After the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, fire safety and evacuation procedures in high-rise buildings across the UK have been a priority. With new measures and funding being put in place to replace dangerous cladding, building owners need to be supporting these improvements by implementing their own. This includes installing a fire alarm system as per government guidelines as well as an evacuation system to ensure the absolute safety of your tenants.
What is the Waking Watch?
Waking Watches support the evacuation of a building in the case of a fire, with trained wardens present on site 24/7. They were brought in by the National Fire Chiefs Council to keep residents safe, monitoring the building both inside and out to determine if a fire has broken out as quickly as possible. It is then their job to raise an alarm and assist the residents of the building in evacuating calmly and safely.
Even after the Grenfell Tower Fire, many buildings in the UK still have 24/7 Waking Watch patrols in place. These patrols are costly and unnecessary, with much of the cost now falling on leaseholders’ laps. Recent advice from the government suggests that buildings should be installing proper fire alarm systems to remove the need for Waking Watch patrols, lowering ongoing expense.
Why install a fire alarm system rather than employ a Waking Watch patrol?
- Fire alarm systems provide one up-front cost and the odd maintenance cost down the line, but then that’s it! You’re set for good with no large monthly outgoings.
- Fire alarm systems have the ability to detect signs of fire that may not be clear at first to the naked eye.
- Fire will be detected much sooner and therefore the building evacuated or the fire contained much quicker.
- Fire alarm systems have a built-in alarm, meaning as soon as the smallest sign of a fire is detected, the alarm will sound, alerting everyone to the emergency and allowing them to evacuate as quickly and safely as possible. Some alarm systems now even have the ability to automatically alert the fire brigade, immediately as the alarm goes off.
- You can get a wireless version to speed up installation time and you don't need to penetrate fire barriers running new cables.
- It eliminates the "human error" of the waking watch and the reliability variable of the person or people in charge of detecting a fire.
- With many different types of fire system to choose from, you can be sure there will be an option that’s perfectly suited to your building and situation. You can find more information about different fire alarm systems here. Feeling overwhelmed with choice? Just get in touch and we can help you find the best solution for your building.
According to a recent study by The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, the cost of employing one Waking Watch person exceeds the average cost of installing an alarm system in as little as 3 months.
BS 8629:2019 is the British Standard which instructs the best way to install fire alarm and evacuation systems. Your fire protection company – people like us who install and maintain your fire alarm systems - will also follow these standards when designing and installing evacuation systems in new buildings.
This guidance states that all new apartment buildings above 18 metres in height should have a working evacuation system installed. This is a legal requirement in Scotland, but currently isn’t in the UK, however it is anticipated this will be reviewed soon. Legally, high-rise buildings should all have fire alarm systems in place, but the Waking Watch was seen as an adequate replacement for this and a quick fix. Now, the government is actively encouraging high-rise building owners to move away from Waking Watch patrols.
The Waking Watch Relief Fund
On the 17th December 2020 the UK government announced a new £30 million fund to help pay for the installation of fire alarms in high-rise buildings with dangerous cladding while they wait for this cladding to be replaced. This comes as a result of the disastrous Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 which killed 72 people.
Unfortunately, the Waking Watch Relief Fund only lasted for a short period of 6 weeks, ending on the 14th March 2021. However, alongside this, the government have also urged building owners to apply for the BSF (Building Safety Fund) which was set up in May 2020 to aid in the removal and replacement of dangerous cladding in high-rise residential buildings exceeding 18-metres in height. This fund was extended until 30th June 2021 so that high-rise buildings are able to still get the help and funding they need. This has now become an absolute priority for these buildings, as well as ensuring the correct safety procedures are in place to support these changes.
The reason for introducing the Waking Watch Relief Fund is that, as stated by the government, fire alarms are a preferable alternative to the Waking Watch in terms of both safety and cost efficiency. You can find full guidance about this on the government website. Therefore, even after the fund has ended, this highlights the importance of having a reliable working fire alarm in your high-rise building.
For new buildings
Analogue Addressable System
These systems, often known as intelligent fire alarm systems, allow you to establish the exact location of the fire, aiding in important evacuation procedures. These systems can also be customised and integrated meaning they have the ability to open all access control doors or even call the fire brigade when the fire alarm is triggered.
For existing buildings in need of a fire alarm
Wireless Fire Alarm Systems
Like the addressable system, these systems will provide the exact location of where the fire detector was activated so you are able to act accordingly. These are more easily installed in existing buildings as no cabling is required.
What do I need to do if I'm responsible for a high-rise building?
If you’re responsible for a high-rise building with potentially dangerous cladding, you need to apply to the BSF (Building Safety Fund) to get this cladding replaced with safe materials. After doing this, you should replace your Waking Watch patrol with a fire alarm system, such as Chris Lewis’ Wireless Fire Alarm System and ensure you have an evacuation plan and system in place.
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