Fire strategies: What are they and why do you need one?

By Carlsson Elkins
Thursday 25th November, 20215 minute to read

A fire strategy is an essential requirement for all commercial and multioccupancy residential buildings. This helps to ensure that people remain safe in the unfortunate case of a fire. But what exactly is a fire strategy? Allow us to delve into this question, giving you all the information you need to get one created for your own property.

What is a fire strategy?

A fire strategy is the way in which fire safety objectives for a new, altered or existing building are defined. It is also a guide on how a property should be built and function from a fire safety perspective, whether that refers to prevention or escape. This is a legally required package of fire safety information that has to be then handed to a responsible person on the premises. Fire strategies take on different forms, which we’ll be looking at in the next section. For example, buildings should include architectural drawings that demonstrate compliance with B1 through to B5 of Schedule 1 of The Building Regulations 2010, outlined below.

  • B1: Means of warning and escape: The standard of fire detection and travel distances required for the premises, as well as the suitability of existing escape routes.

  • B2: Internal fire spread (linings): The ability of the internal linings of the building to inhibit the spread of fire by resisting the spread of flames, and the rate of fire growth in case they are ignited.

  • B3: Internal fire spread (structure): The structural stability of the building in case of fire, and its capacity to block the spread of it.

  • B4: External fire spread: The degree of potential damage if the fire spreads outside of the building through the walls or roof.

  • B5: Access and facilities for the fire service: The facilities that will assist fire services, as well as compliance with the local fire authority.

Which buildings need a fire strategy plan?

All buildings need a fire strategy plan, but this differs depending on the size and scale of each property. For larger or more complex buildings, the drawings included in your strategy may be accompanied by a body of text, particularly in cases where the egress (exit) route changes depending on the source of the fire. The core requirements covered are stated in Part B from Schedule 1 of The Building Regulations 2010, which are outlined above.

Who can create fire safety strategies?

This may surprise a lot of people, but the answer is that technically, anyone can create a fire strategy, and there’s no requirement for certification for people to be able to do so. The reason for this is Approved Document B, which explains the requirement in great detail, leaving little room for mistakes if followed correctly. However, just because anyone can create a fire strategy it doesn't mean all plans are created equal. Fire strategies should only be created by those who know what they’re doing, as they are a matter of life or death. This means you want your fire strategy to be drawn by a competent, trained person (a fire risk assessor or fire engineer, for example). If someone was to create a bad fire plan, a Building Control Body (BCB) would reject it.

What makes a good fire strategy?

  • A good strategy will stick with one standard set of guidance, rather than mixing and matching them. For example, it wouldn't chop and change between guidance such as Approved Document B and BS 9991. This wouldn't be a healthy or safe approach, especially when commissioning to a standard is required and different standards can vary.

  • An acceptable fire strategy does not copy and paste chunks of guidance without any consideration of how it will be applied to the building in question. Likewise, tweaking a standard fire strategy without taking into account the specifics of a building is also not permitted.

  • If a plan references diagrams from Approved Document B, it should copy and paste them rather than redrawing them. This ensures there is no misinterpretation as to their intent.

  • No matter the presentation of the strategy, it's always a good idea to include drawings to ensure all elements are interpreted correctly. Drawings could feature locations of doors, stairs and the egress routes that use them.

  • It will ensure it always has the most recently updated version of the fire strategy. And if you're reading or revising the plan, make sure it applies to the building in question. This catches a lot of people out.

  • Finally, a good fire plan should not require significant work from a BCB, which exists to check and inspect strategies not to act as building designers.

How do you ensure the fire strategy is developed properly?

  • A fire engineer should be appointed early on in the building design stage — we recommend no later than Stage Two.

  • As the building's design changes, the fire strategy should be updated if it impacts on the plan.

  • Following completion, the strategy is checked and approved by a BCB. If there are further alterations to the strategy during the construction phase, this will also need to be signed off by a BCB.

  • Once the property is finished, the documentation and approved fire strategy must be handed over to the ‘responsible person’. This could be the owner of the building or the management company.

How to write your own fire strategy

As a very basic template, ensure you consider the following in your fire strategy. This is definitely not a concrete, final version for you to use, however, it can act as a helpful starting point if you don’t know where to begin.

  • Study the appropriate guidance (Building Regulations 2010 and Approved Document B).

    • Be aware, if a code compliant (Approved Document B-based) solution isn’t appropriate for your building, you’ll need to consider a fire engineered approach. This will require consultation with the BCB and your local fire and rescue service. Such designs would usually be based on British Standards such as BS 9991 and/or BS 9999.

  • Describe the design standards for fire service access including external vehicle access, fire hydrants and the potential access points.

  • Outline the means of escape including travel distances between the apartments, common areas and disabled evacuation.

  • Identify areas where fire spread and control will need to be considered, both internally and externally.

  • Construction: fire resistance, elements of structure, cavity barriers and suppression systems.

Overall, the key points you need to take here are that, although anyone can create a fire strategy, it doesn’t mean anyone should. All plans need to be made carefully, with significant investment in time and resources to ensure that when it goes to a BCB, it’s pretty much good to go.

A fire strategy isn’t all that you need to consider. Check out the Sertus blog and YouTube channel for everything fire control and smoke ventilation related.

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