potential impact and cost to property and lives.

Don’t allow your business to become a statistic, get in touch with fire protection specialists today for a FREE site survey.

Euro Fire Protection have been providing fire protection services and equipment in Croydon and across the United Kingdom for nearly 15 years – give us a call now on 08000 515 199.

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Differences between Fire Alarms for Commercial and Residential Properties

Fire alarm systems are a crucial part of fire safety in both commercial and residential properties. They are designed to save lives and protect property by alerting people that a fire has broken out, giving them extra time to escape and call the fire brigade.

There are many different types of fire alarms available; to suit various different requirements, depending on the environment they are used in. In this article we are going to examine some of the differences between residential and commercial fire alarm systems.

What are residential properties?

This covers places that people are living, from houses and single stories to large blocks of flats. The term residential property includes both private and rented accommodation.

What are commercial properties?

The definition of commercial property is any building used to generate profit; however this can be expanded to cover other types of non-residential properties. Commercial properties include:

Office Buildings – including serviced offices.

Industrial Buildings – warehouses, distribution centers and garages.

Retail/Restaurants –  includes shopping centers, leisure facilities and pubs.

Other non-residential properties such as entertainment venues, hotels, nursing homes, medical and self‐storage complexes, as well as many more.

Types of fire alarms in residential properties

Most people should be familiar with the types of smoke detector used in residential properties. There are two main types, photoelectric (often referred to as optical) and ionisation. Photoelectric smoke detectors use light beams, which cause a reduction in light passing to a photocell if smoke is present. Ionisation smoke detectors work by ionisation reactions inside the alarm being disrupted by the presence of smoke particles.

In a residential setting, photoelectric alarms are more responsive to smouldering fires whereas ionisation detectors are better for flaming fires. Photoelectric tend to be more commonly used in homes, as they are quick to detect smoke coming from burning fabrics and furnishings.

Power supply for domestic smoke detector

In homes smoke detectors are often operated by battery although there are also smoke alarms that are designed to run off the mains and are becoming more prevalent as building regulations now require their fitment in new constructions. The obvious drawback with battery operated smoke alarms is that when the battery runs out the alarm will not work. Often people forget to replace smoke alarm batteries, meaning that their homes are not protected.

Legal requirements for residential fire alarm systems

Although it is strongly advisable to have a working smoke alarm fitted in a residential property, it is not a legal requirement. The exception however is rented properties where, by law landlords must ensure that a mains powered smoke detector is installed and maintained. In rented apartment blocks this means that every individual property has to have at least one smoke or heat alarm.

Positioning and size of residential fire alarm systems

In residential properties fire alarm systems tend to be fairly small and simple. They will usually consist of one or two smoke or heat detectors fitted in a central location or near to areas that pose a greater risk of fire, such as kitchens.

Where there are compartmented areas, such as a block of flats, smoke detectors will needed to be fitted in each flat and ideally these should be interlinked, so that if one alarm is triggered, then the rest of the alarms in the building will sound to warn people of the danger.

Testing and maintenance of domestic fire alarms

It’s advisable to test smoke alarms at least once a week. Testing is straightforward as most domestic alarms are fitted with a test button which can be pressed to check the alarm is working as it should. This is usually sufficient to make sure that the alarm is operating correctly should a fire break out.

Monitored fire alarm systems in homes

To provide extra support, in some types of residential properties there can be monitored alarm systems installed which will automatically notify the fire brigade if the alarm is triggered. This is especially useful for protecting property whilst the occupants are away.

Generally however, monitored alarm systems are a much more common feature in commercial properties and would only be used for residential applications under special circumstances.

Commercial fire alarm systems

Due to the varied nature of commercial premises there are many types of fire alarms systems which are designed to cater for many different potential fire safety requirements.

Size, positioning and interlinking of commercial fire alarms

As commercial properties can vary greatly, they carry a variety of different types of fire safety requirements.

Fire alarm systems in commercial buildings are usually much bigger and more complex than those used in residential applications. With larger sized buildings such as big office blocks or retail areas, fire alarm systems will need careful design and planning, with a full fire risk assessment taking place before installation.

Fire detectors will need to be spread out across buildings, with several in each main area as required to provide full coverage – so that anywhere a fire starts, the alarm will be able to quickly alert people to the danger.

All fire alarms or sub components of such need to be interlinked together with a central control panel, which should ideally be monitored around the clock. These systems should preferably be addressable, so that the exact location of the fire can be pinpointed.

Detectors will have to be able to detect smoke or heat, whichever is most appropriate for the environment; a professional fire protection technician should be consulted to provide advice on this.

Fire alarm activation points

As well as detecting fire, call points will be needed in commercial buildings so that individuals can raise the alarm immediately should they discover a fire. These trigger points, are usually activated by the user breaking a glass which will sound the alarm.

With the types of fire alarm systems used in commercial premises, there is more flexibility provided with the central control panel. This means that beforehand the system can be setup to your special requirements and you can choose which alarms will sound. This is particularly useful if there are several buildings on a site and you only want alarms to sound in the building where the activation point has been triggered.

Different types of fire alarm used in a commercial environment

Protecting members of the public and the safe evacuation of people present in a building are top fire safety priorities in a commercial setting. Due to the varied nature of these environments, there are many different types of commercial fire alarm systems to fulfil specific fire safety requirements.

These include wireless or radio fire alarms, VESDA and voice alarms with built-in public address systems.

Fire alarms with PA systems

There may be the need to provide specific evacuation instructions and communicate these to the people inside a building that is on fire. Voice systems allow public announcements to be made, which can speed up evacuation and save lives.

Wireless and radio fire alarms

Large buildings will require wireless or radio fire alarms. The advantage of these is that they do not need hardwiring and can cover a large range of up to 1.5km.

VESDA

VESDAs (Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus) is a type of alarm system that constantly samples air and processes it looking for smoke, as opposed to waiting for smoke to be detected – which is the way that most conventional fire detectors work.

These systems are essential for more sensitive applications, where there are a large number of people gathered, for example entertainment venues, including cinemas and theatres. In this type of environment, the fire detection system will need to raise the alarm the moment a fire starts so that evacuation can begin immediately.

Monitoring and triggering fire suppression systems

In many cases commercial fire alarms will need 24/7 monitoring. This allows complete fire protection even when there is nobody on the premises. The objective in this case is to protect property by raising the alarm and potentially triggering suppression systems to stop the spread of the fire. Monitored systems can be setup up to automatically notify the emergency services of the fire and its exact location.

Maintenance and testing

As commercial fire alarm systems are often responsible for protecting a larger number of people than residential alarms, they differ in that they are governed by stricter legislation concerning maintenance and testing.

Unlike with residential fire alarms, testing will usually need to be carried out by a qualified professional on a regular basis set out in a formal fire risk assessment. Inspection and servicing of fire alarms should take place at least 2-4 times per year, although this may be more often, depending on specific requirements of the location.

In busy environments or places that are open 24/7 such as hotels, there may be no choice but to test the fire alarm when there are members of the public present on the premises. This must cause minimum disruption and in the interests of safety must not result in down time for the alarm system.

Legal requirements for commercial fire alarm systems

As you can imagine, there is a lot more legislation concerning the installation, placement, testing and maintenance to regulate fire alarms in commercial premises than in residential buildings. British Standards provide guidelines that should be complied with and failure to do so is seen as a breach of a responsibility towards safety and can be punishable by law.

Fire alarms systems play such a key safety role in commercial buildings and there are a lot of lives potentially at steak. If the fire alarm systems are not sufficient then harsh penalties can be given, including hefty fines and in the case of extreme negligence, this can even result in imprisonment if lives are lost as a result of an ineffective approach to fire safety.

In addition if a fire does occur in commercial premises insurance policies may be voided if it can be proved that the fire alarm and smoke detectors were ineffective.

Get in touch with fire alarm specialists today

In both commercial and residential properties, the importance of having a working fire alarm system cannot be underestimated. Fire alarms save lives and there can be no bigger incentive than to ensure that the people who enter a building, be it commercial or residential are fully protected.

For this reason it is always recommended to consult a professional fire alarm specialist to help you choose the most appropriate type of fire detector and monitoring system. 

Get in touch with us at Euro Fire Protection today for more advice on fire alarm systems for commercial and residential properties – we can also provide you with a complete fire risk assessment of your premises.

Call now on – 08000 515 199.

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