Fire safety - existing care homes: practical guidance

Guidance for those who have responsibility under the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 for ensuring fire safety in care homes in Scotland.

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Chapter 9: Means for Fighting Fire

277. A small fire tackled with fire-fighting equipment in the early stages may be prevented from developing into a fire of life-threatening proportions. Fire-fighting equipment can fall into one of two categories; either (a) it is designed for use by persons, such as portable fire extinguishers or (b) it is a fixed installation, such as a sprinkler system which comes into operation automatically in the event of fire.

Automatic Life Safety Fire Suppression

278. Since May 2005, new or altered residential care buildings are provided with an automatic life safety fire suppression system to comply with Building Regulations.

279. An automatic life safety fire suppression system operates automatically on detection of an outbreak of fire within the building. In the case of residential sprinkler systems, water is discharged from the individual head which has detected heat from the fire, all other discharge heads remain closed unless similarly affected by heat.

280. An automatic life safety fire suppression system can be very effective in controlling a fire and can be a cost-effective solution for reducing the risks created. It may limit fire growth and extend the time taken for untenable conditions to develop giving more time to evacuate residents, particularly in the challenging circumstances that may be found in care homes with high dependency residents.

281. The retrofitting of an automatic life safety fire suppression system to an existing building may be an appropriate solution where other problematic fire safety measures cannot otherwise be improved, such as fire compartmentation, structural fire protection, fire spread on internal surfaces or excessive travel distance, particularly where there are high dependency residents and staff would have difficulty in achieving an effective evacuation.

282. Traditionally, sprinklers have been considered as systems which were fitted throughout all parts of a building. However, for life safety purposes in those existing care homes which have a particular fire evacuation difficulty in part of the building, a cost effective strategy could be the installation of an automatic life safety fire suppression system only in those parts of a home where a fire would be particularly challenging.

283. An automatic life safety sprinkler system should be designed and installed in accordance with the recommendations for ‘residential occupancies’ contained in BS 9251.

284. BS 8458 contains recommendations for the design and installation of water mist suppression systems. Water mist systems are bespoke systems designed on the basis of established test performance.

Fire-fighting Equipment for use by Persons

285. Portable fire-fighting equipment should be provided in care homes for staff use. The safe use of an appropriate fire extinguisher to control a fire in its early stages can significantly reduce the risk to people in the premises. Fire extinguishers, in association with staff trained to use them, are an important element in the measures to reduce the risk to people from fire, particularly where evacuation times are lengthy.

286. However, tackling a fire with a portable extinguisher should not be undertaken at the expense of ensuring the Fire and Rescue Service has been called, or the commencement of evacuation. Should fire-fighting with an extinguisher fail to control or extinguish the fire, precious time may have been lost in commencing evacuation. Staff must therefore consider quickly whether it is better to isolate the fire by closing a door on it and evacuating residents, or whether fire-fighting action is justified and they are confident that they can control it in its incipient stage.

Number and type of extinguishers

287. The number of fire extinguishers required will vary depending on the circumstances within and the size of individual premises. Portable extinguishers should be simple to operate, readily accessible, within the handling capabilities of staff and be suitable for the classes of fire anticipated (see Table 7). Extinguishers are described by their extinguishing capacity and size. They are marked with a letter and a number: the letter denotes the class of fire, the number denotes the fire size extinguishing capability. An extinguisher could for example have a rating such as ‘13A’ or ‘55B’.

288. Information on the selection and installation of fire extinguishers is contained in BS 5306: Part 8. A guide to the level of provision of class A extinguishers is obtained by multiplying the floor area of a storey by 0.065. For example, a floor area of 400m2 would have a rating of 26A (400 x 0.065 = 26) which is the total value of class A extinguisher and can be achieved by combinations of extinguishers with different ratings to achieve the total value. Where there are other classes of fire, appropriate extinguishers for these may be necessary.

289. Fire extinguishers should be positioned on escape routes, close to room or storey exits, final exits from the building or, if necessary, adjacent to hazards. They should be placed on a dedicated stand or hung on a wall at a convenient height so that staff can easily lift them off. Generally no one should have to travel more than 30m to reach a fire extinguisher. It is good practice to group extinguishers together in fire points at a similar position on each floor.

Other equipment

290. While permanent hose reels can provide an effective fire-fighting facility when used by trained personnel, there are disadvantages which make hose reels unsuitable for general staff use. When deployed, a hose reel may prevent doors from fully closing causing the spread of smoke, and the hose may pose an obstacle to the movement or escape of residents.

291. A fire blanket may be appropriate. It may be used to smother a small fire involving cooking oil or fat. Where a kitchen provides meals on a scale larger than a normal domestic household, a heavy duty fire blanket may be appropriate. This is larger, heavier and more durable.

Table 7 - Extinguisher types

Water Extinguisher

Red body

  • Suitable for Class A fires (fires involving solid materials such as wood, paper or textiles) but not suitable for use on live electrical equipment because water is a conductor of electricity

Water Extinguisher with Additives

Red body

  • Suitable for Class A fires. Some also suitable for Class B fires (fires involving flammable liquids such as petrol, diesel or oils) if so indicated on the extinguisher

Foam Extinguisher

Red body with cream label/band

  • Suitable for Class A or B fires and particularly suited to extinguishing liquid fires
  • Should not be used on free-flowing liquid fires unless the operator has been specially trained
  • Not suitable for deep-fat fryers or chip pans

Powder Extinguisher

Red body with blue label/band

  • Suitable for most classes of fire
  • Can be used on fires involving electrical equipment but may damage the equipment
  • Since powder does not cool a fire appreciably, the fire may re-ignite
  • No longer generally recommended for use indoors. May cause reduction in visibility and impair breathing if used within buildings

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extinguisher

Red body with black label/band

  • Suitable for Class B fires and particularly suitable for fires involving electrical equipment as it is a non-conductor
  • Since CO2 does not cool a fire appreciably, the fire may re-ignite

Wet Chemical Extinguisher

Red with canary yellow label/band

  • Suitable for Class F Fires (fires involving cooking oils such as in deep-fat fryers)



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