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Fire safety in Irish apartment developments

Fire safety in Irish apartment blocks
The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland’s recent submission to the Department of Planning, Housing, Communities and Local Government is a welcomed document and in particular their call for a high-level study to examine the extent to which multi-occupancy units constructed between 2000 and 2008 should be considered for inspection to establish the extent of possible significant defects within such properties.

Also the establishment of the Construction Industry Register Ireland (CIRI) of competent contractors on a statutory footing to protect consumers in the future against recurring defects is a welcome suggestion and urgently needed.

Leaving the building aside we should think of the owners, occupiers and property managers who are sent into a tail spin with concern regarding the developments in their care and are left wondering what to do now. The fact is that most buildings, while in need of attention are reasonably safe and not in the same risk category as the UK’s high rise buildings. Take a typical multi-unit development of 5 floors with 100 apartments:

Short term to do’s for any property manager:

  • Check the service records on the emergency lighting and fire alarm systems.
  • Check the evacuation plan and escape route drawings – is each apartment owner aware of the nearest escape stairs?
  • Is there an integrated fire alarm and emergency lighting between common areas and apartments?
  • Are the Automatic Opening Vents (AOVs) operating correctly?
  • Are fire extinguishers present and serviced up to date?
  • Has a fire alarm drill recently been carried out and do occupants know what to do?
  • Can the fire brigade get in?
  • Does everyone in the building know the correct Eircode in the case of emergency call out?

Medium term:

  • Check the status of your overall development in terms of fire safety.
  • Is compartmentation between floors and apartment walls in tact?
  • Are common area fire doors in good condition and working correctly?
  • Is cavity barriers present in the external elevations?
  • Is the carpark safe – emergency lighting, directional signage, fire doors, escape routes, bin stores, intumescent fire paint to structural steel?
  • Correct ventilation within stairwell lobbies. 

Consider a sample survey of the development by a building surveyor.

  • Check at least one common area service riser – fire seals, compartmentation line relative to the Fire Safety Certificate.
  • Open the cavity in at least one area and see if the cavity barrier is present.
  • Check one apartment – including the ceilings in the entrance hallway for compartmentation.

What will this cost the OMC?

Typically a preliminary survey of a development on a selective study basis would cost €2,000 + VAT @ 23% for a building surveyor for a one day’s inspection and one day desk study and report issue plus €500 + VAT @ 13.5% for a builder in attendance to open up and make good (excl redecoration) – say €3,000 all in. After that, apart from peace of mind, you as property manager on the ground, will have a plan of action with which to go back to the OMC and implement over a reasonable agreed time line.

Do I need to notify the fire officer if there is bad news?

This is very subjective but in our experience the fire officer does not want to get involved if there is a reasonable strategy to be implemented to improve matters within a reasonable timeline. That is a decision to be made at a meeting of the OMC and directors based on all the information available in conjunction with their consultants.

It is important to acknowledge that many developments, while with shortcomings, are reasonably well built, of concrete frame construction, and serviced with a basic emergency lighting and fire alarm system. This will give occupants at least half an hour to get out in the event of a fire and escape to a safe place of exit. That said you cannot be too careful with fire.