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IFSEC Insider, formerly IFSEC Global, is the leading online community and news platform for security and fire safety professionals.
October 24, 2022


Lithium-Ion batteries. A guide to the fire risk that isn’t going away but can be managed


Why embracing innovation is key to overcoming the challenges the fire sector faces

With the fire industry facing more stringent legislation and regulation than ever before, FireMate Managing Director Rob Thomas explains why technology and innovation are the keys to overcoming challenges for fire installers, end users and Responsible Persons.

The fire industry is accustomed to change and innovation. Despite tracing its roots back at least 2,000 years to ancient Roman times, the sector is forward-thinking and has generally demonstrated a willingness to adopt new innovations and processes with the potential to reduce the risk and impact of fire on people and property.

Standards for the design, installation, commissioning, and maintenance of fire protection systems provide the necessary guidelines to ensure buildings are safe for their intended use. Legislative changes and updates to industry best practices since the Grenfell fire in 2017 reinforce the need to improve active and passive fire protection systems. Clearly, innovations in designing and installing systems are vital, and that’s where technology can help.

Innovations in fire systems

IFSEC-FIREX-Main-22As technology leaps forward, innovations in fire protection follow quickly. At every fire industry tradeshow, such as FIREX International in London, manufacturers and distributors display their latest innovations in fire systems. Recent technological advances include self-testing smoke detectors, mobile phone apps that monitor remote fire systems, and water mist systems that quickly control and suppress fire in road tunnels.

Additionally, recent advances in telecommunications networks have fuelled the development of the Internet of Things (IoT). When IoT is teamed with advanced sensors that monitor room temperature with astonishing precision, firefighters can quickly determine where a fire has started and how it is spreading. Likewise, IoT-based wireless smoke detectors can alleviate the need to rewire heritage buildings and self-report battery levels and maintenance requirements.

READ: “A clear consensus that IoT will play a key role in the future of fire”

Innovations in fire maintenance processes

Along with innovations in the design, manufacture and installation of fire systems, it is also essential that improved methods of maintaining or servicing these systems are continually reviewed and developed.

The ongoing maintenance or servicing of fire systems is well established by standards, regulations and fire systems manufacturers. It’s better for fire maintenance professionals to discover an issue or defect with a fire asset instead of a fire brigade turning up at the front door with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Fire standards like BS 5839 provide guidelines referenced in the Fire Safety Act 2021 that building owners must meet regarding fire system testing and maintenance. Additionally, regulations introduced by the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales often stipulate further requirements on servicing frequency, reporting, training and technician certification requirements.

A challenge for fire maintenance service providers and their teams of field technicians is the large number of standards and regulations they are required to access and be familiar with. Each part of BS 5839 can run to dozens of pages, and fire technicians usually need access to multiple standards. Searching through hundreds of pages of information on mobile phones or thumbing-through printed copies of standards to locate appropriate information is time-consuming and fraught with potential error.

This is just one example of an area where technology can not only help but is rapidly becoming an essential tool for anyone working in the fire sector. The systems are becoming smarter and more complex, and the mandated requirements for testing, maintenance and recording an audit trail have become too much for traditional paper-based systems to keep up or comply with. The “Golden Thread” referenced in the Hackitt ‘Building a Safer Future’ report seeks to ensure transparency in the audit trails from design to maintenance. That’s why technology is needed not just for the fire systems themselves but also for monitoring their performance, as well as planning, implementing and logging planned testing and maintenance programmes.

The solutions are already out there

The digital transformation of fire maintenance and servicing is already well underway, empowering installers and maintenance providers to improve service levels to building owners while also increasing their efficiency. Fire protection maintenance platforms, of which our own FireMate software is just one example, are changing the industry for the better, offering reassurance to end users and creating the crucial audit trail that is now an integral part of UK law under the Fire Safety Act 2021.

The problem with off-the-shelf scheduling and asset management products is that they do not take into account the sheer myriad of different system types and devices that a typical fire professional needs to deal with. They may be able to do the job, but only after hundreds of hours of setting up and inputting information, which is time not many of us can afford these days. A dedicated cloud-based fire industry-specific package can do all this with minimal setup required, providing real-time access to asset registers, testing schedules and maintenance logs from any computer or smart device.

It’s not just about asset management either. The age of the paper logbook in a locker in reception has now passed, even if the legislation doesn’t say so. With the need to maintain a single point of verifiable records for each building, on pain of imprisonment, a non-digital solution is simply no longer viable. A bespoke platform to support business operations for the fire industry can fulfil a large part of this role by demonstrating that testing and maintenance have been undertaken correctly and on schedule.

The best platforms don’t only tell the fire professionals what they need to do; they also provide all the information they need on each device in a particular system, from the dates of manufacture and installation to expected battery life (where relevant), notes from colleagues, and any previous updates or maintenance carried out. They can even place full technical specifications, installation guides and product notes at the fingertips of the operative, so they don’t need to go anywhere to find what they need to know. All of this makes the jobs of fire professionals easier while also offering reassurance to Responsible Persons (RPs) and end clients.

Technology is the future of the fire industry

It’s an awful term, but I genuinely think fire installers and maintenance providers – often the same people – are in an ‘adapt or die’ situation. The everyday users of fire systems, especially in the residential sector, can no longer rely on traditional non-digital solutions and will turn to fire professionals for advice on alternatives. If that advice is not forthcoming, they will look elsewhere.

The good news is that the solutions required to enhance working practices and ensure compliance with legal standards are already in place, ready and waiting. These will not only answer the key issues of compliance and record-keeping but also make life much easier for the fire professionals out on the road while giving enhanced oversight to their managers and end clients. Put simply, adopting technology in this sector is a complete no-brainer.

The digital transformation of fire maintenance and servicing enables maintenance providers to improve service levels to building owners and RPs, while also increasing their efficiency. The safety of people and places must continue to be the focus of future developments and should underpin all development efforts in the fire sector.


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Read our FREE eBook, which provides a summary of the key debates and presentations that took place at FIREX 2023 in May, alongside additional exclusive content for readers.

Chapters cover new fire safety construction guidance, how to mitigate the risk of lithium-ion battery fires, and evacuation planning. There's also exclusive insight into the resident's view of the building safety crisis, and how the fire safety and sustainability agendas can work together.


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