High rise buildings - firefighting arrangements: report

HM Fire Service Inspectorate (HMFSI) report assessing the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service's (SFRS's) arrangements and readiness to fight fires in high rise buildings in Scotland. It contains areas of good practice and recommendations where there is scope to improve performance.

Building Inspections

Domestic buildings

75. The SFRS has a quarterly inspection programme[13] for high rise domestic buildings termed an OAV and the purpose of the inspection is twofold:

  • to give personnel familiarisation, and
  • to check dutyholder compliance with fire safety.

76. The 2005 Act provides that dutyholders (principally owners in the case of domestic buildings) require to maintain their premises and any facilities, equipment and devices provided in respect of the premises for the use by or protection of firefighters.

77. The procedure for visiting domestic high rise buildings for quarterly inspections is detailed in a SFRS document 'Operational Assurance Visit Procedure for Multi-storey Flats'.

78. The procedural document is complemented by a component of the SFRS training programme on OAV. This training component is a 64-slide PowerPoint presentation on the training for operational competence (TfOC) programme incorporating some photographs and videos. The training component is to a very good standard.

79. The OAV procedural document content refers to obtaining information and checking compliance. It references the SOP as the requirement for an OAV. There is a quarterly visit frequency with annual validation, and explanation of the legal background, a standard checklist, examples of defects and outcome-dependent standard letters.

80. The Service also uses a similar term Operational Reassurance Visit (ORV) to describe a different type of visit to different premises types. The terms OAV and ORV are at times confused by SFRS personnel.

81. During our fieldwork visits, we found that domestic high rise inspections are scheduled and monitored in line with the standard procedure for the quarterly inspections. Fire station-based personnel follow this procedure diligently – to the extent of their knowledge. We saw this at first hand while accompanying crews on their visits. Scheduling and monitoring is generally good.

82. The inspection is normally undertaken by a single pump crew, though we did find one location where the inspection is undertaken by the same single RDS crew member. In the latter situation an annual crew familiarisation visit is undertaken. And in one RDS-crewed fire station we visited, the OAV is undertaken by a whole-time crew from a nearby fire station.

83. The frequency of visits means that local crews are likely to have an awareness of the layout and features of domestic high rise buildings in their station area due to attendance at previous visits.

Good Practice

The approach in one city is that OAV inspections are scheduled on a city-wide basis rather than fire station area. This allows greater crew familiarity and it works well at that location.

There may be scope to adopt a similar approach in other areas.

84. The involvement of FSEOs in the OAV scheduling and processing varies, depending on local practice. In some cases FSE staff vet the completed inspection reports while in other areas, reports are issued without FSEO involvement. We received mixed views about local processes and whether the involvement of FSEOs was a good use of resources. Regardless of local practice, there was good local liaison.

85. In one city, FSEOs have an annual accompaniment of a crew during one of the OAVs for each building on the programme. This works well and offers good information exchange and liaison, but is not necessarily transferable to other areas due to the level of resources, workload constraints, and the number of buildings on the inspection programme.

86. Some fire station areas have a large number of domestic high rise buildings and consequently personnel based there have a relatively high workload in relation to the inspection of those buildings. In one location this was described to us as impinging on the time available for firefighters to maintain specialist training.

87. We found that generally fire station personnel have a good level of knowledge of the layout and most features of domestic high rise domestic buildings in their area. The Service also has a means of communicating issues and learning that arise from fires and inspection work and we saw evidence of this in respect of fire spread and compartmentation issues for high rise buildings.

88. The high rise SOP suggests that LSOs have discretion regarding which buildings should be included in the high rise flats inspection programme, though there is separate guidance regarding OI and OAV. A proposal to introduce a risk-based approach which would have led to a reduced inspection frequency for some low risk private sector buildings in one LSO area did not progress.

89. It is understandable that the SFRS would not wish to reduce[14] the OAV frequency in the post-Grenfell period when there was uncertainty regarding constructional issues and until the learning from the GTI was available. The SFRS now has an improved awareness of risk and learning.

Recommendation No. 5

The SFRS should reconsider the introduction of a risk-based OAV inspection frequency, in line with what exists for fire safety audits and OI inspections generally, where appropriate.

Non-domestic buildings

90. There are two ways that SFRS personnel may inspect non-domestic high rise buildings:

  • if the building is on the SFRS fire safety audit programme, it will be visited by SFRS enforcement staff to carry out an audit of compliance with fire safety law
  • if the building is on the OI schedule, it will be visited by fire station-based staff for the purpose of information gathering and familiarisation.

Fire safety audit visits

91. Fire safety audits are carried out on a risk-based frequency which can be from annual up to once every five years. But where a building is not on the audit programme, it will not be visited unless a specific need arises. This risk-based frequency is principally determined by the use of the premises and the degree of assessed risk to the building occupants.

92. Part of the fire safety audit process involves checking whether firefighting facilities are being maintained. However the potential risk to firefighters is generally not a factor which influences the assessment of risk for inspection scheduling.

93. Office buildings are generally considered to have a relatively low risk in terms of fire safety and consequently high rise office buildings will be unlikely to feature in an audit programme. On the other hand, non-domestic residential buildings have a higher perceived level of risk and will likely have a scheduled audit visit frequency.

Operational Intelligence visits

94. SFRS policy is for visits for OI purposes to be carried out in line with policy documents. These specify a visit frequency in terms of risk.

95. The familiarity that crews may have regarding domestic high rise buildings, is not matched in non-domestic high rise buildings due to some high rise buildings not being on the OI inspection schedule, and therefore not subject to OI visits. And for those that are on the OI visit schedule, there is a less frequent visit requirement than for high rise domestic buildings.

96. Some non-domestic high rise buildings have fire safety features and systems that are unique and 'fire-engineered'. It is useful for the SFRS to hold information about the provision and functioning of such features and systems. We identified that the SFRS does not hold OI information for all fire-engineered high rise buildings.


Email: HMFSI@gov.scot

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